Recipe for Success: 3D laser scanning for tank inspections

Case study

Author: Wagner Manurung

What’s the best way to inspect a 45-metre-tall tank of flour? And calculate the flour in a huge stockpile? Those are the challenges for the project team at PT Wilmar Indonesia. The company is part of Wilmar International Limited, Asia’s leading agribusiness group. Wilmar operates an integrated agribusiness model that encompasses the entire value chain of the agricultural commodity business, from cultivation, processing, merchandising to manufacturing of a wide range of agricultural products, including rice and wheat flour. It has an extensive distribution network covering China, India, five factories in Indonesia and a presence in 50 other countries and regions.

Processing agricultural products at this scale involves storing huge quantities of produce in tanks and silos. Upkeep of these enormous vessels is a serious business. The tanks are a critical financial resource for the company as well as being subject to international safety standards. At PT Wilmar Nabati Indonesia, the project team must regularly inspect all above-ground storage tanks, reporting to management the measurements that indicate the integrity of the structures. Previously, tank inspection was a time-consuming manual process.

Faster inspections without any compromises

PT Wilmar Indonesia wanted to find a way to make the tank inspection process more efficient. Faster, but without requiring more manpower. A new solution could not compromise the accuracy of the data or the safety of the team – ideally improving both.

Already a Leica Geosystems user in other parts of the business, PT Wilmar chose to implement laser scanning. The company equipped the project team with Leica RTC360 laser scanners to digitally scan the silos and Cyclone 3DR software for data analysis. The RTC360 3D laser scanner has a measuring rate of up to two million points per second and with an advanced High-Dynamic Range (HDR) imaging system, coloured 3D point clouds can be completed in under two minutes.

Reality capture has transformed inspections. They can now capture information on 15 tanks per day compared to manual inspections, which take three to four days per tank. That’s a staggering 4,500% efficiency increase.

Comprehensive data capture to meet regulations

Manual inspection was time consuming because to meet international standards of tank inspection (API 650/653), you need to accurately collect multiple datapoints, including diameter measurements, roundness, verticality of the tanks and settlement of the contents. This is in addition to measuring the volume of production, which is vital information for the business.

By capturing a 3D image of the tanks, the RTC360 scanners collect this information within minutes, the project team can extract it from the point cloud. A PT Wilmar spokesperson explains, “This analysis process is done by the Cyclone 3DR software which is dedicated for calibration and silo inspection according to international standards.”

Easy-to-use software reduces training time

Because the objective of the project to introduce 3D laser scanning was to improve efficiency, the new technology could not make extra demands on the team’s time. A spokesperson from PT Wilmar found the solution easy to use and training has been minimal, “Leica Geosystems products are easy to set up and operate, so it did not take much time for us to study.”

The lightweight portable laser scanners have had a positive impact on the way the team works. Fewer people need to be on site doing the inspections freeing up time to work on data analysis. PT Wilmar's spokesperson explains, “[We had a] limitation in human resources to do data processing. Having the RTC360 in use takes few people to do the fieldwork (only one or two) while the other team members can be processing the data in the office.”

Improved safety and fewer interruptions to production

Previously, the need to physically take measurements could be disruptive in areas of the factory with active machinery. 3D laser scanning is a non-invasive technology that captures measurements from a distance. Nearby machinery doesn’t need to be turned off and there is no risk of contamination. This makes laser scanning both safer for the operator and more productive for the business.

As well as using the RTC360 for tank inspections, PT Wilmar's project team have been using them for stockpile calculations, where the ability to measure from a distance has been a real benefit: “We get accuracy on the calculation and it’s easy to proceed, so we have no issue anymore with high or large stockpiles. Previously, we used total stations and faced a difficult process in the field. Now, we are glad that we don’t necessarily need to climb the stockpile of the flour to measure the volume!.”

Using RTC360 laser scanners and Cyclone 3DR software for tank inspections has been a success for PT Wilmar Indonesia. Not only has the objective to improve efficiency been met, but the 3D scans have made it easier for the project team to report to management about maintenance and to compile their yearly audits.

A spokesperson at PT Wilmar says, “It helps enable easy silo maintenance, changing conventional data into 3D data, creating clear reports on every angle of capturing data in the field. In the end, it helps PT Wilmar management to see real conditions in 3D data. The management team now does not need to go to the field to check the factory condition.” It is all there in the data-rich output of the 3D scans.

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