Inspection Robots at Your Operations
Industrial inspection robots are mobile data-gathering systems. They carry measurement sensors and are designed to navigate facilities built for humans. The usage of this technology is rapidly growing, yet it requires intricate knowledge for new adopters to hire their first inspection robot.
If you are interested in using ground robots to automate industrial inspection jobs in your plant operations, this three-part article series is for you. It will equip you to evaluate different platforms, understand the industrial inspection ecosystem, and make informed decisions around requirements, applications, and suitability. Part one focused on identifying the tasks you want to automate. Part two focuses on enabling inspection robots at your operations. Part three focuses on integration, safety, and support.
Will Inspection Robots Work in My Environment?
Industrial sites vary in complexity, including stairs, multiple levels, Ex-rated zones, dark areas, outdoor facilities, and adverse weather conditions. The robot’s ability to autonomously navigate your facility is critical to automating inspection tasks.
Can inspection robots climb stairs?
People design industrial plants for people, and they invariably have stairs, steps, and other obstacles, such as piping. For large-scale automation of inspection tasks, robots must climb stairs and be able to overcome various obstacles on the ground. Ideally, robots have a small footprint and can move in all directions (omnidirectional) to get close to the machinery. Because passages are often very narrow, robots often provide a symmetric design to move bidirectionally, i.e., forward or backward, without turning around.
Different robotic inspection platforms are better suited to distinct types of terrains. Robots with wheels or tracks are physically limited to flat surfaces, while some systems provide so-called “flippers” that enable them to overcome moderate terrain with steps. Robots that move on legs offer maximum flexibility. These four-legged robots can climb stairs, and easily overcome steps, piping, and other obstacles, and reliably move in gravel, sand, grass, and snow.
Can inspection robots navigate complex environments?
For autonomy and safety in dynamic environments, robots need to perceive the world around them precisely. They achieve this by using Lidar, depth cameras, and sensors that cover 360 degrees around the robot.
The robot’s ability to locate itself and plan a new route when it encounters unforeseen obstacles is critical. Some systems can get ‘lost’ or confused easier than others and require additional artificial markers (AR tags) to be set up in the environment. Other systems provide advanced autonomy that robustly localizes the robot, providing reliable path optimization and navigation, even in adverse weather conditions and harsh environments such as the open sea.
Leading solutions are designed to navigate existing facilities and require no additional structural changes.
ANYbotics – Unparalleled autonomy and global path optimization
The ANYbotics autonomy stack Pharos is optimized to provide ANYmal with unparalleled autonomy in even the toughest environments.
ANYmal X performing an automated inspection mission at an offshore oil & gas facility. (Courtesy: PETRONAS)
Can inspection robots work without WiFi/cellular connectivity?
Most industrial plants can only provide partial wireless data connectivity throughout the facility. This means that the robotic solution needs to operate without a permanent data connection. Leading inspection robots carry built-in computing capabilities, have onboard data storage, and upload the data once they connect to an available network. This functionality eliminates the need for continuous network communication and allows the robot to operate effectively without WiFi or cellular connection. For example, ANYmal from ANYbotics provides full autonomy and continuous data collection independently of a stable network connection but can leverage a WiFi and 4G/LTE interface for real-time reporting and teleoperation.
Can inspection robots work in harsh environments?
Outdoor inspections present several challenges, including rain, humidity, dust, and salt water. Robotic solution providers rate their inspection robots according to the ISO Standard for Ingress Protection (IP Code), which indicates how well a device is protected against liquids and dust. An IP67 rating is the standard for outdoor inspection robots because it allows for continuous long-term use in outdoor environments without the risk of damaging the system.
Due to the nature of industrial sites, inspection robots can accumulate a variety of undesirable substances, including hydrocarbons, chemical residues, and radioactive dust. It is important that robots can be easily cleaned and decontaminated of toxic or active substances without compromising functionality. Robots with an IP67 ingress protection rating can be cleaned quickly and easily with high-pressure water.
ANYmal – Ruggedized design
Robust design is a prerequisite for full functionality in harsh, wet and dirty conditions. ANYmal is 100% protected against dust and water and can be easily cleaned with water after inspection missions.
ANYmal’s robust design and IP67 rating are essential for full functionality in harsh, wet, and dirty conditions.
The robot’s area coverage is significant
The ability of an inspection robot to cover a given area affects its effectiveness and operational capacity. Monitoring more inspection points in larger areas makes the robot more effective. The robot’s range, i.e., the distance it can cover, is determined by the complexity of the environment, the number of inspection points, the weight of the payload, the runtime allowed by battery life, and recharge time. Legged and tracked robots can cover different areas and are more suitable for different environments.
Tracked robots are relatively heavy, some weighing more than 100 kg. They can have a battery life of up to 4 hours and a range of up to 2-3 km. Because of their relatively slow speed, short range, and inability to climb industrial stairs, tracked robots are primarily suited for relatively flat environments.
Legged robots are comparatively light at around 55 kg or less. They typically have a battery life of 2 hours and a range of up to 4 km. Because of their comparatively higher speed, longer range, and ability to climb industrial stairs, legged robots provide complete coverage and are well-suited for flat and complex environments.
Are there Ex-proof inspection robots?
Environments where flammable or explosive gasses or liquids are handled, are Ex-rated. Most areas in Oil & Gas and Chemical facilities are Ex-rated, and operators require Ex-certified, intrinsically safe equipment in these zones (ATEX or IECEx certification, for example). Ex-rated areas are classified into zones (Zone 0, Zone 1, or Zone 2), based on the occurrence and duration of explosive atmospheres. Zone 1 certification is typically required to get inspection robots close to the equipment.
Several inspection robots such as ExRobotics’ ExR-2, Taurob’s Inspector, and ANYbotics’ ANYmal X are Ex-certified. Certification classes differ, so it is important to check that the robot’s certification is compatible with your facility. Both the ATEX and IECEx certifications align with the IEC 60079 standards and, as the marking systems are very similar, they are often combined. See the Hazardous Area Guide for a breakdown of ATEX and IECEx marking characters.
ANYmal X – Game changer for the Oil & Gas and Chemical industries
As the world’s only Ex-certified, legged robotic solution, ANYmal X is Ex-certified for Zone 1 usage according to the IECEx and ATEX standards.
Can inspection robots work at night?
Robots can effectively perform inspection tasks in dimly lit or dark environments enabling 24/7 usage. Typical Lidar and active stereo cameras use active infrared (IR) lighting that is not visible to the human eye but enables the robot to see without external lighting. Top inspection robots use powerful LED spotlights to capture high-quality visual information for visual inspection in difficult lighting conditions.
ANYmal – Effective in complete darkness
Digital Realty, one of the leading carrier-neutral colocation providers, integrates ANYmal to monitor their HVAC systems continuously. ANYmal performs hundreds of inspections in hourly autonomous missions every day. Even in complete darkness, ANYmal performs effectively. No additional lighting is required for ANYmal to deliver frequent and reliable inspection results.
Different Inspection Robots Suit Different Environments
Robots for inspecting industrial facilities can be grouped according to environmental requirements: Boston Dynamics‘ highly mobile Spot (IP54 rating) is suitable for indoor and outdoor areas with temperate weather conditions. Both Unitree‘s B1 (IP68 rating) and ANYbotics‘ ANYmal (IP67 rating) can operate outdoors in adverse weather conditions, but only ANYmal has shown to negotiate industrial stairs autonomously.
When it comes to hazardous and potentially explosive areas, which are ubiquitous in the Oil & Gas and Chemical industries and require intrinsically safe equipment with ATEX/IECEx certification, robots currently available that meet Zone 1 certification requirements include: ExRobotics‘ tracked ExR-2, which navigates on flat surfaces; Taurob‘s Inspector, with flexible tracks, that can mount steps; and ANYbotics’ ANYmal X, which is the only legged robot that can navigate complex multi-story facilities.
Part 1: Identifying the Tasks You Want to Automate
Part 2: Inspection Robots in Your Operations
Since 2016, Swiss robotics company ANYbotics has developed innovative, intelligent, and integrated robotic solutions that improve workers’ lives, increase productivity, and support more sustainable industrial facilities. Partnering with global technology leaders, ANYbotics provides autonomous, automated, end-to-end robotic inspection solutions, for complex, hazardous, and explosive industrial environments, to large asset operators. ANYbotics is a fast-growing company with over 100 employees focused on supporting the inspection needs of workers in oil & gas, power, energy, mining, processing, chemicals, transportation, and construction.