Source: IDC / John Santagate – September 14, 2018
Industrial inspections, regardless of the reason for inspection, can be a very dirty and dangerous job. While not necessarily dull, industrial inspections definitely cover 2 of the 3 D’s of robotics deployment (dull, dirty, and dangerous). Industrial inspections can range from inspecting operational assets and operational facilities to inspecting defunct facilities during the de-commissioning process or evaluating the health and risk of non-operational holding tanks. There is no shortage of reasons to conduct industrial inspections, and there is a big business emerging for robotics to be leveraged in the inspection process.
- SAFETY of human workers is the top reason for engaging robotics in the industrial inspection process. Taking humans out of harm’s way in the work place is good for the worker, as it reduces risk of injury, but can also greatly benefit the organization by keeping its most valuable asset safe (which can translate to reduced costs). Industrial inspections typically put human workers in harms way and often requires safety equipment designed to mitigate risk. Better than mitigating risk, is equipping human workers with technology that takes them out of the hazardous environment and allows them to conduct the inspection without risking physical harm.
- Reducing the TIME it takes to conduct industrial inspections is another key benefit. Industrial inspection robotics are enabling organizations to both use less humans in the inspection process (reducing man hours) and accelerate the process of conducting industrial inspections. Working in hazardous environments usually requires multiple people, with robotics the number of people required to complete the task goes down allowing the reallocation of human labor to other aspects of the job. Also, using robotics can reduce the amount of changes required during the process. Examples include change outs of people in hazardous environments, eliminating the need for multiple access points (to a degree), and allowing for, in some cases, real-time analysis of information about the environment that would have previously taken additional time.
- Improved ANALYTICS is another aspect where robotics deliver improvements to the industrial inspection process. Industrial inspection robotics allow for an organization to create a digital alignment between the physical process. There is a real possibility of capturing real-time information about the environment and conducting analytics while the inspection is underway where previously it would have required the capture of samples, sending samples to a lab, and conducting analytics off-site.
- Industrial inspection robotics improves ACCESS to hard to reach areas. These robots are much lighter and not nearly as large as human workers allowing them to get into places that humans can not access. Accessibility may be limited due to space constraints or safety risk, but regardless, using robotics to get into places that human workers can not greatly improves the ability to conduct industrial inspection
In the context of inspecting operational facilities and equipment, robotic technology can be looked at as an element of digitally transforming the asset management process. While there is a lot of technology that is involved in such a transformation, robotics in the inspection process can provide a direct digital link to the physical asset. As point 3 above indicates, using robotic technology enables the capture of data in real time about the asset being inspected and enables more rapid and more complete analytics. Various studies at IDC have found that transforming the asset management process can yield significant improvements in key areas such as: 20% improvements in asset uptime, 15%-20% reductions in maintenance labor costs, and 8%-10% improvements in mechanical efficiencies. Again, while the use of robotics is only one part of a transformation effort, the technology has a role and will yield tangible value for the operation.
Clearly there is tremendous value to be gained by leveraging robotics in industrial inspection processes, but are there robotics vendors with products that address this problem? The answer to this question is YES. The following are few vendors with robotic technology designed specifically for this purpose:
- Gecko Robotics
- Sarcos Robotics
This is not meant to be an exhaustive list, rather a list of vendors that IDC has confirmed have robotic technology capable of reducing risk and improving the execution of industrial inspections. IDC analysts have experienced the operation of the Sarcos Guardian S directly and have seen first-hand the ease of use and technical capabilities of this robot. The device is built to be a lightweight mobile sensor platform that is easy to use and easy to transport. The robot is actually quite versatile as well, given that it can be equipped with an abundance of difference sensors and has uses outside of industrial inspections. That said, the portfolio of robotic technology that GE has is quite robust offering mobile robots that are built for a number of industrial inspection and cleaning applications and the Gecko Robotics Toka 3 which is designed for power plant boiler inspections and, like the Sarcos Guardian S, is capable of climbing walls.
Overall, IDC believes that the process of conducting industrial inspections is a business process area that is ripe for disruption with the help of robotic technology. At this point in time, this process is not about automating the task, rather it is about improving the safety of workers and augmenting the workers allowing them to do “do more with less, faster”. This technology is allowing smaller teams to conduct inspections faster, more reliably, and in a manner that is safer for the people involved in the process.