Material Matters: Robots Enhance Inspection

October
,
2015

On July 4, 1997, the Mars Pathfinder delivered a six-wheel rover, named Sojourner, to the red planet to explore the terrain and demonstrate the feasibility of low-cost landings on the Martian surface. NASA completed that successful mission with technology that is now nearly two decades old.

Fast forward to 2015, and the chemical process industries (CPI) are beginning to employ more-advanced robotics technology, including unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) and ground and submersible remotely controlled vehicles, to explore the surfaces of flare stacks, elevated pipe trays, distillation columns, and other hard-to-reach plant equipment. These vehicles are able to travel, for example, to the top of a flare stack, gather information with high-performance cameras, and return data to the ground. Inspection jobs that used to take two months can be handled in less than two days.

Robotic vehicles are ideal for spotting problems like corrosion and cracking in metal, polymers, or ceramic structures. Using a high-performance camera capable of reading...

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