Drone Tank Inspections at Shell Rheinland

August 3, 2023

Shell Energy and Chemicals Park Rheinland is relying on the Automated Drone Inspection Solution from Energy Robotics at its largest site in Germany. The beyond visual line of sight (BVLOS)-approved drone solution enables operators to execute automated inspection missions from their control rooms. The implementation of this innovative, cost-efficient solution is a leap forward in the digitalization strategy at Shell.

With this drone deployment, Shell is one of the pioneers in automating drone flights to monitor tank farms at the Energy and Chemicals Park Rheinland. Through the approval received from the German Federal Aviation Authority, Shell is now able to carry out regular drone operations - even without direct visual contact, known in technical parlance as "Beyond visual line of sight" (BVLOS). Combined with the Energy Robotics Solution, Shell employees are able to monitor tank roof-tops from anywhere in Germany and no longer need to be on site.

drone tank inspection
The drone on an automated inspection mission (Image Courtesy: Shell)

The drones are enabled by the Energy Robotics software to automatically ascend from their docking station and execute pre-defined inspection missions. During automatic inspection missions, the drone checks whether the seal on the tank roof is intact, detects the presence of rainwater, and also checks the condition of the grounding cable. High-resolution images in RGB colors as well as thermal images are captured by the drone for this purpose. The captured data is analyzed by AI Skills in the Energy Robotics Cloud to detect, for example, the presence of water.

Automated drone inspections relieve operators from tedious manual inspection rounds. At regular intervals, operators need to climb the 25-meter-high tanks to check the 19 floating roofs. What used to take several hours of arduous work is now executed automatically by the drone in just 20 minutes. Once the drone completes its mission, it automatically returns to the docking station manufactured by Idiployer. In addition, the BVLOS-approved drone solution eliminates the need for onsite inspection personnel, thus minimizing the potential of workplace accidents. This is an important step toward achieving Shell's Goal Zero - reducing workplace accidents to zero.  

Drone-in-a-box: Fully automatic deployment in unmanned facilities (Image Courtesy: Shell)

"Shell is highly innovative in tank roof inspections with the deployment of the automated drone solution. This technology can also be used for many other monitoring tasks that make these operations safer and more efficient." explains Thomas Klein, Digital Innovation Lead at Shell.

Co-Founder and CEO of Energy Robotics, Marc Dassler says, "Daily monitoring of assets is vital for the safe and efficient operation of critical infrastructure. However, manual inspection is a tedious task that ties up experienced staff. Our software empowers automated drones and autonomous robots to collect high-quality data for asset maintenance and efficient operations. The robots and drones are cost-effective and can be quickly integrated into daily operations."

"We are excited to see our drone solution being BVLOS-approved and adding value to our customer's day-to-day processes! We are looking forward to further collaboration with Idiployer on adding more types of off-the-shelf drones to our end-to-end system. Furthermore, we are working closely with Droniq to scale our product fully aviation compliant." states Dominik Neuwirth, Energy Robotics Partnerships.

In addition to drones, autonomous ground robots are also deployed at the Shell Energy and Chemicals Park Rheinland. The fleet of drone and robots are managed through the hardware-agnostic Energy Robotics Platform. In the future, Shell plans to expand its fleet of drones at the facility and intends to implement the solution at other sites as well.

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Vladimir Margolin
Vice President Global Sales