ToolsNotToys: Blog Post #15 - Volatus Drones

Every day, drones are used to make people’s lives easier. They have a number of applications across dozens of industries, and are used to make tasks more time efficient, financially efficient, and in some cases, to save lives. Drone’s have the capability to change how we work for the better. To put it simply - drones are tools, not toys.

Did you know that Shell, the multinational Oil & Gas giant has been using drones as early as 2012? By the way - they are the fifth largest company in the world according to 2020 revenues.

Shell has integrated drone practices for almost a decade now, as they offer tremendous solutions for inspection-related tasks. In the oil and gas industry where difficult to reach and hazardous environments are confronted regularly, these flying tools offer a safe and cost-effective way to acquire essential data.

The company has followed suit with the growing drone industry as scope and credibility have increased over the years. At select locations the company now manages its own program opposed to hiring third parties to carry out inspections.

Shell’s program application is mostly focused on surveillance. By gaining insights from above, engineers can more efficiently monitor and maintain the condition of their facilities and assets.

It all started after the company’s first flare tip inspection using a drone in 2012.

Robotics Theme Lead, Adam Serblowski, is responsible for overseeing the company’s adoption of drone technology.

He explained, “There was a lot of engagement with assets and concerns about the drone getting caught in the wind or crashing.

But once the first inspection had been done, it was one of those no-brainer things to replicate. It was fairly low risk and you’re getting the same or better imagery compared to having a person up there.”

The safety and operation benefits became evident. In the program’s early years it was that simple; until recently the program has advanced into the company's geomatics space using surveys and ortho maps.

In a risk-averse industry such as oil and gas, it takes years for new technology to disrupt long-established processes.

Serblowski stressed, “Anytime we bring in a new piece of technology there’s a certain amount of risk involved with that. Convincing people to adopt that technology and take that risk the first time takes a lot of work. You really need to do that leg work to show people how safe it is.”

Going forward Shell expects drone technology to become used for day-to-day operations and not just for specialized tasks. As the process continues to prove its advantages, and more activities can be aggregated, it’s further justification for companies to start or expand their drone program.

Shell’s next greatest challenge in relation to their program expansion is dealing with different regulations from country to country.

Gaining insights from such a large global company like Shell and understanding how they have leveraged the power of drone technology, affirms that this is just the beginning for drones.

Source: Insights from a world-class drone program


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