Companies in the energy and natural resources industries—utilities, oil and gas, mining, and more—are under pressure to meet sustainability initiatives and increase efficiencies while maintaining aging assets and infrastructure. But the number one goal for most of these companies is to reduce unplanned downtime.

Understanding what is happening on-site at these facilities is key. Whether at substations, power plants, mine tunnels, and more, reliable operational data is vital to detect issues before they escalate, resulting in safety risks or unplanned downtime.

Agile mobile robots like Spot can help capture this data, creating new opportunities to make the energy and natural resources sector safer and more efficient.

Asset Inspection and Autonomous Rounds

Consumers Energy, a public natural gas and electricity utility company in Michigan, is using Spot, an agile mobile robot, to inspect assets at the company’s critical electrical substations. For Consumers Energy, Spot captures thermal scans and gauge readings autonomously. The utility has worked with a vendor to develop a machine learning algorithm that incorporates data from Spot and detects anomalies, particularly high-heat scenarios. Having this capability in place helps the company to proactively dispatch an employee to remediate issues. Such asset management catches problems early before they escalate into an electrical outage, said Michael Cooper, manager of IT operations at Consumers, in a customer panel for the energy and natural resources industries.

Energy giant National Grid has also deployed Spot for asset management. The company uses the agile quadruped robot in its electric substations and electricity generation and transmission network areas. Spot conducts routine operator rounds and collects thermal imagery for analysis. Dean Berlin, Lead Technology Analyst at National Grid, says the company has found value in collecting thermal data over time and understanding long-term trends. “This gives us better insight into how our assets are performing and reacting to network changes,” Berlin said.

Radiation Mapping and Leak Detection

Inspection missions are part of Spot’s tasks in another kind of utility, a nuclear power plant. Ontario Power Generation (OPG) is working on a climate plan that explores clean technology. A small modular nuclear reactor and Spot are part of that strategy, shared Eddy Zhou, a member of the innovation team at OPG. The utility uses Spot for gauge reading, leak detection, equipment monitoring, and thermal inspection, which help with proactive asset management.

Additionally, Spot stays functional in high-radiation areas, meaning it can operate even in radiologically controlled areas. Spot can take radiation measurements, as it keeps workers safe from unnecessary radiation exposure.

Inspecting Hazardous and Hard-to-Reach Areas

Hazards are also part of the mining industry. This is one of the challenges LKAB Mines, headquartered in Sweden, uses Spot to resolve. Spot has helped the company improve access in underground areas—these regions have Wi-Fi connections—that are hazardous due to risk of seismic activity, rock stability, or the presence of poisonous gases. 

Nikos Petropoulos, Senior Research Engineer at LKAB, said that the company is looking for Spot’s help with an extensive set of inspection missions, including monitoring production areas for blast fumes and seismic stability. 

The company is developing an advanced inspection system, using Spot in conjunction with an aerial drone, for more coverage of hard-to-access areas, like regions with water or those affected by rock collapse. The solution would deploy a drone in such instances and relay that information back to Spot. 

Benefits of An Agile Mobile Robot

In all these use cases, Spot offers distinct advantages that make the agile robot especially suited for the energy and natural resource industries.

Navigates a variety of terrain: Spot is a tool for both natural and human-purposed environments. In underground mining operations, Spot navigates mud, water, solid rock, and dust. In power plants and facilities, Spot can easily handle stairs, tight turns, and grated walkways.

Carries a variety of payloads: Spot can be customized depending on the job that needs to be done. The robot can carry radiation detection tools to measure dose or thermal sensors for thermography inspections. Equally important to panelists is Spot’s open architecture which can accommodate payloads coming down the pike. “Spot is a platform on which other things can be built,” Berlin pointed out, “that makes the business case a very compelling one. In the future, Spot might host payloads and have capabilities that we do not yet know of.”

Easy to use: Even a new worker finds Spot’s intuitive controllers easy to use. It takes as little as two hours for new users to learn the system and its functionalities.

Delivering Robust ROI

The key advice for companies in the sector, according to Berlin, is to break down operations and figure out where the return on investment (ROI) could be. Roboticize routine tasks so workers can work smarter. Cases for where Spot can deliver ROI will become increasingly apparent once enterprises can audit their operations with an eye toward worker safety and desired frequency of asset inspections. 

The energy and natural resources industries are eager for operational efficiencies. Working with Spot helps them complement their workforce more effectively for both short and long-term gains. 

Watch the on-demand discussion to learn more about how Spot can help automate asset management for the energy, power, and utilities sector.