The Pluto LNG facility is a towering maze of pipes, platforms, and machinery located on a remote stretch of coastline in northwestern Australia, over 1000 km from the nearest city. Operated by Woodside Energy—Australia’s largest listed natural gas producer—the facility is one of the most technologically advanced LNG production facilities in the world, with capacity to produce 4.9 million tons of LNG each year from two offshore gas fields.

Headquartered in Perth, Woodside has oil, gas, and new energy projects stretching from Australia to the Gulf of Mexico. Site preparation of Pluto LNG began in 2007 and took seven years to complete. Woodside plays a crucial role in providing energy to customers in Australia and globally, so running a safe and efficient facility is paramount. 

Spector is able to go and find information. [T]hen we’re able to access that information, run analytics on top of that. So it provides the operator with a detailed view of what they need to do next.

Shawn Fernando, PROC Delivery Manager

Using Robots for Risky Inspections

Given the scale of operations at Pluto LNG as well as the site’s critical nature to the region, it’s important to avoid issues that may result in downtime. This means identifying issues early and often, before they escalate into hazardous situations. Enter Boston Dynamics’ agile mobile robot, Spot.

Woodside recently launched a new data capture service at Pluto LNG featuring the robot, which Woodside calls “Spector,” conducting routine inspections throughout the site and therefore reducing the exposure of operators to potential hazards. Woodside is using the first set of Spector-captured images to complete regulatory visual inspections for electrical equipment under Woodside’s performance standards. 

Woodside worked closely with Boston Dynamics and DroneDeploy, which provided Spector’s linkage between Spot and Woodside’s in-house digital twin of the Pluto LNG facility, known as “FUSE”. The agile mobile robot moves autonomously through the facility, navigating obstacles and righting itself in case of stumbles.

“DroneDeploy’s advanced robotic inspection platform enables Woodside to programmatically send robots to inspect critical assets,” said David Inggs, Head of Robotics & Automation at DroneDeploy. “This significantly reduces the time inspectors need to spend in hazardous environments.”

Multiple Cameras Onboard

Spot’s payloads include Spot CAM+IR, which features a 30x optical zoom camera and a thermal camera that can detect whether equipment is at risk of overheating. The goal is to confirm equipment is in good operating condition, as well as identify potential problems before they can escalate.

To operate the robot in classified hazardous locations in accordance with legal requirements and Woodside’s risk assessment procedures and policies, a custom safety payload was developed and implemented. If Spot senses gas while conducting an inspection or gas elsewhere on site, the safety payload will immediately shut down the robot by electrically isolating the battery. 

By completing this hazardous and routine work, Spector allows humans to focus on what they do best—assess and solve problems.

“Spector is able to go and find information,” said Shawn Fernando, PROC Delivery Manager. “[T]hen we’re able to access that information, run analytics on top of that. So it provides the operator with a detailed view of what they need to do next.”

Giving Crews Greater Awareness

Spector transmits images and data directly into Woodside’s digital twin, FUSE, so operators and analysts can pinpoint the exact location of an issue within a virtual environment.

Before the Spector program, it could take up to 90 minutes to find equipment and then complete an end-to-end visual inspection of that equipment. With Spector, inspectors can review images first to determine their response and bring exactly what they need.

“One of the biggest benefits of the robot-captured images is that they can be used to identify issues before arriving in the field,” said Bruce Hill, Electrical Inspection Coordinator at Woodside. “This means we can bring spares and fix any issues as soon as possible, saving even more time.”  

Additional Payloads Available

Although the Spector program currently focuses on visual and thermal inspections, future payloads could enable Spector to report leaks and noise anomalies, perform line of fire tasks in high-voltage substations, and build a continuously updated 360° view for planning work scopes and identifying changes in the asset condition over time.

Looking to the future, Hill added, “We build learned image recognition of defects and early reporting in a continuous supervision capacity, allowing other teams to be notified when there might be an issue.”

Learn more about how Woodside got started with Spot and their initial pilot process.