How to Hire an Industrial Inspection Robot – Part 1

Identifying the Tasks You Want to Automate

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 focuses 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.

Ground inspection robots Taurob, ANYmal, Unitree, ExRobotics and Spot gather in a warehouse

Why Should I Use an Inspection Robot?

Meticulous facility inspection optimizes maintenance efforts, extends equipment life, minimizes downtime, and increases operational productivity. However, inspection processes involve multiple steps that require a significant investment of human time, costs, and varying risks to workers.

Automation technology offers tremendous opportunities for efficiency gains, cost savings, and production increases. Beyond the basic coverage provided by stationary sensors, autonomous mobile inspection robots offer a scalable and effective method for continuously collecting and analyzing digital operational data. This approach has a significant impact on the effectiveness of inspections and remote operations, and improves safety by removing human workers from hazardous environments.

To take advantage of these benefits, plant operators are using autonomous robots that can navigate multi-story environments, tolerate adverse conditions and gather valuable operational insights. Autonomous robotics technology is relevant to all asset-intensive industries, including oil & gas, chemicals, mining, energy & utilities, and construction. Innovative asset owners know this and are increasingly using autonomous robots in their inspection and workforce planning.

Comparing different robotic inspection offerings can be overwhelming. It involves knowing why you require the technology, considering the suitability of an entire solution, i.e., looking beyond the physical robotic carrier platform, evaluating the solution from an end-to-end perspective, and ultimately partnering with an enterprise-level vendor.

The first step is to determine what you want to accomplish with inspection robots. Typically focused on productivity, safety, optimization and digitalization, industrial plant owners are deploying autonomous robotics technology for one or more of the following reasons:

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Increase Productivity

Higher equipment uptime
Longer asset lifetime
Reduce production losses

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Improve Safety & Sustainability

Reduce hazardous exposure
Mitigate workforce shortages
Attract, retain & upskill workforce

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Optimize Maintenance

Increase inspection cadence & accuracy 
Conduct inspections during operation 
Decrease inspection costs 

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Accelerate Digitalization

Create & maintain digital facility records 
Digitalize manual processes
Enable predictive monitoring & maintenance

ANYmal – Significantly contributing to chemical facilities’ uptime

W.R. Grace is transitioning the Düren Chemical Plant (Germany) from planned to preventive maintenance with ANYmal from ANYbotics as a critical component. In operations, ANYmal achieved a 1.5% increase in plant uptime.

Selecting a Fitting Robot Inspection Solution

It is critical that you determine if robotic inspection solutions meet your organization’s specific needs. To do this best, you need to consider several aspects when matching inspection solution capabilities with your automation needs and operational realities.

Having a good grasp of your inspection and data needs, your operational environment, and inspection robot capabilities is crucial. It is also essential that you assess safety and security compliance and understand the role, and availability, of support services provided by the vendor.

Infographic about how to hire an inspection robot to evaluate different robot inspection solutions

Automating Inspection – Determine the Jobs to be Done

The type of inspection jobs you want to automate will determine the type of output data and insights you need. This is critical because the type and quality of data that can be delivered will vary from robot to robot. The first step in ensuring that an inspection robot solution can work effectively is to be clear about the jobs that can be automated by inspection robots.

What jobs can inspection robots automate?

Inspection robots create value by efficiently performing various essential and repetitive jobs autonomously, which allows you to collect and manage your inspection and monitoring data. Typical jobs automated by industrial-grade inspection robots include:

Visual inspection by ANYmal that shows a level valve in the open state

Monitor Assets in Operation

Detect equipment failures early and take preventive maintenance action to avert costly defects and downtime.

What sensor does the robot need?
Visual optical zoom camera
Directional ultrasonic microphone

Thermal inspection by ANYmal with a thermal camera

Identify Thermal Anomalies

Powerful, previously undetected insights about the condition of equipment through frequent automated thermal inspection.

What sensor does the robot need?
High quality thermal camera

A map that show the spread of gas as a gas detection map

Detect Gas Presence

Monitor combustible and toxic gas concentration levels in real-time and enable operators to react to gas leaks early.

What sensor does the robot need?
Range of toxic and/or combustible gas sensors

3D Lidar scan that shows a mining facility

Enable Reality Capture

Create and update existing 3D models on-demand, more accurately, cheaper, and quicker.

What sensor does the robot need?
360° Lidar scanner

ANYbotics – Automated end-to-end solutions

ANYmal, the ANYbotics inspection robot, provides a ‘ready-to-go’, end-to-end solution that allows customers to automate inspections easily and create value immediately.

How accurately do inspection robots monitor industrial facilities?

High-end sensors enable inspection robots to perceive beyond a human’s natural perception, which allows the robots to collect very accurate, high-quality data. They cover hundreds of inspection points per mission and can consistently conduct multiple, precise tasks at any time of the day. The data quality depends on the robot’s data capturing, contextualization, processing, and quality optimization capabilities. 

Capturing data: The robot’s ability to consistently locate and access all predefined and ad hoc inspection points and reliably capture high-quality raw sensor data from the same viewpoint.

Data contextualization and fusion: The robot’s ability to associate data with time, location, viewpoint and create additional insights through the fusion of extrinsically calibrated sensors (e.g., visual, thermal, and acoustic measurements, gas leak detection, and reality capture).

Inspection intelligence: The robot’s ability to firstly, verify the state of instrumentation and equipment (e.g., manometers, gauges, counters, LCDs, levers, and valves) and, secondly, through AI-based inspection algorithms, detect anomalies and turn information into insights.

Quality optimization: The robot’s ability to assess data through edge computing and to make adjustments for poor quality. This happens through object recognition, correctly framing equipment (even after movement), unwarping perspectives, removing background objects, and reacting to visibility issues such as occlusion or glare.

ANYmal – Autonomous inspection intelligence

ANYmal immediately self-determines the quality of the data collected on its missions and autonomously takes corrective measures. As can be seen in the image below, ANYmal adjusts its position to avoid reflections on the gauge and retrieves the exact value on the display. The same applies to occlusion caused by people or material.

Visualization of the autonomous repositioning done by ANYmal to get better inspection data

Can inspection robots work by themselves?

With the availability of small 3D sensors, such as depth cameras and Lidar, and powerful portable computing, established technology enables autonomous mobile robots to accomplish work by themself in complex environments. Robot control occurs on three levels:

Full autonomy: The robot can repeatedly move through industrial environments without human intervention. Once set up for the environment, the robot finds the fastest way to complete its inspection tasks while continuously checking for and avoiding obstacles.

Supervised autonomy: The robot operates independently to accomplish individual short-term tasks under human supervision. For example, the operator might ask for a specific reading, and the robot will self-navigate to the required location to deliver the result. During execution, the robot might rely on operator feedback in unexpected situations.

Teleoperation: Operators maintain complete control over the robot remotely. The user receives a real-time video stream and other environmental data and commands the robot to move in a particular direction. The robot takes care of basic mobility, stability, and obstacle avoidance, but the user can also steer the robot in previously unknown environments.

Fully autonomous robots are required to conduct effective routine inspections. They enable more frequent inspection missions around the clock, provide accurate data consistently, minimize the risk of human operator error, and don’t require human resources. Most fully autonomous solutions offer robot docking stations that allow for regular recharging, which enables numerous inspection missions, as well as operating time and range extension through multiple docking stations.

ANYmal – Automated docking and charging

ANYbotics’ robots offer industry-leading autonomy out of the box. Built-in Lidar, surround depth cameras, and powerful onboard computing enable full autonomy, automated docking and charging, even in complex environments. There is no need for continuous data connectivity, or the need to install artificial markers.

Once you have compared the tasks you want to automate with what inspection robots can do, continue by reading Part 2 of this series, which focuses on inspection robots in your operation.

Article Series

Part 1: Identifying the Tasks You Want to Automate
Part 2: Inspection Robots in Your Operations
Part 2: Inspection Robots in Your Operations
Part 3: Integration, Safety, Security and Support
Part 3: Integration, Safety, Security and Support

About ANYbotics

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.

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