Conquering confined spaces, reducing downtime
Motivators for robotics in the power industry
In power generation, downtime is costly. Damaged or degraded assets can cause outages that cost hundreds of thousands of dollars per day, requiring plant managers to stay focused on asset integrity through regular inspection and maintenance.
Plant owners and operators face numerous challenges maintaining margins in extremely competitive markets.
- Regulatory requirements require regularly scheduled asset inspections.
- Emergent situations such as leaks, fires or breakdowns can occur, requiring the plant to be shut down for immediate, unplanned investigation.
- Areas needing inspection are often hazardous, posing a risk for human entry.
As the industry looks to cut costs and manage risk, advanced multi-purpose robots are helping reduce downtime with fast, safe power plant inspections.
Multi-purpose robots provide O&M safety and efficiency
From nuclear plants to boiler inspections, rapidly maturing technologies like robotics, artificial intelligence, and machine learning are providing new options for the power business to achieve critical operations and maintenance (O&M) objectives.
The adoption of industrial robotic solutions across increasing at a rapid annual pace. According to the International Federation of Robotics 2018 World Robotics Report, global robot installations were estimated to increase by at least 14%+ on average per year (CAGR) from 2018 to 2021.
The objective for power plants is to cut costs through maximized asset availability, improved productivity, increased safety, and minimized failures and downtime. New industrial robots with advanced mobility, sensor capabilities, and high-quality data collection are providing credible solutions.
Increasingly used for first-look inspections, these robots augment traditional inspection practices to provide more effective results, with high-quality, actionable data. Their capabilities and benefits include:
1. Efficient inspection and investigation
Many of the complex systems within power plants require internal and external inspection to continue safe operations and meet regulatory requirements.
2. Improved employee safety
There are often hazardous environments associated with inspection practices in the power business, such as the need to work at heights, underground, or in confined spaces. High temperatures, high pressures, and chemical or radiological hazards increase these risks.
3. Need for quality asset data
Manual inspections using conventional tools often result in incomplete data collection and inspection reports, not to mention missed defects.
According to John Santagate, research director at the International Data Center, "There is no question robots are delivering value for the companies that are investing in the technology. If you're not investing in modern technology today, you will be left behind."
As such, these robotic platforms are serving a critical role in the digital transformation of the industry.
Case studies and applications
Ameren Corporation, a U.S. power utility company serving the Midwest, has been
actively seeking and testing various robotic inspection tools to augment its current O&M processes.
David Strubberg, Ameren's Innovation, Programs & IT Projects director, has spent the past few years identifying and testing the right platform that meets all the company's operational criteria. In outlining what he looks for in new technology adoption, he said, "We're looking for things that make our workers safer, give us more information, and in the end will probably gain some productivity and quality."
Early adopters in all areas of the power industry have discovered the benefits of robotics:
A first-class, first look inspection with Guardian S
Among the latest generation of industrial robots is the Guardian™ S multi-purpose, mobile IoT inspection platform. As a first-look, remote visual inspection tool that can carry multiple sensor payloads, the robot is a uniquely capable, quick-deploy solution.
Developed by Sarcos Robotics, the Guardian S platform can reliably traverse challenging terrain including stairs, culverts, pipes, boilers, plenums, penstocks, and tanks. The robot was designed to access small, confined spaces such as pipelines or HVAC systems, and thanks to its magnetic tracks, it can also climb vertical ferrous surfaces.
The untethered, remotely operated Guardian S robot has long operational runtimes and superior maneuverability due to its various movement modes that allow it to move forward, backward or sideways, and in other configurations, to prevent itself from tipping over, and to turn itself back upright.
With its six built-in 4k cameras to gather real-time, high-resolution, color images and video, the robot provides the operator with a 360-degree viewpoint throughout the inspection.
Crucially, the Guardian S remote visual inspection tool is also able to transport a 10-pound (5 kg) sensor payload. This design provides the flexibility to add task-specific sensors, making it ideal for a multitude of inspection scenarios and non-destructive testing in the power industry.
Ameren's Strubberg said, "We are thinking this Guardian S robot - the way it can run on a little bit of water, its magnetic traction - has the possibility to let us inspect the part that
we haven't inspected in a while."
Case in point, a dangerous high-pressure steam leak is invisible and cannot be heard when the boiler is shut down, making it extremely difficult to precisely determine its location. The infra-red camera and wireless connectivity of the Guardian S robot are critical features in the detection of steam leaks
Strubberg explained, "Now you can bring this inspection robot in and with the infra-red camera, you'd be able to pinpoint where that steam leak is coming from. Then you'd obviously know where to rope off to keep people away until you can shut down, and it would also give you a jump on where the leak is to make sure you have the proper materials for repairs - that's another advantage."
He concluded, "I think it's one of those technologies that, when you have it in your hands and play with it, the use cases will just keep coming."
Leveraging more than 30 years of research and development, Sarcos makes revolutionary robotics products designed to save lives, reduce injury, and improve productivity. We are revolutionizing the future of work across private and public sectors through our line of highly mobile and dexterous robots that augment rather than replace humans. Learn more about Sarcos.