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A major objective of petroleum, petrochemical and other heavy industries is to eliminate or significantly reduce human entry to confined spaces. Achieving this goal will require the development of advanced robotic inspection and maintenance solutions. A key focus is in-service inspection of aboveground storage tanks.
Regular inspections of aboveground storage tanks are required to monitor tank conditions and integrity and plan maintenance to avoid leaks, spills and accidents that often involve fires, explosions, serious injury and loss of life. Current processes for inspecting tanks are dangerous, harmful to the environment, costly and disruptive to operations. Tanks are emptied of liquids, releasing hazardous vapors. They are cleaned, inspected and repaired by workers inside tanks, requiring hazardous, confined space entry. A majority of tank related accidents occur while tanks are leaking or taken out of service. Aboveground storage tank inspection is expensive, requires significant preparation, and often results in months of downtime and lost productivity. The cost of taking a single tank out of service can exceed $2 million.
Robotic inspection solutions have been available since the mid 1990’s, but their use has been limited to a few niche applications due to technical limitations of exiting technology. They consist of basic mechanical “crawling” vehicles with severely limited mobility, capable of only partial inspection of the tank interior, with poor location accuracy and limited data integration.