The use of advanced inspection technologies is growing across the shipping and offshore sectors, as the growing complexity of assets and operations shifts how classification services are delivered.
New robotic tools such as wearable technologies, unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV), crawlers and remotely operated vehicles are providing a richer array of live information from survey sites, while keeping surveyors safer and ensuring less intrusive inspection processes.
ABS is currently conducting field studies to evaluate how the current capabilities of wearable technology, particularly eyewear, are best applied to enhance asset-inspection practices. The pilot programs, which include a range of vessel and offshore asset types, are focused on improving the efficiency of class operations, streamlining the capture and visual display of information and creating a more collaborative environment for remote interaction.
One objective is to determine how wearable technology can be used to access existing resources (such as rules, manuals, process instructions, drawings, etc.) and expand them with information captured as work is being carried out. With advanced visualization and augmentation, data also can be super-imposed on the assets, allowing them to be evaluated against their inspection histories, with a hands-free, digital capture of records, narratives and targeted inspection applications.
Another goal is to use wearables to create a real-time interface between back office and field personnel. In this area, they have the potential to help surveyors collect and share data in a real time environment where subject-matter experts collaborate to reach faster, more informed decisions and bridge current constraints imposed by time and distance.
For asset owners, remote, real-time communication can reduce operational downtime and other related costs by improving the subject-matter specialists’ access to practical information. By leveraging less intrusive inspection options, personnel and assets are exposed to fewer hazards.
Other types of remote technology presently finding their way into class inspection regimes are UAV, or drones. UAVs can be programed to fly on routes that are informed by historic data on a specific asset’s condition, targeting known areas of concern.
They can collect visual data – such as still images, live-stream and recorded video -- from difficult-to-reach structures and areas, minimizing the risk that surveyors face when working in hazardous areas.
Aerial drones can be used to improve the efficiency of inspections and surveyor safety by remotely examining riskier environments such as confined spaces and elevated areas, where they replace conventional means of access such as staging, scaffolding and rafting.
The next step in the UAVs operational evolution is for industry to determine the full scope of a drone’s ability to support close-up inspections. With technological advancements in onboard modules, for example, UAVs will be able to collect more information – such as gauging the thickness of materials during corrosion assessments, comparative image analyses, or by mapping assets to help create 3D models.
In general, robotics is supporting the trend towards the non-destructive examination of increasingly high-value marine assets and the parallel emergence of a less intrusive class survey process.
The challenge for asset owners and their independent technical advisors is to fully understand the potential that robotics has to change inspection regimes and asset-lifecycle management, and then develop the supplemental technology to deliver on that vision.
Ultimately, automated inspections will be integrated to support smart assets – featuring sensors, barcodes and chip technology – to encourage more informed and rapid decision-making.