Oil, gas and petrochemicals services provider A.Hak Industrial Services will introduce a robotic online storage tank floor inspection service in South Africa before the end of this year. This new technology eliminates the need for storage tanks to be decommissioned for lengthy periods for manual inspection.
The company has a long-standing working relationship partnership with energy and chemicals company Sasol, and has assisted with many long-duration contracts for process plant and pipeline-related services.
A.Hak business development manager Mike Hepworth explains that the new inspection technology, developed at A.Hak’s headquarters in Europe, is being ATEX-approved, which delineates the international regulations for equipment operating in explosive atmospheres. Once granted, the company will launch the technology in South Africa, where Hepworth notes there is already significant interest in this new service.
“With the fall in the oil price towards the end of 2014 and the continued uncertainties in the industry, times are difficult for everyone in the oil and gas industry. All plant operators are under pressure to reduce turnaround times and maintenance costs.”
Hepworth highlights that industry regulations generally require that tank floors be inspected periodically, usually every ten years, which involves a costly process, as the tanks were usually decommissioned for lengthy periods.
Traditionally, a tank would be emptied of its contents, such as petrol, diesel or other products, which would be transferred to another storage tank, he says. Contractors were then employed to clean the interior of the tank – a process that Hepworth stresses has historically been one of the most dangerous to perform at a refinery, requiring breathing apparatus to be worn. Once cleaned, the tank was then inspected internally using various techniques.
Cofunded by oil and gas giants Shell, Chevron and Vopak, A.Hak has developed a robotic inspection tool that can enter the tank through its roof manway and manoeuvre around the floor of the tank, inspecting the tank while it remains online. Data gathered by the device is then downloaded onto a computer, from where the condition of the tank floor can be determined.
Hepworth highlights that the company has spent three years developing this technology and, once approved, A.Hak will be the only company with ATEX-approved, online tank floor inspection capability in South Africa. “We will be able to not only eliminate the significant safety risks associated with cleaning tanks but also offer significant cost savings to businesses by enabling them to keep their tanks online while being inspected,” he notes.
Fired Heaters Inspection
Hepworth further notes that market uptake of A.Hak’s inspection service for fired heaters using ultrasonic tools, called ‘intelligent pigs’, has increased exponentially since its introduction in 2013 in South Africa.
The technology has also been modified and can, as of the beginning of this year, inspect tubes with a diameter as small as 3''. When it was first introduced, a 6'' diameter was the smallest tube that could be inspected and Hepworth highlights that this development significantly widens the technology’s range of applications.
He explains that furnaces, often of a significant size, have to be inspected at regular intervals to ensure that the interior tubes have not been eroded and can still withstand the high temperatures and pressures when conveying hydrocarbon liquids and gases. Traditionally, this inspection had to be performed manually, which was time consuming and posed additional safety hazards.
However, A.Hak’s technology allows for the process to be carried out without anyone having to enter the furnace, with the intelligent pigs displaced through heater tubes using water to accurately measure the remaining wall thickness of the entire heater coils. Once data is gathered on the condition of the tubes, it can be easily downloaded and analysed.
“To date, almost every refinery and petrochemicals plant in South Africa has used our technology,” enthuses Hepworth.
“Our furnace inspection technology is constantly evolving to suit client needs. Worldwide, our market for this service is increasing, proving the success of our technology and the quality of the service we provide.”
A.Hak has been operational in South Africa since 1996, importing European equipment and technology specifically for the petrochemicals, refinery and pipeline industries. The company’s offerings are designed to improve safety, reduce turnaround times and allow for high-integrity inspection of pipelines.