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Oil and Gas Companies Support New Life-Saving Drone Technology


Briony McStea
Apr 28, 2016

Juntin Pringle MD Drone Ops(Centre: Justin Pringle MD of Drone Ops Ltd)

A chance meeting at Design Network North’s monthly networking event, Rise and Design, has led to the development of a life-saving solution that could be rolled out worldwide.

Raouf Kattan of Safinah and Justin Pringle of Drone Ops met at the event and have been working together since the meeting hosted by Design Network North – a project delivered by RTC North.

Safinah Ltd, a coating and corrosion specialist, who look after some of the word largest superyachts, and Drone Ops, who specialise in Small Unmanned Aerial Systems (SUAS) have created a drone that could save dozens of lives and millions of pounds worldwide.

Safinah’s clients in the oil, gas and maritime sector, had searched long and hard for a solution to the problem of manual inspection of large marine structures such as oil tankers and offshore platforms.

The Maritime Accident Investigation Branch reports that accidents in enclosed areas are one of the most common causes of fatalities on board ships and account for dozens of deaths each year as inspection requires manual monitoring, which is often hazardous when carried out in poorly lit enclosed areas or tanks.

Safinah and Drone Ops using advanced drones, equipped with sensors and scanners to carry out inspection, would remove the risk to human life as well as improve operational efficiency and cost effectiveness.

The two companies held a workshop on Tuesday March 22nd in Newcastle to gauge the interest of global oil and shipping companies and to seek support for this new technology. Potential clients and investors travelled across the world to catch a first glimpse of this unique and potentially industry changing product.

Among the attendees were Shell, Maersk, world leading container shipping company, Nippon Paint Marine Coatings, one of the largest paint manufacturers in Asia and Kansai Paint, Japan’s leading paint manufacturer.

Local companies also attended the workshop to give their thoughts on the innovation, including Gateshead based, Akzo Nobel, and Wallsend’s Barrier UK.

Before the workshop had begun, Safinah and Drone Ops were offered a substantial investment into their product from one organisation. By the end of the session, they had received a third of the funding necessary to take their technology to the next stage.

With a significant amount of interest from major companies, the two partners intend to work with investors over the next two years to develop this ground breaking product that could save lives in dangerous environments around the world.

Justin Pringle, CTO of Drone Ops said:

“Meeting Safinah at the Rise and Design event has allowed us to put our business skills together and partner on an exciting proposal to bring major enterprise to the region.”

“As a start-up focused on disruptive technology development and manufacture, here in the North East, we could not have asked for a better group of friendly, dynamic businesses to meet with at Design Network North.”

Chris Needham, Development Engineer at Shell added:

“There are injuries and even fatalities every year due to enclosed space inspection which could be reduced with a technology such as this. Drones have been used in the consumer and commercial market for some time; however there is currently nothing available that can perform autonomous inspection in enclosed spaces.

“There is certainly positivity from the industry, both from a HSSE and commercial perspective. There are also several technologies out there that I didn’t know about would be complementary to the platform we would develop.”

Terry McStea, Head of Design Network North said:

“Our network was set up to help innovative, forward thinking professionals meet, but we could not have imagined it would play a part in so many great partnerships, such as this one.

“We’ve always believed in the people of the North East and their potential to create not just brilliant products, but world changing products. We will be following Drone Ops and Safinah’s success and will look to support them in any way we can.”

Drone Ops have trained Star Wars, James Bond, Game of Thrones, BBC and ITV staff in drone operation but specialise in survey and inspection in emergency services and construction sectors.

Rise & Design is Design Network North's free monthly networking meeting at the Northern Design Centre in Gateshead. On the second Friday of every month, members and non-members alike meet to discuss design practices and discover new business opportunities.

RTC North was founded in 1989 with the sole purpose of helping businesses innovate and create new higher value products. Today, the business operates out of offices in Sunderland, Gateshead, Leeds and Daresbury and specialises in helping companies develop new products, embed new skills through training and access funding for innovation.

Design Network North is part of a new programme called ‘Designing Better Business’ – launched in 2016 - which will provide support for north east businesses looking to continue to innovate and design better world leading products.

‘Designing Better Business’ is part funded by European Regional Development Fund.