Smart Technology Top 5 Drone Applications in the Chemical/Chemical Processing Industry

Author / Editor: Ahlam Rais* / Ahlam Rais

The rise of drones or unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) in the chemical and chemical processing industry has helped plant operators to monitor critical infrastructure, undertake better informed decisions and achieve accurate, efficient and quick results without putting their personnel at risk.

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Drones are increasingly being used by chemical/chemical processing companies for outdoor monitoring of assets, gas leaks or emissions as it has the ability to reach elevated platforms.
Drones are increasingly being used by chemical/chemical processing companies for outdoor monitoring of assets, gas leaks or emissions as it has the ability to reach elevated platforms.
(Source: Thyssenkrupp Industrial Solutions)

Today’s smart drones have transformed the manner in which chemical and chemical processing industries carry out crucial functions such as monitoring and inspection. Right from providing an up-close imagery of critical plant infrastructure to creating digital twins effortlessly, drones offer it all! PROCESS Worldwide brings to you the ‘Top 5 Drone Applications’ in this space.

Routine Outdoor Inspection – Drones are increasingly being used by chemical/chemical processing companies for outdoor monitoring of assets, gas leaks or emissions as it has the ability to reach elevated platforms. The Dow Chemical Company is using UAVs to inspect flares, distillation columns, and pipelines at its facilities. Chevron has also carried out visual inspections for its onshore flare stacks in the Duri field in Indonesia. Equipped with high-resolution cameras and sensors, these drones can accurately assess the condition as well as identify temperature irregularities on the flare stacks.

To monitor its methane emissions, BP conducted a pilot project in which it combined the highly advanced sensor technology originally designed by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration for the Mars Curiosity Rover Mars technology with a drone and managed to collect valuable data.

Internal Inspection – Entering into dangerous confined spaces such as storage tanks, cables, agitators, reactors, or pressure vessels is risky for personnel. Utilizing UAVs for internal inspection of assets helps reduce downtime, costs and is safe when compared to the traditional procedure in which personnel are made to enter hazardous environments. Drones can inspect the cladding, detect leaks or cracks, identify signs of rust and corrosion and locate dropped objects or unwanted items within the asset. Also, there is a high risk of collision once the drones enter tanks or boilers hence, drone companies often offer a cage around the UAV or come equipped with a collision-avoidance system so that one can gather data without any difficulty.

Drones have delivered millions in dollars in savings and eliminated tens of thousands of hours of HSSE (Health, Safety, Security and Environment) exposure to work at height and in confined spaces. Shell now looks to extend this value by embedding drones into assets so they can support missions for high frequency/low impact activities which will complete the journey of drones from ad-hoc tool to a critical piece of infrastructure.

Adam Serblowski, Robotics Theme Lead, Shell

Emergency Response and Security – Chemical/chemical processing plants should always be on their toes in case of an emergency situation such as an oil/deadly chemical spillage or gas leaks. It is in scenarios like these where UAVs equipped with high-definition cameras can be flown in immediately to the site to gather real-time visuals and data before an emergency response team is sent in. This helps the experts to take rapid, accurate and more informed decisions to control the situation. Drones can also be used to ensure security at the plants 24x7 as they provide real-time visibility at the site.

Next-Gen Drone Innovations
Next-Gen Drone Innovations
(Source: PROCESS WW)

Surveying and Mapping – UAVs are also ideal for surveying and mapping plants as well as inaccessible areas such as underwater or underground pipelines. It can survey and map pipe depths and positions; detect leaks; and also identify operational issues in the pipelines. This process is faster, requires less manpower and is also cost effective. The data collected by the drones is accurate and exhaustive and can be further processed to develop 3D models of the particular project.

Digital Twins – The surveying and mapping data helps to create 3D models or digital twins of plants which enables in the revamping process when certain parts of the facility have to be reengineered.

Drones help us in scanning existing plant environments and the results are then transferred into a 3D modeling software. After some adjustments it serves as the perfect base to carry out any work at the specific site. Be it a revamp job at the scanned site or the construction of a new plant where a piping system needs to be connected.

Tobias Rabsahl, Digital Product Manager, Thyssenkrupp Industrial Solutions

The global drone or UAV market size is expected to reach 41.3 billion dollars by 2026 at a CAGR of 9.4 %, according to a report by market research firm, Research and Markets. Today, the commercial drone market is spearheaded by Asia (China and Japan) while the fasting growing region is South America.

High-definition cameras and cutting-edge innovative sensors are constantly being worked upon to deliver superior industrial drones for the demanding sectors. In a few years, drones will certainly be the next revolutionary technology to watch out for!

* The author is a freelance editor at PROCESS Worldwide. Contact:

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