Aberdeen firm sets sight on crane operations risk reduction

Having seen the risks involved in offshore crane operations since working offshore in structural inspection, non-destructive testing and lifting operations offshore since he was 19, Ross McLeod has decided to tackle the problems head on.

McLeod, who is based in Aberdeen, is developing a system to give crane operators a better view of their operations, more information and autonomation around how, when and where they set down loads, and warning systems for anyone working near crane and lifting operations. The result could be to both reduce safety risks and increase crane operations productivity by 20-30%. “I worked offshore for 10 years and there were a lot of crane and lifting accidents and I saw a trend in the industry. A lot more happens than people realise,” says McLeod, who worked all over the world before setting up company Intebloc in 2017.

Crane operations are a crucial part of daily life offshore, they’re at the heart of the supply chain; it’s how equipment and supplies, both for operations and living are brought onboard. But, “there are a lot of problems with cranes and lifting and it’s a big supply chain issue if a crane goes down. Everything stops,” McLeod, who has recently completed the Oil & Gas Technology Centre’s (OGTC) TechX technology accelerator programme, says. “There are too many blind spots in the offshore environment and we want to create aids for the operator and crew.”

Crane operators don’t always have full visibility, so banksmen, who direct crane operations on deck, are needed, but it’s still a challenging and risky operation in a dynamic environment, he says. On floating vessels, such as rigs, this can mean the load hanging off a crane hook is subject to uncontrolled motions.

Intebloc’s technology, which will be Atex approved, aims to reduce risk in this environment and is based around an intelligent camera system and sensors that supports the hook which picks up the loads the crane will move. “It will offer the operator real-time visibility and communication at all times,” says McLeod.

Its intelligence is in being able to dimensionally scan the environment and objects in it, relative to a map of that environment, as well as being able to offer a better visibility, to make more efficient lay down process, and know what other operations are going on.

A key part of the technology is warning personnel working near a crane when it enters their proximity. “We identified that the crane is delayed substantially due to personnel on the deck,” says McLeod. “We want to speed-up this process, so that the crane can always be in continual operation, whilst keeping the crew safe. There will also be more elements to the system that will have an extensive knock on effect to productivity where we aim to increase lifting productivity from 20-30%.”

Through the OGTC’s TechX programme, which 10 companies completed in September, the firm was given access to funding, but also mentors and operators, helping accelerate its path to commercialisation. Indeed, Intebloc has already started trading, supplying third party collision avoidance sensors, while building technology readiness on its own systems, which it is set to trial on cranes in Brimmond Group’s yard in Kintore, later this year.

“The industry has been so receptive to what we are trying to achieve and they understand the potential for safety and increased productivity,” McLeod says. “We’ve been talking throughout to lifting authorities in operators like Apache and, through TechX, we’ve been able to have the right access to people.”

The oil and gas market is also just the start. “Oil and gas is about 10%-15% of the market,” says McLeod. “There are cranes working on construction sites, there are mobile cranes, and it could also be a visual aid to heavy duty machinery operations.”

McLeod is also on the RSE Unlocking Ambition Enterprise Fellowship programme as part of the Scotland CAN DO initiative funded by the Scottish Government.

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