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Futureoftheocean discusses with Simon Ruddick

The maritime inspection drone – going beyond the glamour and the fashion

  An interview with Mr. Simon Ruddick, co-founder of Marine Inspection Services Ltd (MIS). 

One more time the administration work of Maritime Group gave me the chance to discuss with a true professional of the maritime industry, passionate in a very realistic way about the maritime inspection.

All started when Mr. Simon Ruddick posted a short video showing the detection by an aerial drone of a crack on the weld of a tank top longitudinal.

The post was an obvious advertising for the services of a marine inspection company but when I discussed the case with Mr. Ruddick I felt that it was something more there.

I told to Mr. Ruddick “… but it is nothing special in the fact that you found a crack. This is normal expectation: to find something if any, this is the reason why these inspections are done”. The answer, not surprisingly, has acknowledged the expectation but what it was different was the add “yes indeed, it is normal expectation, but it is so great that we can do this now with an aerial drone… and the light is extremely important, look how good everything can be seen on the movie”. 

The different vibe of this addition struck me… it was the sound of a parent proud that his youngster scored high in the match between the schools teams… and I was just the accidental spectator, just taking a brief look to the match because it was happening to walk around the playground.

That was the moment when I decided to offer Mr. Ruddick a platform for his voice on futureoftheocean.

The road to the maritime inspection drone...

Futureoftheocean: 

Thank you very much Mr. Ruddick for finding the time to discuss with Futureoftheocean.

I understand that you’ve been quite busy recently. I think this is good news for all, to learn that despite this entire Covid-19 situation the maritime industry still find the time and the resources for maintenance, quality and safety.

Let’s start our discussing by introducing yourself and your company Marine Inspection Services Ltd (MIS).


Mr. Ruddick

Marine Inspection Services Ltd (MIS) was founded in February 2006 by myself, Simon Ruddick, and Ian Bolderson. 

I started as a trainee marine inspector in 1988 and Ian Bolderson, my partner, qualified as a shipyard welder/fabricator in 1991. Ian and I worked together in a marine inspection company for over 10 years when we decided to start our own company. After less than 10 years, MIS now has a highly trained and experienced team of full time employees who deliver a quality service with dependable results. Many of our customers have been with us since the beginning and we like to think we work together as a team with our customers to maintain the quality of their vessels and help to reduce the time and cost of dry docking by preparing full steelwork and coating specifications, supervising repairs to ensure high quality, conducting all NDT and liaising with the class surveyor. 

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We started testing drones about five years ago ... we still want to be realistic...

Futureoftheocean: 

However, the way I noticed you was in relation with using drones, more precisely aerial drones for maritime surveys.


Mr. Ruddick

Indeed, we started testing drones about five years ago…


Futureoftheocean: 

I would suggest that after five years it is not anymore about testing but truly working professionally with drones.


Mr. Ruddick

Probably you are right but we still want to be realistic and not to rush in mixing the dream with the reality.

The reality is that in the beginning we were always having problems with the transmission of the
signal to the handset. The flying conditions inside a 23m high dark steel box are not ideal! We knew this already because before testing drones we had experimented previously with helmet mounted wireless video cameras for rope access. These also had transmission problems and we always reverted to ‘old school’ wired attachments for the image quality.

After a few years experimenting with drones we decided to purchase, at huge cost, an Elios Drone from Flyability. The Elios works inside a tank and the photo/video quality is very good but the conditions are harsh on the drone and as we have found out the repair costs are high! If you can imagine this but we have a chart running in the office to show which inspector has caused the most damage, when and where. This is definitively not about who scores more but quite opposite; it’s a tool for mapping the skills and deciding the need for training and exercise!

Drones are definitely a good tool for certain situations. Even the older, more traditional inspectors in the company now acknowledge the benefit of drones.

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A drone comes with a cost ... This means that a drone is not exactly an abundant resource

Futureoftheocean: 

What are the types of drones used by you now?


Mr. Ruddick

A drone comes with a cost, the initial cost of acquisition and as informed already, the costs of operating it and in special the costs for repairing the eventual damages.

This means that a drone is not exactly an abundant resource; or at least not now, not today.

MIS operates two types of drones, an aerial one and a subsea one.  The only aerial drone that we have used successfully is the Elios drone from Flyability. At over £32K it is a huge cost but it works.  For underwater works, we have a BlueROV2. This is at the cheaper end of the mini ROV market but is proving to be a good quality tool.  


Futureoftheocean: 

Are you limited only to these two types?


Mr. Ruddick

One of our customers encourages companies, research establishments and universities to come on board to experiment with new devices and we have watched a few of these whilst we are on board doing our drone and/or rope access inspections.

There was an interesting magnetic crawler that went up internal plain bulkheads, but again they had transmission issues. Probably the transmission issues are now the most limiting factor for these tools. A technological breakthrough here would be very much welcome and probably will result in a big boom for the drone’s surveys.  However, just now we are happy with our tools and we do our best with them.  

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When all works ok, definitively the drones make inspections quicker and safer.

Futureoftheocean: 

These days it is very glamorous and fashionable to… discuss about drones but the true question is what advantages brings the drones today?
Considering your extensive experience in working with drones, I think that you are the right person to answer this question.


Mr. Ruddick

When all works ok, definitively the drones make inspections quicker and safer.

It is obvious quicker and safer to gain access in this way to a deck transverse of an oil tanker, for example. 

The drone has a continuous 4K video feed that is recorded on a SD card. The amount of information from one vessel inspection is huge and storage has to be meticulous. Reports are produced for each area / tank with videos and still pictures. 

The Elios drone can be combined with a photogrammetry and mapping software from Pix4S.
However, the drones are still only a tool for access and the operator / person viewing the screen must be experienced in vessel structures and know where to look and recognising a defect. 

We find that the drone picks up a lot of possible defects and this is when the experience of the inspector comes in. It would be counterproductive to be building towers of staging or having a rope access team inspect all the possible indications so inspection experience is the key. 


Futureoftheocean: 

But the bottom line as in many cases today is that the drone is just a tool, flying or swimming eyes; a tool what it would be dumb without a skilled human operator. 


Mr. Ruddick

Yes indeed, this is the case, at least today.

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We are waiting for an intrinsically safe drone but this is not available yet...

Futureoftheocean: 

What is the actual regulatory regime? 


Mr. Ruddick

In January 2019 the different class societies introduced RIT (remote inspection techniques) approval for companies undertaking inspections using remote access (drones, rope access, robotic arms) as part of the class close up survey. MIS was the first company to be approved by Lloyd’s Register and to gain approval we had to demonstrate our knowledge of structures, inspector’s qualifications and  experience and give an on-site test of finding and identifying defects. 

MIS are registered with the UK civil aviation authority and all our inspectors / pilots are trained and qualified to CAA PfCO standards and also have completed a training course with Flyability for the Elios.  


Futureoftheocean: 

Today is only visual - is this true?… however what do you think will tomorrow bring?  


Mr. Ruddick

Indeed, just now we are using the drone for visual inspection. 

We share our office with TritexNDT who manufacture ultrasonic gauges and they make a drone with an ultrasonic gauge. Tritex are getting some very good results on chemical tankers where the surface is relatively clean.

We are waiting for an intrinsically safe drone but this is not available yet… this on top of the transmissions issues mentioned above.

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Drones are useful in certain situations... but they will not replace the human inspector.

  

Futureoftheocean: 

What is and what should be the relation of the industry with the drone? Should be a… love relation?
 

Mr. Ruddick

I consider that this is not the case to discuss love; the relation should be realistic and professional.
Drones are useful in certain situations and speed up inspections and reduce the risks of working at height but they will not replace the human inspector.

Futureoftheocean: 

So you think is no rush for drones to replace the humans?
 

Mr. Ruddick

Definitively not, no rush.

Drones will be able to replace certain aspects of the job because the drone can reduce access problems but it will not replace the human interpretation of the result in finding cracks and defects and that comes down to experience with vessel structures. 

We are finding that a large number of inspection companies are drone companies doing ship inspections but we approach it from being a ship inspection company that have trained our inspectors to fly drones and use them as another means of access.
 

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MIS will combine and balance the existing experience with a realistic vision about the future

Futureoftheocean: 

I would appreciate if we can close this discussion by sharing with futureoftheocean team and audience your vision for the future. 

 Mr. Ruddick

The future will bring drone thickness measurement surveys with TritexNDT to a new level and MIS will be using ROV’s to conduct in water hull surveys and also in tank surveys when the tanks are full of water. 

MIS have also started a separate company droneinspectionservices.co.uk which will be expanding
into drone inspection of refineries, industrial buildings and structures as some of our inspectors have a back ground in structural inspections of building.

I trust that MIS will combine and balance the existing experience with a realistic vision about the future and serve in this way to its best the industry at large.

Marine Inspection Services (MIS) videos:

Maritime Drone Inspection: How is it done?

 Step by step, the routine of a maritime drone inspection 

Crack in tank top longitudinal’s bracket and plate – Drone’s angle

  This video is direct from drone’s SD card. These are high quality imagines used to document the inspection and the findings. 

Crack in tank top longitudinal bracket – Human operator’s angle

  

This video is the “twin” of the video above but documents what the human operator see on the drone’s display during the inspection.

The skills of human operators are essential for all aspects of the success of the inspection. 


PS: Please watch with sound. The sound is amazing!

About Mr. Simon Ruddick and Marine Inspection Services Ltd (MIS):

Mr. Simon Ruddick is co-founder of Marine Inspection Services Ltd (MIS) Marine Inspection Services reputation is based on providing trained, qualified and highly experienced inspectors to work as part of a team with the shipping company to maintain the quality of their vessels.  


Marine Inspection Services Ltd 

Tel: (0)1305 257438  /  Mob: (0)7909 901257   

Email: info@marinspec.com  /  www.marinspec.com 


Photos and videos:

All photos and videos have been provided by Marine Inspection Services Ltd.

Please contact Marine Inspection Services Ltd. for more details about these photos and videos.

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