Reliability Technology: The Case for Robotics ft. Steven Treviño

For the season finale of Route to Reliability, I sat down with Steven Treviño, a champion for promoting automated technologies to many global energy sector companies. Steven has a fascinating background in reliability technology and he’s currently a key member of Quasset and the SPRINT Robotics team in Houston, Texas.

Steven and I dive into the universal improvements needed across the industry that have the power to impact the functionality and reliability of critical infrastructure.

Below are small excerpts from our conversation. I encourage you to listen to the full episode to hear Steven’s complete perspective on reliability. 


What specific areas are of most interest to you? Where are you seeing the most promising growth? 


With robots, we're collecting more high quality data than ever before. Ensuring that this process is repeatable is essential to monitoring the health of our equipment for all facilities.

It does no good to detect a feature and not be able to measure it again. You have to measure and monitor it over time to calculate your corrosion rate. 

Streamlining the inspection process and making it repeatable is where the opportunities lie.


Reproducibility is important not only for the sake of inspection but also for making repairs and taking further action on problem areas. 

So what technology are you currently impressed with?


What you guys are doing at Gecko is a great opportunity to talk about the state of the art. Collecting more data, faster, and at a higher resolution.

I'm extremely pleased with the development and deployment of these solutions and how data is being analyzed to make decisions. That's something I've seen explode. I knew it would, and I know it’s going to continue. 

The biggest opportunity to transform plant operations is hazardous environment certifications. This is a key step in the technology development process because it’s the largest barrier to deployment.

The goal is to remove humans from hazardous environments, while collecting more, high quality data, in a repeatable way.


Thank you very much for the plug, that's exactly the challenge we’ve identified as well.

So do you have any stories about a failure caused by lack of reliability? 


Yes, so what people don't realize is that pipelines run under roads, backyards, schools, or agricultural fields.

“Right-of-way” is a reserved space for utilities like pipelines, power lines, et cetera. So if a pipeline is running underneath agricultural farmland, it’s no longer a right-of-way. In that case, you need to maintain the appropriate depth of cover which is about three feet.

Year after year, the farmer is using plows and tractors on the field, which slowly removes that cover.


Oh boy...


So we do absolutely hear of farmers striking pipelines. I’ve seen pipelines that have gouges from the tractor. I’ve seen pieces of pipe that have had catastrophic failures.

These are some of the most interesting pipe samples you will ever see when they’re just ripped open so violently. 

When you turn on your gas stove, you see that blue flame, can you imagine a pipeline filled with that under pressure?

That scenario is very translatable to the subsea. Boats have dropped anchors on top of pipelines causing damage. Even large boats have dropped their massive anchors on pipelines and actually dislodge the pipe.


Oh, for sure. Actually one of the earliest jobs I had was working as a commercial diver for pipeline river crossings.

So I had to make sure that the river weights were still on top of the pipe, protecting it from boat traffic, floating logs, and other debris that may compromise integrity. You find some spectacular damage down there. 

That was my first introduction to reliability, assessing an exposed pipe for wall thickness to make sure it wasn't corroding or eroding as a result of water flow. 

So earlier you mentioned barriers to deployment which is an interesting point. What other hurdles are you noticing that might slow the adoption of robotics? 


Qualifications and validations are always going to be a challenge, no matter where you are, but there's a business impact component and cultural resistance to change.

If I'm an asset owner and I've been doing things the same way for thirty years, I'm potentially getting ready to retire. I don't want to take any risks, I don't want a mark on my career if something goes wrong, so I'm just not interested. 

Asset owners hear stories of successes but if there’s one instance of falling short or failure, it causes them to take everything with a grain of salt.


Absolutely, gaining buy-in is critical. What specific tactics can organizations utilize to make new tech less scary?


One method I've always encouraged technology developers to do is show the legacy or manual methods in a side-by-side comparison with the robotic method. This really calls out the potential hazards of conventional methods.

At the end of the day, everyone wants to get home safe. 

It poses the question, “if you could do this, why would you ever do that?” In my opinion, using robots is definitely the less scary option.

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