Darrell Durdle and his team using drones to inspect the flare tip onboard Terra Nova.

When it comes to equipment inspections, the flare tip on our floating, production, storage and offloading (FPSO) vessel at Terra Nova is probably as remote as it gets – 350 kilometers out to sea and 107 metres up in the air.

“Remote” has an added meaning in this case though, because Darrell Durdle and his maintenance team can now monitor the flare remotely using flying unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV), or, as they’re more commonly known, drones.

In the past, the maintenance team maneuvered a helicopter near the hot flare tip with a photographer to take pictures, or they set up scaffolding inside of oil cargo tanks to search for signs of fatigue during turnarounds. With the drones, the team can keep an eye on the flare, including watching for heat damage and any changes, from the safety of the deck of the vessel.

Darrell, a professional engineer by trade, and the FPSO maintenance team are always looking to improve maintenance processes to make them safer, more efficient and cost effective.

“We started asking questions about how we could do this better, and it made sense to put a drone up there. It’s safer, we get much better picture quality, and it’s lower cost. It all added up to a good business case to try something new.”

And the inspections are pretty impressive. Darrel explains how easy it is to zoom in on the high-quality photos, offering a much clearer picture for maintenance teams to complete their inspections.

“Drones are becoming more mainstream and ultimately reduce risk, for both people and equipment, especially when working in a confined space or at heights,” he explains.

Darrell and the team acknowledge there are challenges around drone regulation and airspace rules because the technology is so new, but they agree on the potential for using this technology in other areas.

“I never would have imagined that coordinating remote-controlled airplanes would be in my job description,” he says with a laugh.

This story contains forward-looking information. Please see legal advisories for more information.

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