A British entrepreneur is planning to bring robotics to the Gulf’s oil refineries, saving companies billions of dollars in routine maintenance.
Ahmed Hadid, co-founder of artificial intelligence (AI) startup Hybird, already has oil giants ADNOC and Aramco on his books through a deal with global tech firm SAP.
The 27-year-old engineer says Hybird uses a combination of drones, laser scanners, DSL cameras and mobile phone data to save regional firms millions on costly turnaround programmes – where refineries are offline while plants are inspected and revamped.
“It usually takes three years and thousands of people to inspect a plant. With our computer vision technology they can take a reality model of the asset before the turnaround, rather than trying to assimilate PDFs and drawings,” Hadid told Arabian Business.
“When you look at brownfield sites – facilities that have been around for 20 to 50 years – sometimes they don’t even have CAD models available, so they are literally using 2D drawings,” he added.
The entrepreneur, who has so far raised $1.4 million in venture capital, claims Hybird can reduce unplanned downtime by 60 percent and planned downtime by 30 percent.
Established in 2015, Hybrid was founded when Hadid and his co-founder grew out a project from University College of London where they studied mechanical engineering.
“We came up with this theory for our master thesis using aerial robotic systems,” said Hadid.
“On our development journey we realised that the industry is overloaded with hardware… so we expanded into digitisation. We realised the big issue is not collecting the data – it’s about what do you do with it after you’ve captured it,” he added.
The concept of data collection and analysis is what drives Hybird’s asset maintenance programmes today.
“We are specialists in computer vision, which is an interdisciplinary field of AI, focused on providing computers, machines and robots with the ability to understand digital images and videos,” said Hadid. “It was introduced with the goal of understanding and automating tasks that currently rely on human visual systems.”
Hybird technology automates and reduces error in mundane tasks involved in maintenance and inspection, as well as preventing and detecting pipe corrosion, paint flaking, displacement or oil leaks.
“I’m pretty sure 100 per cent of oil companies in the Middle East will soon be using AI for maintenance,” said Hadid, who is also an advisor at the UK’s National Centre for Nuclear Robotics (NCNR).“The benefits are clear, such as reducing the cost of inspection and downtime.”
The Hybird entrepreneur estimates that global oil and gas unplanned downtime costs global companies around $500 billion per annum and that 25 percent of that market is in the Middle East.
“There are huge savings to be realised by the asset owners and managers and we are super excited by the growth opportunities,” said Hadid, adding that the firm will open an office in Dubai in 2021.
“The COVID crisis has adversely affected every global market and every industry. The oil and gas market has been dealt an especially devastating blow,” said Hadid.
“Companies are putting more emphasis on the strategic value of asset optimisation in an attempt to carefully balance maintenance and costs.”
Every once in a while, a new technology, an old problem, and a big idea turn into an innovation.