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MM: Drones Improve Industrial Maintenance; Trapping Waste Energy

In this Manufacturing Minute episode, improving industrial maintenance with drones and trapping waste energy to power wearables.

Drones Improve Industrial Maintenance

Oil refineries, like any other industrial facility, requires constant inspections and preventative maintenance to make sure everything is running smoothly. And, when it comes to inspecting the flare stacks at an oil refinery, that can be slow, dangerous and expensive work. 

Typically, for an inspection, at least part of the plant needs to be shut down and the equipment allowed to cool before sending in the human inspectors. This can often lead to the refinery to be out of commission for days or weeks.

Enter the drones. GE Ventures is looking at ways to use crawling and flying drones to carry out inspections while the stacks are active. The idea is that the drones would be equipped with special sensors — such as thermal imagers — and be able to send back telemetry and video to the human inspectors, who can choose to be on-site or comfortably seated in a monitoring room.

Because the information is recorded, it allows inspectors the ability to pause video, make notes on images and send them to experts if something needs further inspection. 

GE estimates the use of drones could cut the inspection time by 50 percent. And, since the robotic inspectors can work without a complete plant shut down, inspections can be done more frequently possibly preventing potential problems before they occur.


Do you think the use of drones could cut plant inspection time by 50 percent as GE claims? In what other ways could drones be used to improve industrial maintenance? Tell us what you think in the comments below.

Trapping Waste Energy To Power Wearables

A newly released study suggests that the same family of minerals currently used to capture solar energy could also utilize other energy sources in its surroundings — including heating systems or body movement — at the same time.

Most perovskites are capable of harnessing one source of ambient energy at a time, but researchers from the University of Oulu in Finland said that one particular perovskite mineral — named K.B.N.N.O. — features the properties to capture multiple sources.

Although material isn't as good as other perovskites at generating electricity from heat and pressure, scientists were able to modify its composition to improve its performance.

They hope to develop a prototype device within the next year, and researchers noted that a large-scale production process would be relatively straightforward.

K.B.N.N.O. isn't the first material capable of capturing multiple sources of energy, but previous efforts relied on multiple materials that increased their bulk.

The new system, meanwhile, could enable compact devices, including smart watches or biometric sensors, to power themselves.

Researchers said it could also make the sensors needed to power the Internet of Things or connected communities energy efficient.


What impact could self-powering devices have in factories? Is this material the path to a more sustainable Internet of Things? Tell us what you think in the comments below.

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