Oil and chemical silos require regular checks and maintenance to ensure they do not leak. Taiwan-based Droxo Tech is developing unmanned vehicles that can detect rusted areas on a silo and repaint them. The products have received interest from major petrochemical companies like China Steel Corporation and Formosa Plastics Corporation.
Droxo was founded in 2019 by seven co-founders, including CEO Chun Lin Liu. He said the founders participated in a drone project in the southern part of Taiwan before starting the company. They share the same goal of utilizing unmanned vehicles to benefit industries that see low automation adoption, such as the agricultural and petrochemical industries.
Droxo participated in the 2022 startup program of Garage+, a Taiwan-based accelerator initiated by the Epoch Foundation.
Shifting focus from agricultural to petrochemical industries
Liu said that while various unmanned vehicles work in the air, water, or on the ground, people are most familiar with drones. Droxo debuted with agricultural drones and has developed numerous products in recent years, including an automatic sprayer operating in greenhouses.
According to Liu, many companies would not spend time in the R&D of agricultural automation because the sector's output value is lower than in other industries. With the mission of promoting unmanned vehicles, Liu said Droxo was willing to develop solutions suitable for agricultural uses.
A public-traded petrochemical company approached the startup when it was developing drone products, asking whether it could use drones for silo repainting. Liu said the request was turned into a new project that covers rust spot detection and the repainting of silos.
The first product derived from the project is AAROW. Launched in the third quarter of 2022, the robot can crawl on the surface of silos and check if there is a rust area. With a length and width of less than 60 cm, it is explosion-proof, a critical requirement for operating at a petrochemical plant.
According to Liu, the battery-powered robot is equipped with permanent magnets to crawl on a silo. It has a camera module and a customized positioning system that can locate a rust spot.
Liu said AAROW measures the thickness of the paint and the wall of a silo, taking pictures of different spots. It sends all the information to a system that uses algorithms to classify the images based on the extent of the rust.
He added that Droxo aims to record the change in the thickness for the long term so customers would know how the rust impacts a silo as time goes by. The company holds a patent for AAROW in Taiwan and is applying for another one in the US. Liu said Taiwan-based China Steel Corporation and Formosa Plastics Corporation have been using the robot as a pilot program.
Droxo is developing another unmanned vehicle to scrape paint off and repaint the silo. The CEO said the company plans to launch the new product in June 2023.
Droxo plans to bring automation and intelligence to a niche market. Liu said silo maintenance costs petrochemical companies plenty of time and money now. Take one of Formosa Plastics' industrial parks as an example. The company spends between NTD2.5 billion (US$80.99 million) to NTD4 billion annually on the project.
With Droxo's solutions, Liu said it only takes a week to detect and repaint rusted areas. The same project can take over three weeks now because the silo must be scaffolded. As for costs, he said a company spends about NT$2 million in per instance in silo maintenance. Automated solutions can nearly halve the expenditure.
Ambitions for Japan and Singapore
As its product portfolio grows, Droxo has formed an overseas expansion plan. It will first target Singapore and Japan, according to Liu. He said the petrochemical industry is one of the most important sectors in Singapore, with the Jurong Island being the focus. The government has also encouraged businesses to adopt automation and intelligent solutions in recent years. Therefore, it is a promising market.
Liu said Droxo has been in talks with Singaporean companies and looking for opportunities to demonstrate their products in the country.
When it launched AAROW, Japan was the first overseas market that Droxo wanted to enter. Liu said the company is aware that Japan has made efforts to research and develop unmanned vehicles, especially for testing and checking its infrastructure.
He added that Japan is more willing to invest in industrial safety projects than other countries. Droxo has introduced its solutions to several Japanese industry representatives through the assistance of Mizuho Bank. It is optimistic about expanding to the market, according to Liu.
The CEO said Droxo has a clear mission – tackling the pain points that companies face with any type of unmanned vehicle. It has started a new project for the petrochemical industry, developing a robot to check gas leaks.
The vehicle will patrol automatically on a site to detect gas leaks with its vision system, Liu said. It can also offer analysis to the users. Liu said Droxo aims to bring the product to the market in the coming months. Taiwan-based San Fu Chemical Company will be the first to adopt the technology at their site in Kaohsiung.
Droxo Tech developed AAROW, which crawls on the surface of silos and checks if there is a rust area. Credit: Droxo