Robot Inspection of Phillips 66 Tank Foreshadows Greater Automation

Phillips 66 announced at the end of May that a robot successfully inspected the interior of one of the company’s above-ground diesel storage tanks in California.

Using a robot enabled the company to inspect the tank while it was full. Normally, a tank would have to be drained for workers to enter it and inspect the tank bottom’s integrity. Phillips 66 said the robot obtained high-clarity visual images of the tank’s interior, which enabled the company to gain insight into the tank’s condition.

Phillips 66 plans to have a robot inspect full storage tanks of crude and gasoline, and anticipates using robots for inspections at all of its facilities.

Expect More Robot Inspections

Phillips 66 is not the only oil company trying out robots. BP uses robots to inspect vessels at its Cherry Point refinery in Washington state. It takes a robot one hour to inspect a hydrocracker reactor by using ultrasound technology to find microscopic cracks in the vessel walls.

In contrast, workers spend 23 hours physically inside the hydrocracker unit during a planned shutdown to do the inspection.

According to GlobalData, a data analytics and media company, the volatility of crude prices is prompting the oil and gas industry to use robots for various applications in the upstream (production and exploration), midstream (pipeline inspection and monitoring) and downstream (refining and petrochemical) segments to increase productivity and efficiency.

Drones and robots in the downstream refinery and petrochemical sector are used for piping inspection, leak detection, corrosion monitoring, emergency response and the surveillance of an entire asset.

Reinventing Work

There will be a need for technicians to take care of robots like the ones that Phillips 66 and BP used.

According to one robot manufacturer, there are not enough plant technicians to service the automation being introduced into U.S. manufacturing plants.

Oxford Economics, an independent global advisory firm, said that automation will replace 20 million jobs worldwide by 2030, but its report also wrote about how to respond to the rise of robots. It also gave a framework for action by business leaders, educators, technology companies, workers and government policy-makers.

Industry Week ran a series about robots, and one of its reporters, Travis Hessman, wrote that the key issue is transitioning people into productive work that uses their ideas, creativity, insights and perspectives that no machine or software can duplicate.

To read about Phillips 66’s robot inspection, go to:

To read more about “On Humans, Robots and the Future of Work”:

To read “Big Oil Has Finally Joined The Digital Revolution”:

To read an opinion piece on “Don’t Expect Robots to Take Everyone’s Job”:

How Robots Change the World, What Automation Really Means For Jobs and Productivity

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