Refinery and petrochemical plant managers normally keep flare maintenance on a regular schedule to meet the operational life expectancies of flare tips. But even so, come maintenance time, all components of the flare stack are at risk of needing repair or replacement, and only a thorough flare inspection will tell if there is a critical issue that must be addressed. If there are components significantly worn or damaged, and if they are left unaddressed, it could lead to emergency shut down or worse.

The difficulty for the plant manager is how to maintain the flare stack while keeping it operational to the greatest degree possible. Because flare stacks operate at such high temperatures, inspecting flare stack components thoroughly can require a shut down period, and that can be very costly. So the question then forms: How can we provide a substantial visual inspection of the flare and the stack, while the flare stack is operating, and in such a way as to keep the inspection team safe on the ground and away from the extreme high heat of the flare?

As with most industrial problems, the answer comes down to technology. And at the forefront of cutting-edge flare stack inspection technology is the remote controlled helicopter (given the shorthand of “rc helicopters”). When in the hands of an expert of rc aerial photography helicopters, who additionally have experience handling these helicopters in highly turbulent conditions as one would expect to be caused by a high-temperature flare, the remotely-operated helicopter allows for safe aerial inspections while producing clear, high-resolution pictures.

Inspecting guy wires requires a different technology, since the integrity of guy wires cannot be determined at the surface. Cable problem usually develop in the inner strands where moisture and rust accumulate. To address this inspection problem, Flares and Stacks, Inc. developed a robotic guy wire climbing, cleaning, lubricating, and inspecting machine, and to date seems to be the only such device available in the flare stack inspection industry.

Utilizing the most current flare inspection technologies, such as rc aerial photography, means plant managers can ascertain which parts need to be replaced, what is their remaining life expectancy, and prioritize a budget for flare maintenance repairs. Best of all, they can oftentimes do all of this without losing the precious time involved in a flare inspection shutdown.