Safety in the marine industry is set to be improved after AkzoNobel, oil and gas tanker operator Barrier Group and DroneOps joined forces to develop a drone capable of remotely inspecting enclosed spaces and ballast water tanks.
The project will use advanced virtual reality technology to deliver safer, more accurate evaluations of ballast water tanks, offshore wind farms and other enclosed or difficult to access spaces on ships and marine structures, including inspections of coatings and corrosion.
Traditionally, inspections are carried out by crew, surveyors or independent inspectors – a potentially risky activity which represents one of the most common causes of work-related fatalities in the industry.
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“Surveys of enclosed spaces and ballast water tanks are an essential part of routine maintenance and are increasingly critical for ship owners,” explained Michael Hindmarsh, Business Development Manager at AkzoNobel’s Marine Coatings business.
“Inspecting these areas thoroughly can require working at height, entering confined spaces and negotiating slippery surfaces that could be poorly lit, all of which are high-risk activities that the maritime industry is keen to address.”
By replacing human inspections with a drone, routine maintenance can be monitored remotely and in real time by office-based staff, with instant feedback available to the vessel or offshore structure’s superintendent. This in turn will reduce costs, increase efficiency and significantly reduce risk to human life during essential maintenance.
The partnership itself offers a complete overview of the issues and challenges associated with enclosed space inspections. These include coatings expertise and consultancy, drone building, ownership of marine structures, and an in-depth working knowledge of current repair and inspection practices. Additional coatings expertise will be provided by Safinah Ltd, a leading coatings consultancy.
AkzoNobel is already using innovative drone technology. The company is currently testing the use of drones in Australia for inspecting sites in remote locations where access is limited and the movement of heavy equipment is difficult.
As the new project progresses, the drone will undergo flight trials at AkzoNobel’s UK-based coatings test site and Barrier Group’s indoor training facility. The drone’s completion and launch is planned for October 2017.