How to perform a remote site visitA guideline on inspecting sites remotely
A guideline on inspecting sites remotely
By Avakash Patel, P.Eng
May 07, 2020
Courtesy of RPMGlobal
Mine site visits have long been held in high regard by prospectors, mining companies, regulators and investors. There is no doubt that having a technical team available to view any asset and provide observation and opinion is critical to understanding the asset. Most professionals agree that the cleanliness and hygiene of a site, facility, operation and their respective sub-parts reflect the management, project, operation and culture in general. Given the many restrictions on travel under the current circumstances and the possibility that at least some could remain in place for an extended time, remote visits where a professional or a team view and observe a site without being physically present demand special attention.
A site visit is normally used to validate information and data on a particular property. During any site visit, even a remote one, a number of peripheral observations happen naturally that can help form an opinion on the property, management and operation.
A remote site visit can never completely replace an actual site visit.
The intent of this guideline, adapted from a larger guideline on mine site visits, is to provide as much information as possible about remote site inspection to reduce the risk of a desktop-only or data-room review. The word “virtual” is not used here because this guideline covers actual site visits, where both images and sounds are live, not created in computer graphics. Many engineering, procurement and construction management companies produce virtual 3D models that are based on engineering design, but 3D models are generally not as-built, and in some cases, a follow up physical inspection is necessary for certain disciplines. A remote site visit can reduce the risk of reliance on reports and data without personal physical confirmation, and if performed properly, the information and data validation will be sufficient to reduce the risk associated with a desktop-only review.
Prior to a remote site visit
Prior to the site visit, the maximum possible data and information should be gathered. It is helpful to ensure that the data is evaluated, understood and assessed for any gaps that the site visit may need to address.
A parallel site team should be established to carry out the visit. Each remote discipline lead (RD) responsible for the visit should be assigned a local counterpart site inspector (SI) who will collect and transmit the required site sensory information. Although preferable, it is not required that the SI be a specialist in the discipline of the RD. Each SI should be provided instruction regarding how to properly use any communication, measurement or documentation equipment.
There are two parts to the technology required to carry out a remote site visit. The first is real-time communication methods, including compatible software for transmission and reception.
The second is the equipment and the software necessary to gather and transmit sensory information. This equipment can vary from a simple smartphone or tablet to surveying and measurement tools, including helmet cameras, eye glass cam- eras, microphones, and drones. Full agreement must be made on the technologies to be used for a remote site visit. A trial run is recommended to ensure the equipment and software works and to ensure the SI can successfully use it.
It is recommended that a two-part meeting between RDs and SIs be held to coordinate the site visit. The first part of the meeting should include the entire team to highlight the scope and intent of the visit*. The second part is for each RD to coordinate with his or her respective SI individually.
A number of activities need to be performed in preparation for part two, including but not limited to:
» The RD should provide an agenda and plan for the locations and areas they would like the SI to visit.
» The RD should send through the main elements to examine in each area. This will be the map/schedule for the remote site visit.
» The RD and SI should discuss the merits and weaknesses of the plan and finalize the actual “tour route” or “remote map.”
Mobile communication devices need to be tested in all regions of the visit and facility. If live communication is not possible, then the method for storage and transmission of information must be agreed to. A recorded method can be used for instruction and for feedback when live communication is not possible. Ensure all communications devices are fully charged and have backup sources of power.
The preferred methods of communication should be Wi-Fi or cellular, but if these are not available, then the site technology would govern how communication can happen between the RD and SI. A smartphone or helmet camera with audio is best suited for the SI.
Do a trial run. The SI should ensure that he or she can view what the camera lens captures. In the case of phones, the front camera can be used, and in the case of helmet cameras a remote or heads-up display can be used. Also make sure that photos can be taken directly by the RD through an application or by taking screen shots. The SI may also take and send photos to the RD. Upon approval and instruction, the SI can also take short videos as necessary.
During the actual inspection, the RD will instruct the SI to move the camera slow and steady for optimal video, or to zoom in and out as necessary or to move closer or farther away or a different direction, so there must be agreement on the camera movement terms (i.e., pan, directional movements, zoom in/out) and calibration.
For safety, it is critical to emphasize to the SI the importance of being aware of surroundings and watching where he or she is walking or stepping to avoid trips or falls. The SI must keep his or her eyes on the walk path at all times, not on the display of the device transmitting information.
Once the RD and SI work through the above details and do a trial run, they should be ready for the inspection. In some instances, periods with no Wi-Fi or cellular connection or delayed audio or video transfer may present a challenge, but it is generally not a significant barrier to completing an effective inspection.
Finally, a full schedule should be developed to match both physical inspection and interview time. This needs to be coordinated to have live conference video to discuss observations and address questions with operational, maintenance, project, and/or management personnel before the date of the visit to establish on-site availability or at minimum availability for communication.
Remote site visit
For a comprehensive remote inspection, it is recommended that the SI does two site inspections, on top of the trial run. This will allow for communications issues and errors, and for changes in real time differences in observance. Two separate inspections will provide the RD the opportunity to go through the first transmission and create a comprehensive list of items to capture that were missed during the first inspection. A second inspection will give the SI the opportunity to prepare to capture items that were not captured during the first inspection.
When possible, if matching “tour routes” or “remote maps” between multiple disciplines, it is possible that the second inspection can be a team or grouped inspection, with one SI serving multiple RDs. This is only possible once each RD has completed the first inspection, and has conferred with other RDs on the team to see if synergies exist.
A final report should be provided by the SI of what was inspected, viewed or observed. It should include schedules, dates and times as necessary, and it should be provided to the RD as proof and documentation of the remote site visit. This documentation is critical to establishing a record of what was requested to be viewed and what was actually viewed.
There are a number of technologies that can serve for remote site inspection, including smartphones or tablets, helmet cameras, eye glass cameras, microphones and drones. Keep in mind that since there are practical limitations of control, timing, capacity, accuracy, depending on the complexity of the technology, more than one technology should be used to complete the remote site visit. The redundancy can bridge any gaps between the technologies used.
* See “WHY – Purpose of the Review and Visit” in Part 1 of “Mine and Mining Site Visit Guidelines – A Practical Approach.”�This column was excerpted and adapted from “Mine and Mining Project Site Visit Guidelines: A Practical Approach.” Read the full guidelines to performing remote site visits here.Avakash Patel, P.Eng., is President – Advisory and Consulting Americas at RPMGlobal. He has worked for junior and major mining companies, as well as for top-tier EPCMs. He has been involved in various stages of project development and his experience spans multiple commodities and locations globally.