Aboard a drillship bobbing in the waters off West Africa, a piece of complex machinery unexpectedly shuts down. A mile below the ship, a newly completed deepwater well waits for the installation of a subsea Christmas tree, which controls the flow of oil and gas from the wellhead. But for now, the tree sits uselessly on the deck of the ship.
A young technician springs into service with a staple of the machine inspector’s trade—a borescope with a video camera at the long end of the probe to see into the deep recesses of the tree. He opens a port into the heart of the equipment-hoisting module and cautiously threads the borescope in. When the image on the screen in front of him gets to a key piece of rotary equipment he needs to inspect, he presses a button on the screen to connect.
InspectionWorks Connect virtually eliminates the distance between field inspectors and senior engineers who can diagnose maintenance issues.
Within seconds, an expert inspector in Houston sees an invitation pop up on his computer screen and signs in to a secure website. The view at the end of the borescope appears on his screen and he texts the on-site inspector, asking him to move the scope 90 degrees to the left. Together, they diagnose what is ailing the machine. Operations restart quickly, and downtime is limited.
In the era of the Industrial Internet, the days of the lone field inspector are numbered. The trade is now moving into the cloud. “We’re digitizing inspection,” says Mike Domke, the product line manager for GE InspectionWorks Connect, a remote collaboration software platform for nondestructive testing and inspection. Traditionally, he says, an inspector in the field gathers data from the equipment he’s investigating, then sends it to an engineer or senior inspector who decides whether repairs or maintenance is needed. “There’s a distance between the two people and we wanted to answer the question of how do you get that far-away expert on the tarmac or in the power plant alongside that junior inspector?”
The software allows for real-time digital inspection.
The new GE software turns the probe into a two-way communicator. As long as the device has access to Wi-Fi or a cell network, it can be used to connect remotely with anyone who has Internet access. The connection allows inspectors and experts to text each other and to draw, Snapchat-style, directly on the instrument’s screen.
Domke says connecting people through the industrial cloud will reap benefits in industries from oil and gas to power generation, aviation and transportation. Funneling of expertise from senior inspectors down to newer hires is also critical, since the average age of such experts is 55 and many are starting to retire.
“Connecting experts and field inspectors is very disruptive to these industries and to inspection as a whole,” Domke says. “We’re building a world for real-time digital inspection that is transformative to these businesses.”