This article was written by Jason Acerbi, Chief Technology Officer at MFE Inspection Solutions, Inc.

Safety is a top priority in the oil and gas industry—and a major driver for adopting the latest and most advanced automated inspection technologies available. These technologies, including agile mobile robots like Spot, enable oil and gas operators to keep their facilities running safely and efficiently.

The value of these autonomous inspections was recently proven at a midstream gas plant. During an autonomous inspection round, Spot detected a plume of combustible gas being emitted from a pinhole leak. Leaks like this one may be tiny, but they pose a big risk of explosive damage. Being able to detect gas leaks reliably before they escalate is invaluable to facility safety.

Inspection Rounds at the Midstream Plant

The midstream plant in question deployed Spot for a series of autonomous inspection applications, including anomaly detection, thermal inspections, and gauge reading. Spot is able to navigate throughout the entire 40-acre facility, capturing useful data and then recharging on its docking station between inspection routes.

For this inspection, Spot was equipped with an array of sensors to capture data for monitoring asset condition and plant safety. These payloads include Spot CAM+IR for visual and thermal inspections and the FLIR MUVE C360 sensor for gas detection and analysis. Spot was also equipped with Enhanced Autonomy Payload (EAP) to enhance the robot’s autonomous navigation capabilities and an LTE modem for constant communication. 

Detecting and Responding to Combustible Gas

During one of Spot’s standard rounds collecting readings on compressor stations inside the facility, the MUVE C360 mounted on Spot detected a plume of combustible gas. This air gas monitor has readouts to indicate up to eight gas concentrations in parts per million or percentages.

With the integrated MUVE C360 API, users can set a Lower Explosive Limit (LEL) threshold. When this threshold is reached, Spot autonomously shuts down, mitigating ignition risks in hazardous environments.

Spot’s safety shut off was the first indication of a leak in the area. The plant’s safety team responded quickly to identify a pinhole leak on a nearby asset and were able to move forward with a mitigation plan.

Improving Safety Outcomes

The midstream plant operators were thrilled to see the efficiency and precision of the MUVE C360 when paired with Spot.  Being able to autonomously detect pinhole leaks as part of Spot’s routine maintenance rounds has major benefits for plant safety. This kind of solution makes it simple to detect hazards and keep people out of harm’s way.

“This is a perfect example of using unmanned chemical sensing to reduce risk for oil and gas, as well as other industrial manufactures,” said Craig Cume, product management director for Detection at Teledyne FLIR. “The MUVE C360 sensor on board Spot is making reliable and effective remote gas detection a reality.”

Spot was not only able to detect leaks accurately with the gas sensor and safely initiate its shutdown process. This solution also has the potential to speed detection and response times. Automating hazard detection means issues like this leak can be fixed faster and the risk to the people in the facility is mitigated faster. This approach can have major benefits in the oil and gas industry to improve safety and efficiency.

About MFE Inspection Solutions

MFE Inspection Solutions is dedicated to providing our customers with the best tools and solutions for the job, focusing on dependability, customer service, and professionalism. We look forward to being a part of your solution to any inspection challenges you may have and take pride in protecting lives from hazardous situations.  Reach out today to learn what our team can do for you.