UAV Inspection Service Shows a Flare for Refineries

August 13, 2019 | Author: Brad Westphal

Honeywell is making the tough job of inspecting refineries and chemical plants a whole lot easier – not to mention safer, faster and less expensive. The Honeywell Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) Inspection and Data Analytics Service uses drones to inspect flare stacks, fluid cracking units and other refinery assets without disrupting normal operations.

Our UAV Inspection and Data Analytics Service Team worked closely with the UOP and UOP Callidus businesses of Honeywell to put together an integrated package of services that applies our unique capabilities in connectivity, industrial software and data analytics. By working together we position Honeywell as a single point of service to meet refinery inspection needs.

Sensors onboard our UAVs capture thousands of high-resolution still, video, infrared and thermal images of refinery assets, all while they’re still up and running. Currently we use that imagery alongside our field services and engineering experts at Honeywell Callidus and Honeywell UOP to write detailed reports of current-state equipment condition, as well as recommended repairs and replacements for our customers.

However, we are now leveraging the expertise of our Honeywell experts to take their insights even further by using advanced data analytics to catalog and categorize the data imagery collected for machine learning driven insights of potential problems like cracks, corrosion and leaks that might not be visible to the naked eye.


As a result, the customer gets a truly “One Honeywell” offering combining the onsite expertise of Honeywell’s subject matter experts from UOP and Callidus, as well as reporting which combines the decades of subject matter experience with the deeper augmented insights of artificial intelligence.

Honeywell software uses artificial intelligence to provide actionable insights to help operators put together a plan for maintenance, repair and replacement of key refinery assets. Based on parameters the customer provides, our software will rank and issues found in priority order so they can address the most critical issues first.

The UAV Inspection Service gives oil refineries a safer, faster and more cost-effective alternative to the conventional inspection process. Currently, employees manually inspect flare stacks and capture images using scaffolding or sky lifts. Safety is a top priority in the oil and gas industry and companies with a strong safety commitment welcome the opportunity to reduce employees’ exposure to potential hazards caused by heights, heat and exposure to hazardous liquid and airborne chemicals used in refinery processes.

Flight safety is another critical consideration and our highly trained and experienced team of pilots and technicians puts safety first in everything we do. For example, we recently impressed a prominent oil and gas industry customer when, during a flight audit, our chief pilot was compelled to call off flights due to high winds at the Callidus Beggs, Oklahoma R&D facility.

This flight test was the culmination of eight months of planning and auditing, as well as travel for our team and theirs. However the pilot followed his training and our safety procedures and put safety first above the pressure of the mission, after only being able to successfully complete a handful of the scheduled flights that day. Our customer was so impressed with our commitment to safety and our own documented operating procedures, they did not require any further flight observations.

Flare stakes can be left online during a drone inspection, avoiding lost production that is estimated to cost refiners as much as $1 million per day per flare. In addition, we can inspect 3-4 flare stacks in a single day with a two person crew, while it may take a manual crew of six a full day to inspect just one.

Manual inspections are costly in other ways, too. For example, some refineries reportedly spend up to $10 million a year on scaffolding alone. Using drones can reduce that number by 85 percent.

As drones have become more sophisticated and capable we’re seeing more and more oil and gas companies add UAVs to their toolboxes.

To read more about our UAV inspection and data analytics services, please click here.


Brad Westphal

Senior Director of Commercial UAV Solutions at Honeywell Aerospace