Inspecting One of The World's Tallest Stacks - Drones Increasing Flare Stack Inspection Efficiency

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Inspecting One of The World's Tallest Stacks - Drones Increasing Flare Stack Inspection Efficiency

Flare stacks are integral safety systems used in Oil & Gas fields; their role is to safely burn excess gasses that pose a threat to both the people and the environment. Without an operational flare stack, the gases have nowhere to go and could cause a plant shutdown- a report by Honeywell estimates that up to 1 million US dollars can be lost per day of flare stack downtime. Drones can enable Oil & Gas plants with regular and precise data that companies can use to adopt a more preventive maintenance approach and drastically reduce downtime.

The flare stacks are under tremendous heat and pressure, and even a tiny crack could turn the safe flare into a deadly blowtorch or release harmful gases into the environment. Then, wind can carry the gas downward towards the plant, where it can harm outside personnel. A faulty flare stack can also cause increased backpressure, increase blowdown times, cause dropped objects, subject surrounding structures to radiation, and cause a loss in production. Ultimately, it is harmful to the environment; through releasing gases- It is harmful to the workers; often being toxic- And finally, it results in the company losing revenue in lost resources and downtime.

To prevent this from happening, regular inspections are necessary. Still, the traditional methods require inspectors to scale up the stack via temporary scaffoldings or rope and, in some cases, even use helicopters. This is a slow, labour intensive, dangerous and expensive process made worse by the fact that the flare needs to be shut down and cooled off completely before any inspection can begin. Depending on the size of the flare stack, the full inspection could take up to 3-4 weeks to complete.

Drones can help inspectors understand the flare's condition, its life expectancy and provide detailed information that allows plants to queue required maintenance during scheduled shutdown times. The best part is, drones are completely unobtrusive and carry on capturing data while the flare burns on. Drones also enable the organisation to purchase and order spare parts well ahead of time. By providing precise data- faster and safer; drones allow Oil and Gas fields to plan, schedule and execute maintenance drives efficiently and effectively.

Why Drones


Flares stacks can be incredibly tall structures, measuring above 160m even. Nevertheless, inspectors need to scale up the flare stack via rope or crane. At this height, the stakes are quite high, and it exposes the inspectors to tremendous risk.

Better Data

Drones can capture data from all angles allowing the inspector to study the assets in detail Additionally, drones can also capture thermal data; this is especially helpful as temperature readings taken from nadir or laterally are more accurate than when taken from oblique.

Lower Cost

The traditional method of inspecting is more expensive and labour intensive. A Drone-based inspection just requires a two-person team. The biggest cost savings are from decreased downtime; drones allow the plant to remain in production for longer.

Reduced Downtime

Drone inspections take a fraction of the time required for traditional inspections. On average, a drone team can inspect 3-4 stacks in a day, whereas the traditional methods would take days or even weeks in some situations.

Instant Reporting

Accurate and detailed data is made readily available in near real-time. Additionally, drone data can be easily integrated into any cloud infrastructure, making collaboration seamless.

Inspect multiple assets

Inspecting Oil and Gas storage tanks is an equally slow and intense operation. Drones inspection can bring the same level of precision and efficiency and inspect other assets as well.

Inspecting a flare stack the traditional way is slow, laborious and dangerous. Drones can transform this process and remove much of the danger and downtime while providing accurate and precise data.

Inspecting One the World’s Tallest Flare Stacks in Just One Day

One of the tallest flare stacks in the world, measuring over 160m in height- Inspecting this enormous stack is a challenging operation that takes 3-5 weeks to complete. FEDS were brought on to test a drone-based flare stack inspection system and display the benefits of drones. Using their extensive fleet and experience, the FEDS team could make a 3-5 week-long inspection operation into just one day.

Inspecting this flare stack the traditional way would be slow, dangerous, and a labour-intensive process. Even before the inspection can commence, the pre-inspection procedures would take more than a week; obtaining the necessary clearance and shutting and cooling down the stack. Once done, the actual inspection can take place. Inspectors would scale up the 160m tall stack via rope and inspect all the assets.

For smaller stacks, you can use ground-based sensors to observe the flare tip, but only thermal sensors were viable since the distance rendered RGB sensors inaccurate. Even so, due to the distance, these systems would only play a role in monitoring the stack and cannot obtain conclusive data or conduct inspections. In the past, this left rope, scaffolding and helicopter were the only methods of inspection, and this resulted in excessive downtime, greater danger and higher cost.

The FEDS team were confident that they could make this slow and tedious inspection into an efficient and effective process. They chose the DJI M-300 for the task. When paired with the H20T payload, the drone would become the perfect system for the job. Its robust transmission system enables you to fly high around the stack's peak with confidence. The extended flight time of 55 minutes allowed the team to meticulously capture data of the assets from multiple angles, ensuring that they missed no detail out. Still, the more significant benefits came from the payload; the H20T can capture data using two sensors simultaneously. Using this payload, the team captured both RGB and Thermal data in just one flight, which cuts down the inspection time even further.

The FEDS team proceeded to capture data from the flare tip, the nozzles, igniters and shield- taking note of the flow rates, flare functionality and more. In a quick 30 minutes, the M-300 had flown around and captured all the necessary data. This data was then processed once back in the office and submitted to the client as Visual Inspection Reports. Throughout the entire inspection, the flare continued burning with zero downtime. FEDS enabled the client to perform preventive maintenance during routine shutdowns, identify potential failure points, and ensure that the plant operates efficiently.

In the Oil and Gas industry, one of the major priorities is managing assets with minimal downtime; FEDS can make this happen through intelligent drone inspection solutions. We reduce the risks, maximise uptime and keep your operations running at full capacity and provide you with reliable insights. If you'd like to find out how your Oil and Gas Fields can benefit from having drones, get in touch with us now.


About the author

Niiveth Mani


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