Enhancing facility maintenance with technology at Australia Pacific LNG

This is one in a series of articles about how ConocoPhillips global business units around the globe are using drones to safeguard personnel and property, minimize environmental impact and cut costs.

by Suzanne Schulte

Drones are now part of everyday life at the Australia Pacific LNG (APLNG) facility, located on Curtis Island, Queensland, Australia. Used initially as a safety initiative, ConocoPhillips, as the downstream operator of APLNG, has been using unmanned aerial systems (UASs) to execute inspection activities at the facility since early 2016.

Two different unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), along with one ground remote operated vehicle (G-ROV), are used to carry out a range of inspection tasks which historically would have been undertaken by specialized contractors and considered high-risk activities.

Sheldon Swanson, Australia East business unit Downstream Operations manager, said safety was the driver for using UASs at the facility and has resulted in a range of positive flow-on effects.

“Using UASs as part of our maintenance program has transformed the way we undertake inspections at the LNG facility,” said Swanson. “We have significantly lowered the risk associated with traditionally high-risk activities, reduced the time required to undertake some inspections and provided more insight to maintenance planning, contributing to improved facility maintenance and reliability outcomes.”

The Elios UAV looks like an average four-propeller drone suspended in a protective wire ball and is used to undertake internal inspections of tanks, vessels and other confined spaces, while a quadcopter UAV undertakes external inspections.

“Recently the Elios was used during a major shutdown to carry out internal inspections of the turbine exhaust stack. This enabled us to look inside the stack, assess conditions and work out what might need to be done, which has helped planning future maintenance,” Swanson said.

“Using the Elios UAV in this instance removed the requirement to access the exhaust stacks via ropes or to construct scaffolding within the confined space.”

The G-ROV was made specifically for the APLNG facility. On first glance, you might confuse the camera attached to a base with six all-terrain wheels with your child’s remote 4x4 toy car. The G-ROV is used to enter the LNG facility ground flares, while flaring, to inspect the flare and identify any future repairs or maintenance that might be required. Historically, any inspections of the flare field would be undertaken following complete isolation of the flares.

All the drones used at APLNG are fitted with recording devices. The quadcopter UAV and the G- ROV are both fitted with digital SLR cameras that can take still images or record continuous video, and the Elios UAV is fitted with a camera that records the entire flight. These images can be reviewed by the inspection team in real time and shared with others, encouraging a collaborative decision-making process when planning maintenance.