SK Energy introduces drone techniques to inspect large crude oil storage tanks
SK Energy introduces drone techniques to inspect large crude oil storage tanks
  • Lee Jun-sung
  • 승인 2020.05.14 10:51
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Inspectors are conducting regular inspections of SK Ulsan CLX crude oil storage tanks using drones. (Courtesy of SK Energy)

SK Energy has introduced drone inspection techniques to inspect crude oil storage tanks at its key production base, Ulsan Complex, the energy company said on May 13. By doing so, the Smart Plant project, which is part of SK Energy's three major strategies for digital transformation, has paid off.

As a result, a drone, not a human, began to inspect an 86-meter-high crude oil storage tank to which Jangchung Gymnasium can enter. Due to the nature of oil storage, which is sensitive to small shocks, drones have not been introduced, but SK Energy Ulsan CLX solved the problem.

In April, SK Energy finally decided on 'Three DT Promotions' such as Digital O/E (Digital Operational Excellence), Digital Green, and Digital Platform.

In a related development, SK Innovation explained that it is a very meaningful case in which field members came up with ideas and voluntarily sought solutions to overcome the management crisis. CEO Kim Joon recently stressed, "Only extraordinary methods can overcome the crisis in an emergency time."

SK Energy's Ulsan CLX alone has 34 crude oil storage tanks, which play a role in importing crude oil and storing it until it is put into the oil refinery as raw materials. It has a total storage capacity of 20 million barrels, which can store more than eight times South Korea's crude oil consumption of about 2.4 million barrels.

Due to the nature of crude oil, regular inspections are essential for safety due to the occurrence of oil vapor and others. As related regulations have changed, starting this year, a separate interim inspection system will be introduced in addition to regular inspections on an 11-year cycle, which will actually be inspected every five to six years.

In other words, the number of tanks subject to inspection has increased, and the cycle has been shortened. So far, three to four of the 34 oil storage tanks were surveyed each year, but now the number is to increase to six to eight.

In order to utilize drones, the most important task was to prevent explosions caused by drone crashes. The crude oil storage tank had structural difficulties, which were very sensitive to small shocks due to the nature of oil vapor.

This is why drones have not been introduced so far, although the merits of drones are widely known in accordance with the top priority policy.

SK Ulsan CLX Inspection Unit has prepared dual and triple safety equipment and systems such as parachuting drones, completing battery impact tests at authorized agencies, installing a double protector to prevent secondary battery explosions, resolving operational errors with a pair of two-person operations, and discovering companies in Ulsan with expertise and technical skills.

"The introduction of drone tests is an innovative result of the way related departments worked by digging back from the roots of what they considered to be a safety problem," said Choi Hyuck-jin, manager of SK Energy Inspection 2Unit, who led the drone inspection technique.

"In the future, it can cause environmental pollution, but we will expand the use of drones in SK Ulsan CLX facilities, including offshore pipe facilities, which had no clear inspection methods," he added.

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