Ageing infrastructure is an important problem worldwide. Subsea structural assets (like dams, bridges, ports, ships, oil and gas platforms) are inspected regularly by various techniques to avoid costly outages or unscheduled catastrophic failures. However, the industry has been following practices and technologies that are 3 decades old. The current practices are non-digital, expensive and extremely inefficient.Currently, most inspections of submerged structures are done by human scuba divers or deepsea underwater robots both of which have multiple limitations.
Pioneering underwater robotic inspection in India is the Chennai-based, IIT Madras incubated Indian deep tech startup Planys Technologies. Established in 2015, the company has a strong founding team jointly led by IIT alumni and senior faculty – Tanuj Jhunjhunwala (CEO), VineetUpadhyay (Chief Technical Officer), Rakesh Sirikonda (Engineering Lead), Dr.Prabhu Rajagopal (Advisor & NDT Expert), Dr. Krishnan Balasubramanian (Advisor, Technology & Inspection).
Specialising in smart underwater inspection solutions using indigenously manufactured remotely operated vehicles (ROVs), Planys envisions a new course in the maintenance and inspection industry with its discoveries in the field of marine robotics, novel underwater NDT methods and AI-enabled post-inspection analytical digital reporting dashboard. The technology solutions brought by the company help asset owners or managers make data-driven decisions and transition from a time-based inspection protocol to a risk-based inspection protocol.
Planys focuses on everything, right from creating data capture platforms (eg. ROVs), developing own data capturing techniques and post data capture AI-enabled reporting dashboard for quick analysis and cross-comparison of inspection data across years and appropriately forecasting next steps for repair. Planys' capabilities include underwater HD videography, GPS mapping, ultrasonic thickness inspection, bio-fouling spot cleaning & acoustic surveys.
Unlimited endurance, modularity, compactness, portability and a high degree of manoeuvrability of Planys' robots make them ideal for inspection and survey applications.
BEGINNING OF AN ERA
A leader in underwater robotics and diagnostics today, the idea of Planys began as a pilot student project in IIT Madras. Tanuj and his team have participated in several robotic competitions and built robots for different innovative applications while pursuing their studies at IIT Madras
Tanuj's masters' thesis was in the field of marine robotics and advance inspection, which led to the building of the very first prototype of a 'Remotely Operated Vehicle' for underwater inspections in India. The team received overwhelming industry feedback along with solid support from their mentors. As a result, they saw strong potential in the technology that they had developed and decided to dive-in and began the journey of Planys.
The company also invests significant resources in research and development, and is constantly in the process of evolving its features to address new challenges and propose innovative solutions to existing ones.
OBSTACLES ON THE WAY
Being a first-mover, the team had to undergo the customer awareness cycle and accept the uphill task of selling their concept before they could see product sales.
Tanuj further adds, "When we succeeded in convincing clients to try our technology and let them experience its potential, we started seeing adoption gradually. The initial adoption and success stories helped to present the technology as a validated and credible concept to future clients."
CREATING A DIFFERENCE
For the first time in India; dams, railway bridges, power plants, ports, etc. are being inspected by Planys' robots at affordable cost with state-of-the-art technology. It is a huge leap for such traditional sectors, that earlier were using primitive technology and could only compute very basic defects using divers.
Planys' robots for port structural inspection and survey can positively impact the smooth operation of the rapidly modernizing Indian port industry. Earlier, these solutions were available only in developed countries.
CLIENT STRATEGIES AND ENVIRONMENT
The team at Planys has successfully completed over 70+ projects across various sectors like maritime, oil and gas, process industries, dams, and bridges. Major clients of the company include L&T, Vishakhapatnam Port, Chennai port, Ennore port, HOEC, BPCL, IOCL, HPCL, Sathanur, Kakki Dam, Sholayur Dam, Bhadra Dam, Northern and Southern Railways, RVNL to name a few.
Planys is currently scaling up operations to the Middle East, Europe, and South-East Asia. More recently, it has started operations in the Netherlands and has executed projects for marquee customers like Vopak and Port of Rotterdam. They also help their clients for long term asset monitoring, which elongates their asset life. For building long term relationships, they engage with clients on annual contracts and work with them to customise their solutions as per clients' requirements.
THE TEAM AND CORPORATE CULTURE
Planys has a strong multidisciplinary team of 60+ members with expertise in robotics, naval architecture, ocean engineering, non-destructive testing, offshore and other engineering disciplines like electrical, electronics & communication, mechanical, software, business development and more.
At Planys, there is a personal connection with every individual. The culture in the organization is highly ownership-driven. Every employee bears responsibility for their successes and failures. There are short-term, medium-term, and long-term targets; the management team monitors those targets and encourages accountability. At the same time, they acknowledge and celebrate every large to small victory to keep the team motivated.
"The inspection industry is a $10+ billion opportunity globally. It includes a lot of new capabilities that we are developing, which are currently not offered in the market," asserts Tanuj.
From Tanuj's perspective, it's an extremely potent opportunity because the assets that they inspect across maritime, infrastructure and energy are built to last decades and cost trillions of dollars. And it is critical to ensure the longevity of these assets as well as assure that they do not get affected by any damage, which could lead to catastrophic failures with huge consequences either on the economy of the industry or on human life at risk.
JOURNEY AS AN ENTREPRENEUR
Tanuj shares, "It has been a wonderful journey, full of ups and downs. We started with a unique concept of underwater drones in the Indian market, and 4 years down, it has become a well-known and accepted concept. Being pioneers of our field, we have been able to set the right quality benchmarks and our technology is supporting India in keeping its assets safe. Moreover, our solutions are even being exported to foreign markets to monitor and safeguard their assets, which go a long way to present our commitment to quality. Overall, it's been a great beginning, and there's a long way to go."
FEATHERS IN THE CAP