Marc: Hi everyone and welcome to this episode of the Bounce Podcast. A podcast that looks at everything related to commercially using drones indoor. Welcome to this episode of the Bounce Podcast. Today, we are with Richard Schutte, chief pilot at Viper Drone. Rich has over five years of experience using commercial drones in heavy industrial environment with the focus on oil and gas including refineries. Rich is also taking part at a TV show for the NFL and the Olympics. Welcome to the Bounce Podcast Rich, and thank you for being with us today.
Richard Schutte: Hi, thank you for having me.
Marc: Today, we are here to speak about the challenges of using drones in the oil and gas industry, but before we do so, can you tell us a little bit more about your activity at Viper Drone and a little bit also on these TV shows you're participating in?
Richard: Sure. What Viper Drones tries to do is integrate existing clear technologies with existing projects out there like DJI. A little bit about myself, what I try to do is really integrate the drones together with the cameras. Then how I got started in all of these is I've grown up in a film industry for my whole life, so once the drones came out commercially available, I bought my first Inspire One and start filming TV commercials with it and that's turned into doing some Super Bowl ads for the NFL along with some Olympic short stories too commercially.
Marc: You come from a filming background. What was those TV commercial that you've shot for the Superbowl, for example, do you have any reference?
Richard: Yes, it was called Super Babies. It was when Seal, the singer was singing about having babies during the Super Bowl. It was a very weird commercial, but a drone shot ended up making it which is pretty interesting.
Marc: How does that bring you to using commercial drone in a completely different industry because filming is one thing, but then today you're more focused on heavy industrial, so how did that transition happen?
Richard: It really happened--I've brought the drones up to my old company. It was an engineering firm and they really took it off and run with it and use it as part of a tool in their tool belt for the industrial inspections. I just road right into that and that's where I first saw the Elios and really got involved with it.
Marc: During the different discussion we had together in the past year, you mentioned the focus on the oil and gas industry. Some of the challenges that are met in this industry because we often hear about intrinsic safety and the constraint that goes with it. I'd be interested to get your take on that based on your experience.
Richard: Right now, with the current battery technologies, no drone will be intrinsically safe in an oil and gas setting. The best thing you can do is mitigate the risk by making anywhere you enter, human safe where the air quality won't be nonexplosive and there's a good amount of airflow moving which Elios takes advantage of by being able to run the things in the environment. Nothing will ever be truly intrinsically safe until the batteries and motors become updated, but the best thing you can do is just make that area before you enter it, safe for human entry without actually having human enter.
Marc: Basically, you do like if you were going to send humans, but you actually don't because you're sending a drone. What kind of preparation does this procedure represents?
Richard: Most of the time its air monitoring of the area. Most of the time we also have to ventilate the area too. Say, if you're inside of a tank you still want to have all the hatches open, ventilation out, so you can get the Elios levels to an acceptable level for a human to enter, but at the same time you also don't have to have the full human entry with you. You won't have to have all the safety VIs back up, air monitoring, SCBAs, things like that.
Marc: This procedures still sound like they are time-consuming and one of the benefits of using drone are the big three; Safety, downtime and saving on cost. Here you're saying it still needs a lot of preparation. In the end how does using drone benefits the big three in the Oil and Gas industry?
Richard: I think the huge benefit is no human entry, so you take away that human element of having the human in a confined area or a dangerous area. The drone can go in and do the scan without human entry and if the drone does find anything that needs human intervention, you already have most of the steps for human intervention already ready. Another thing we've done, it's all about the comfort level of the client, whoever we're working for. If they are comfortable sending it in, with doing limited testing, we could also do that too. We prefer to have ventilation though.
Marc: Still on the downtime side, because for sure safety is number one in the mind of all the people working in this industry. On the discussion I had with them, this was always the case. Safety is number one. This is already a great step to be able to avoid sending humans, but on a downtime side, because I think this one of the -- it often comes second because downtime is heavily expensive. What's your take on that? What are the saving you can bring by using drone even if you have the preparation time?
Richard: If you are in a nonexplosive environment, in relatively low temperatures within the battery limits, you can send the thing in while other things are running beside it. You don't have to bring everything down like you would with a normal human entry. You could even have, say, if you're in a hopper, you could even have the conveyors running beneath it. You don't actually have to turn anything off. It would really save time that way.
Marc: What about the explosive environment that you have neutralized? Along the process, if you compare that to a regular procedure where you are actually sending human, where do you save on time?
Richard: Normally with the human entry you have to have three or four guys there, a whole watch rescue team available. Instead of having five or six guys on payroll, standing around, doing nothing, you have a pilot, maybe an engineer on staff. You save on man hours there and you also can get the job done a lot faster too than having human inside.
Marc: You say a lot faster. What would be the ratio from your experience?
Richard: It all depends. If we were rappelling into somewhere and it may take us 10, 12 hours to do a wall, where the Elios can take us maybe an hour. It also could be, if we were just going inside of a small tank pressure vessel, we could do it maybe in four hours manned on scaffolding. The Elios could maybe do it in an hour like I said. Another thing, there's no scaffolding needed, so that saves a lot of downtime for the end client.
Marc: Depending on the situation, can be a quarter of the time to a 12th of the time and quite some saving on standby operator doing nothing basically. I think you have experienced with indoor and outdoor. Is there any difference between indoor and outdoor when you're addressing the oil and gas environment in term of preparation and procedures that you have to take with your aircraft before you start flying in these environments?
Richard: Of course, one of the main things indoor you got to look for is which way the winds moving, is there anywhere that there could be a pocket of explosive gases. You just want to mitigate your risk indoor. I know I do this a lot in the movie industry too, I do a lot of indoor flying in there. It’s all about doing a pre-walk through of the area that you’re about to inspect. Sometimes that means seeking a Go Pro in the area that you’re looking at just to get a better visual before you fly the drone in there, but it’s all about being familiar with where you’re flying and what you do. Kind of a pre-flight.
Marc: That was for the indoor. What about the outdoor environment?
Richard: Yes, outdoor is the same thing. Walk around the area that you look for, look for anything that’s going to be obstructive to your flight. Another thing I’ve had success with the Elios is tying paracord to it to keep it on sort of a tether, you know, sort of a leash for it and make sure it only goes the areas that I wanted to go to.
Marc: Oh, cool. We have a few customers using that, homemade tethered so it’s interesting to hear about. Have you ever had to use those tether for recovering the drone or?
Richard: Oh, once or twice. Wind dust always come and it happens always throw you into a hanger of some sort, but it’s more just for the safety feature for the client because everyone’s skittish around drones currently. It’s more of just for their use. I’m comfortable flying without it.
Marc: I often have discussions with oil and gas major, and it’s quite hard to convince them that it’s to their benefit to use drone despite the fact that they’re not intrinsically safe. I was wondering how hard is it for you to convince customer that’s actually drones are beneficial for them, that you’re ready to fly drone there and that you should it take on?
Richard: I think one of the main things is getting them comfortable. Obviously, showing them the time savings and cost savings is beneficial for them. Another thing is getting them comfortable with whose going to be doing the missions, whether if it’s a pilot. At viper, when I train the pilots, I’ll make sure that they go in and talk about how the drone is going to be safer in sending human in. Really, it’s education is the main keypoint to get to these oil and gas customers. A lot of the drones have had a bad sense, low crash Elios like I said is crash resistant. That’s a main education point of pushing to the customers as look, “This can hypothetically crash, but it’s going to bounce right back.”
Marc: The collision tolerance feature is really a trigger, if I understand well?
Richard: Yes, and even when I do a lot of optical gas imaging with drones too at Viper and another huge thing there is education that’s more odds all outdoors. Education of where we’re going to fly, how are we going to fly the mission really goes far away in their understanding of the drones.
Marc: How long does it take? Is it a procedure we have to be very persistent in or is it easy once you’ve done it right once?
Richard: Usually, once you’d get one flight in, it’s successful. They’re lot more open to using drones, but there’s also been cases where you just keep going back and they never get really comfortable with it. Like you said, the whole drone industry itself is so young that a lot of people are still skeptical about them.
Marc: What do you think that the community should do including Flyability today to help these majors adapt drone technology in its broad sense to perform these inspections?
Richard: I think the huge thing like I said before is just education of how the drones are safer. Some of these new drones now have collision avoidance, geofencing. That’s huge for the oil and gas industry to show them that you will only be in the area that you set, and the drone will not go over that area. Even indoors with the Elios just education of, “Look, I can go into this tank without a man entry and will never actually have confined entry permits to fill out or even a hard work permit to fill out for you. Just educating them on the benefits of it and really the cost savings on it too. Scaffolding is expensive and saving them the scaffolding cost could be huge for their yearly budget.
Marc: Do you have any ideas or numbers on the scaffolding savings they can have?
Richard: It will all depend on the vessel that you are in or the area that you are in. Another huge benefit of the Elios for scaffolding cost is you can tell the scaffolders where to build the scaffolding as a pre-inspection. Rather than scaffolding in the entire structure, you may only have to scaffold to single wall or a single location, which could be huge.
Marc: That’s something we’ve mention in some of the paper we’ve publish. Basically, it’s a way to better plan your resources, whether it’s human or financial when you actually perform the repairs. This is also a great benefit of using drones overall. I have another question for you. What’s your most memorable indoor inspection with Elios? Do you have any crunchy story to tell?
Richard: Yes. We’ve had some of the earliest Elios that have been out there. I flown every model that you guys had from the ones that you actually had to do a screen record on when record to the drone, which were fun back in the early days. One of most memorable things was flying inside of a pressure vessel. It was a pressure vessel inside of a refinery that Elios went inside of a port up about 70 feet to the top of the vessel and we checked the inlets of it with no human entry at all. Actually, the pressure washing rig was inside of it while we were inside of the vessel. That save the client an immense amount of money, and also got the job done in about, I think 20 minutes we are in and out, when a man entry we’d still won't even be on the platform in that time.
Marc: That’s a cool story. How many mission have you performed with the Elios so far?
Richard: It’s been a couple of hundreds, I’d say. I’m still flying it heavily.
Marc: That’s cool. Do you have a list of assets you’ve been inspecting in the oil and gas industry with Elios or with other drones?
Richard: I do. Like I said, one of our main things at Viper's optical gas imaging with that also comes going inside of the tanks and using Elios for that. But if there is tank vessel furnace, anything like that, I've probably been inside one with the drone.
Marc: That sounds cool. Outside of Elios, what kind of drones are you flying?
Richard: The main one I’m flying right now is an M600 that we outfit with a FLIR G300 camera to sense for gas leaks. Then in the movie industry, I have my own Inspire too with 5K, that I think the X5 on it. I have a lot of money invested into that for the film industry.
Marc: Cool. Maybe the last question for you, and especially for the audience that are listening to us. With your experience, what is your advice to people who would like to get started with flying drones in the oil and gas industry, whether it’s inspection company or large asset owners?
Richard: The best thing to know is know the drone's limitations. The drone is a tool. Actually, Johan (Sales Manager at Flyability) said it best way, the drone is a tool on a toolbox, no single drone will do everything. That's why you need lots of tools in your toolbox, say it be a Elios or an M600. Really, know the limitation of the drone before you go on site to do your inspections. Another thing is to get lots of time flying, highly metallic environments such as an oil refinery. If you don't know how to fly in manual or atti mode, things could go very bad, very fast for you.
Marc: If I summarize, have the right tools. It's not about only one drone, but several drones together that will provide the right solution and basically training and piloting experience.
Richard: Yes. Like I said, I think having the right tool for the job is huge. I wouldn't show up to fly inside of a tank with my M600 and at the same time, I wouldn't go look for gas leaks with the Elios because that would probably turn out bad.
Marc: Cool. Thank you very much, Rich, for all these insights and sharing your experience on the oil and gas industry and drones in the oil and gas industry. We've reached the end of this podcast. We hope that you have appreciated the content. Feel free to share your impressions and comments about the podcast by reaching out to us through email at firstname.lastname@example.org. If you like that content, don't hesitate to share it with your friends. Thank you, Rich, for being with us today.
Richard: Thank you for having me.
Marc: No problem. If you'd like to benefit from Rich experience and services, you can also reach out to him. Rich, what's the best way to get in contact with you?
Richard: Best way would be my email. It's email@example.com.
Marc: Very good. Thanks, everyone. Thanks, Rich. See you on the next episode. Thank you.