How Mobile Robots Improve Industrial Safety
Automated inspection processes improve industrial safety and efficiency, especially in areas that are difficult or dangerous to access.
According to a recent survey from McKinsey, automation transformation is a priority for 88 percent of respondents in heavy industry, but under 5 percent have actually seen significant bottom-line improvements from these projects. Automation is nothing new for industrial and manufacturing companies hoping to improve efficiency, safety and reliability. So why aren’t they seeing better ROI on these new initiatives?
One big hurdle is that traditional automation tools can’t keep up with the dynamic, changeable reality of human-centric environments. Fixed robots, early mobile robots, and drones can automate certain dull, dirty and dangerous tasks, and Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) sensors can automate data capture. However, none of these options have the mobility, maneuverability and flexibility to perform reliably in areas designed for people. Obstacles as simple as stairs or a person standing in the way can quite literally trip up a tracked or wheeled robot, so high ROI use cases like automating hazardous inspections have remained out of reach.
Rather than retrofitting their facilities―typically a cost-prohibitive proposal―many organizations fall back on manual inspections and data collection processes. These manual processes are often error prone, expensive and high risk in remote or hazardous environments. The errors, data gaps and reporting lags from manual inspections result in further safety and reliability challenges, as maintenance issues and onsite hazards are only identified reactively.
With workplace injuries resulting in roughly $250 billion per year in direct and indirect costs, identifying risks proactively and removing operators from hazardous areas via automated inspections is sure to have strong ROI. Luckily, more agile mobile robots are now available that are up to the challenge of inspecting and monitoring areas where traditional automation technology can’t reach.
A NEW BREED OF MOBILE AUTOMATION
Modern mobile robots are more nimble, versatile, and rugged than ever before―increasingly capable of traversing the stairs, grates or tight quarters on a work site. These robots are taking on undesirable and risky tasks like industrial inspection, making these processes both safer and more cost-effective.
Take the operations manager of a power plant at a large electric utility, for example. If a routine inspection turns up issues, he must assess the situation quickly and devise a response plan that avoids costly downtime while maximizing employee safety. But it’s not always easy to get eyes on potentially hazardous areas and gather the information needed to resolve the issue; taking thermal readings or detecting gas leaks, for example, requires access in close proximity to the problem.
With an agile mobile robot in his toolkit, the operations manager can remotely pilot the robot, equipped with cameras and sensors, to get a closer look at the issue. This allows him to make an informed decision about next steps to safely resolve any issues, without putting any of his employees in harm’s way.
SPOT ON INDUSTRIAL INSPECTIONS
Of these modern agile robots, perhaps none is as capable as Spot. Since its commercial launch, Spot has been performing inspections and delivering value in substations, power generation sites, oil and gas refineries, offshore rigs, manufacturing plants, mines, construction sites, and other remote, hazardous and difficult to traverse locations. Each time a new use case is proven in the field, Spot helps to advance safety, reliability, efficiency and performance.
Spot can be programmed to perform autonomous rounds and readings, before returning to a battery dock. This means that even on a remote site, it’s easy to capture gauge readings, perform thermal or visual inspections and detect damage, gas leaks or radiation—regularly, reliably and all without sending a person into a dangerous environment.
With potentially expansive access to sensor data, Spot can support predictive and prescriptive maintenance, and operations managers can gain near real-time insights into what’s happening at remote locations. This expanded operational intelligence helps drive efficiency gains and reduced maintenance costs, ultimately leading to safer operations and improved working conditions for the people employed at these sites.