Rabih Bou Rashid, Managing Director, FEDS (Falcon Eye Drones) speaks to Julian Walker about the growing role of drones in the oil and gas sector
How is your company involved in the oil and gas industry?
FEDS provides premium turnkey remote aerial inspections of infrastructure assets in the energy sector. We support maintenance and asset integrity of tanks and pipeline structures by providing access to critical spatial and visual data through detailed aerial inspection and pinpoint asset discrepancies. The fully automated, repeatable workflows allow companies to better manage assets efficiently and intelligently at minimum costs. In the past, we’ve worked with Tatweer Petroleum, SABIC, and Saudi Aramco to conduct assets inspection and train them how to integrate drones in their operational workflow.
As the energy industry increasingly adopts digitalisation, what impact will this have on drone demand?
The reason why we see many in the energy industry increasingly adopt digitalisation is because we believe that it is the only way to move forward. Businesses that failed to adopt the technology will somehow be left behind with the competition and business demand. The reasons are simple, digitalisation offers businesses unparalleled visualisation and seamless team collaboration which result in faster informed-decision making, safer operation, and lower downtime cost, thereby increasing business profitability.
Drones also help companies increase their reporting turnaround by 25 per cent and cut down site time wastage by 18.4 per cent as they conduct activities at a more accurate and stauncher pace than manual labour. These UAVs can also slash project value costs by up to 11.8 per cent as they can do repeat flights that help detect issues regularly, which can become exorbitant problems later on. The possibility of doing manual rework also decreases by 25 per cent with drones due to these repeat flight capabilities. This helps staff save five hours a week on unnecessary meetings, boosting productivity amongst workers as they can focus on other aspects of the project.
DT^3 is our holistic approach to provide a full turnkey solution by combining Drone Technology, Data Technology and Digital Transformation. Drone technology accelerates Digital Transformation by collecting exceptional data in faster, safer, and affordable manner possible. While Data Technology offers accurate analytics through machine learning technology, that synergies will create a powerful solution that perhaps will become the main driving force that navigate us towards the age of digitalisation.
All major oil and gas players such as BP, Chevron, ExxonMobil and Shell are collaborating with drone manufacturers to develop customised drone platforms fitted with data collection technologies for obtaining real-time insights.
As the Middle East’s leading provider of DT^3 technology, FEDS offers deeper disruptive solutions in remote surveillance and inspection. With the drones’ ability to inspect confined spaces and areas beyond the human’s line of sight, these unmanned utility vehicles (UAVs) can perform flawless assessments and capture crucial data in energy plants without putting the workforce in harm’s way—allowing the sector to conduct predictive maintenance, methane management, emergency response, and material handling in the safest, most efficient, and affordable manner possible.
What is your market outlook for drone demand in the oil and gas industry in the next 2-5 years?
According to the date released by PwC’s Strategy& in 2017, the drones industry is expected to be worth $1.5 billion by 2022—with 43 per cent of it coming from the oil and gas sectors.
In the UAE, meanwhile, the drone market is estimated to reach $122 million by 2023 due to expected upsurge in demand for military and commercial UAVs, as per global think tank TechSci Research.
Although this growth can be mainly attributed to rising demand for military and commercial drones, the study said that devising policies to support the use of UAVs in different applications—which is now encapsulated in the new legislation in Dubai—will drive more demand for drones in across vital sectors.
What is FEDS doing in terms of technology or services to enhance the industry’s inspection capabilities?
The ability of our drones to fly and carry a wide selection of sensors allows us to offer a variety of advantages in conducting inspections in the oil and gas industry. With these UAVs, businesses can massively improve efficiency, as they will help cut down your routines and make inspections much faster than the traditional methods. Drones allow inspectors to reach hazardous and complicated areas better than helicopters, which just provide less than perfect results but cost much more. They can even access all the hard-to-reach areas and offer improvements such as reduced risks, increased angles of imagery, and faster capture of data.
Our drones also fly inside the tanks and high-risk structures at very close proximity without manned entry into the tanks. It saves time and money and is much safer than traditional methods—which include scaffolding and other dangerous approaches. In addition, through photogrammetry, we make accurate 3D reconstruction of the asset known as ‘As-built-model’, which is extremely valuable for asset management in oil and gas.
On top of that, partnered with Aerodyne, we further enhance inspection analysis with AI-driven platform that enables energy industry to have not only exceptional visual data but also faster and seamless reporting workflow.
What new roles can drones play in the energy industry?
Other than remote monitoring and surveillance of assets, advancements in sensing and imaging technologies are the latest offerings of drone technology in a wide range of settings to carry out predictive maintenance of critical infrastructure in the energy industry. Merging drone data with AI-driven data analytics helps predict the functionality status of the equipment and identify potential malfunctions.
In the UAE, drones are also considered vital to the UAE’s move to clean energy for the next 60 years due to its robust data-gathering features. It can help ensure the gold standards of safety and reliability of the Arab world’s sole Peaceful Nuclear Energy Programme—the Barakah Nuclear Energy Plant in Abu Dhabi—through a wide scope of advantages over these ground-based technologies. For one, its ability to inspect confined spaces and areas beyond the human’s line of sight allows it to perform flawless assessments and capture crucial data in nuclear power plants without putting the workforce in harm’s way.
Prior to drones, surveying energy plants required workers to wear heavy anti-contamination suits. They also need to bring a radiation monitor—which exposes them to 250 millirem of radiation (around 10 per cent of the limit for radiation exposure yearly). But since drones are immune to radiation, inspectors can employ them to gather superior data—even around the most inaccessible spaces—without exposing workers to unnecessary dangers.
Their capacity to comprehensively post-process data also plays a crucial role in completing the set-up and maintaining the operations of the Barakah Nuclear Energy Plant in the most cost-efficient way possible. In addition, the accurate data-gathering features of drones can cut time wastage by 18.4 per cent.
Are regulations on drones supporting or hindering the development of the market?
The practical applications of drones as one of the most promising innovations that will benefit wide-ranging sectors have always been hampered by a lack of crucial legislation and roadmap in the world. This is why Dubai’s new drone law is an important and timely development for the entire industry as it aims to alleviate any potential hurdles in fully optimising the benefits of drones—most especially in the agriculture and construction sector. It could also become an important revolutionary approach to help various sectors embark on a large-scale digital transformation in the face of a new era post-coronavirus. The new law can set a new paradigm in the field of R&D, as it will bring about a new economic stream that will poise the emirate as the go-to hub for technology start-ups seeking growth opportunities.