Risk-based inspection, often used by operators in the offshore world to improve efficiency and performance, is changing with each new piece of technology introduced to the market – unmanned cameras being a prime example. Whilst remote presence and technology can offer significant opportunities and benefits to floating production storage and offloading unit (FPSO) operators, it also comes with obvious limitations. The questions that many operators’ have are around compliance and acceptance by regulators and class societies. And if these new technologies comply with necessary Rules and help support safety cases, then will it still protect surveyors and personnel from dangerous environments?
Mark Tipping, Lloyd’s Register’s Offshore Technology Manager, takes a closer look into risk-based inspection to answer some of these questions, looking specifically at offshore applications and regulatory regimes that have accepted these approaches.
What is risk-based inspection?
Risk-based inspection (RBI) is a tool used by operators to demonstrate a formal process of verifying that their assets remain safe and meet the integrity management goals of the facility, a requirement needed by many regulatory regimes. Accepted by various offshore jurisdictions around the world, RBI is an alternative to traditional periodical classification survey schemes. According to Tipping, “RBI looks at a specific component within an asset, mainly its state and location, with the purpose of detecting and monitoring degradation while applying decision-making criteria to manage risk on an acceptable level.”
“It’s a great benefit to operators as it gives them a better understanding of the state of their entire asset so they can plan inspection around risk and identify when assets need fixing or replacing,” Tipping continued, “RBI can help operators optimise downtime and a reduction in unplanned shutdowns along with increased efficiency by focusing on critical equipment.”
This differs from the traditional approach, which requires a class society to perform surveys on a routine prescriptive basis, rather than looking at the state of the asset or critical equipment, causing unnecessary downtime which can have a financial impact.
How is remote technology changing the RBI process?
Remote presence is defined as an inspection, survey or recorded data point without the surveyor being present on the facility. With this, some forms of remote technology can produce data and imagery that forms part of the RBI approach; for example, high fidelity images of an oil tank or data taken directly from mooring lines can help to minimise risk and prevent incidents as surveyors and crew don’t have to enter the confined spaces or other hazardous environments.
“Remote presence exists today in the offshore industry, for example, the facilities that have fibre links to shore can provide real-time telemetry of the facility and its mooring lines, giving the surveyor the option to review certain parameters of the mooring lines from their desk. In other words, it’s a remote activity as the surveyor is not physically present onboard the asset,” stated Tipping.
The data obtained from real-time telemetry provides a higher level of assurance that the asset is working as it should. This type of activity has assisted the overall RBI approach by enabling class societies and operators to optimise the physical visits required, building on existing data and information about the asset, which in turn saves time and money.
Unmanned cameras, another form of remote activity, has also supported the RBI approach by removing the need for a surveyor or a member of the crew to enter a dangerous area, a concern many operators and class societies share. EM&I Alliance, an integrity management and inspection services provider, developed a high-fidelity unmanned camera to provide owners with assurance that its asset is performing in a safe and efficient condition, whilst at the same time ensuring that the activity does not impact operations - in this case the surveyor is outside the area of concern, using their knowledge and experience to interpret the camera’s data.
This is a true benefit to both operators and class societies as it limits the exposure of personnel from entering a potentially dangerous space and minimises time spent from stopping/resuming operations while, importantly, still utilising an LR surveyor’s knowledge and experience.
EM&I Alliance cameras offer data, imagery and information about different parts of the operator’s asset - typically cargo oil tanks and water ballast tanks - which in turn builds a realistic picture of the asset’s overall condition, helping operators and class societies identify when surveys and inspections are needed and when the survey really does require human entry.
LR has worked closely with the inspection services provider and innovator to ensure its unmanned camera equipment and the information it produces complies with class requirements and Rules, specifically regarding quality of image and the level of detail it can pick up, such as hair line cracks.
This is crucial as the imagery and data from the unmanned cameras will inform the detailed inspection plan which outlines what will (and will not) be included in the camera’s results. This plan will then be used by the surveyor to determine a risk-based judgement from outside the confined space onboard the asset.
How has Vysus Group used remote technology so far?
Remote technology means that LR can deliver the same level of service to clients without needing to be physically present on all occasions. When planning surveys under any regime, whether that’s RBI or time-based, it’s important to understand just how busy an asset can get during planned maintenance periods; the increase in personnel onboard is a serious logistical and safety issue for operators to manage. While this is not the driving consideration when deciding on the suitability of a technology for an inspection item, the ability to help clients manage personnel onboard, and the associated challenges, are considered as part of the overall picture.
Therefore, “LR is careful when utilising technology and opportunities provided by the planned maintenance in order to achieve the inspection goals,” said Tipping. “For instance, if a piece of equipment is being examined for maintenance, LR acknowledges this in the inspection plan and where possible (and appropriate) deploy remote inspection techniques.” This will help manage the number of visits required and reduce personnel onboard during busy times.
As an example, LR can deliver certain aspects of remote surveys on a continuous basis for FPSOs mooring systems, provided that the operator has the right technology enabled to monitor the asset’s performance in real-time from shore. Only then LR can accept as evidence that the asset is working as it should in accordance with the RBI approach. Tipping emphasised: “while we appreciate that there are remote technologies that can help class perform its activities in conjunction with RBI regimes, it is entirely dependent on the circumstance.
There are some scenarios where a physical survey must be performed, a general annual survey, for instance, or if a surveyor needs to inspect a specific area or component on behalf of a regulator. These surveys are often dependent on the human element whereby LR surveyors drawn upon their extensive knowledge and experience to not only deliver the service but also to conduct the manned inspections with the knowledge gained from the remote surveys to help limit impact on the facility.”
Acceptance by Class
Many operators ask whether this type of remote activity is accepted by class societies. “From a LR perspective, techniques must be as good as a surveyor performing the inspection in person and technology providers, inspection service companies and operators alike must prove that this is the case if we are to accept the data as part of the overall RBI process,” Tipping explained.