Robots in Plant Maintenance Up the Wall: How Climbing Roots Revolutionize Plant Maintenance

From Dominik Stephan |

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Nothing less than redefining maintenance: That's what the robot "geckos" from the company of the same name, which can climb walls, chimneys and plant to search for damaged areas using a variety of sensors, are supposed to do. But a finding alone does not make maintenance...

Gecko develops climbing robots and enterprise software to protect everyday infrastructure.
Gecko develops climbing robots and enterprise software to protect everyday infrastructure.
(Source: Business Wire)

The robots are coming! More and more plant operators are relying on 'colleague robots' for the inspection and maintenance of large plants. Equipped with cameras or thermal imaging sensors, the intelligent tin cans walk or roll through the plant to detect damaged areas. And some of them even climb the walls: Gecko Robotics is the name of a company from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, which brings robotic helpers equipped with ultrasonic transducers, localization sensors, lasers and HD cameras onto the market for customers in industrial maintenance.

Similar to the reptile of the same name, the Gecko robots remotely climb vertically and horizontally by magnetically sticking to a variety of device types. There, the clever climbers can use their sensor technology to detect changes in thickness, cracks, corrosion, blistering and other forms of aging.

The robots also have localization technology that can determine the exact position of an object, the manufacturer explains. This enables highly accurate inspections that allow inspectors to analyze corrosion trends over time, predict potential failures and estimate when repairs are needed.

Teamwork for the Robo-Climbers

This would also open up considerable efficiency potential in Europe for plant operators in industries such as pulp and paper, the energy sector, or chemicals, petrochemicals, oil and gas - according not only to robot experts, but also to decision-makers at Siemens Energy.

Over the past year, we've worked closely with experts from Siemens Energy to understand the value and impact that the collaboration of our companies can create for the European energy market,” noted Ryan Herman, Gecko’s Managing Director, Europe. “It’s become clear that by coming together to serve these customers we can unlock new data insights and help achieve reliability and efficiency not previously possible.”

The Robots Are Coming! On an Inspection Tour of the Chemical Plant with my Colleague, the Robot
Gallery with 15 images

The - preliminary - result is a three-year collaboration to market and carry out advanced ultrasonic inspections with robots throughout Europe. To strengthen the cooperation, Siemens Energy has set up a new product competence center in the Netherlands, with expansion already planned. Joint projects across Europe, for example in Poland (pulp/paper), Belgium (waste recycling), the Netherlands (food processing) or the UK (power generation) underline the potential of the technology.

"The collaboration between Gecko Robotics and Siemens Energy brings the best of both worlds together to deliver end-to-end value for our customers. With one of the industry’s largest installed fleets of rotating equipment, Siemens Energy will provide unparalleled customer access to bring proven robotics technology to its wide customer base,” according to Herman Smit, Manager Robotic Inspections at Siemens Energy. “The robotic inspection system will not only ensure safe and reliable operations of customer assets but also provide rich multi-modal data to make condition-based maintenance of static equipment much more feasible."

What can Robots in Maintenance Really Do?

Based on the data collected by the Gecko robots and the software platform, the partners aim to be able to generate validated reports within 24 hours, enabling inspectors to quickly make an assessment and make informed decisions about ongoing maintenance or repairs.

This process and short turnaround time will also help reduce equipment downtime and lost production while ensuring that critical repairs are performed with high effectiveness, according to the project partners.

Coordination with Siemens Energy's European Field Service organization will give Gecko a local presence in Europe, access to local technical talent, and the opportunity to work with customers in the region. Siemens Energy will be responsible for hiring and training local technicians and customer service representatives throughout Europe, allowing Gecko Robotics to efficiently deliver state-of-the-art technology while complying with all local safety and labor regulations.


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