Safinah and Drone Ops

Multinational oil and gas companies to finance a life-saving drone developed by two North East businesses

A chance meeting at Rise and Design has led to the development of a life-saving solution that could be rolled out worldwide.

Drone Ops, who have trained Star Wars, James Bond, Game of Thrones, BBC and ITV staff in drone operation, and currently specialise in survey and inspection, assisting emergency services and construction to name just a few sectors, met Safinah; who have a worldwide reputation for creating and delivering innovative and effective solutions to all aspects of protective coating issues for mega-yachts, ships, offshore structures as well as land based infrastructure and heavy industry.

Together, Safinah and Drone Ops have created a drone that could save dozens of lives and millions of pounds worldwide.

Safinah, and their clients in the oil, gas and maritime sector, had searched long and hard for a solution to the problem of inspecting and testing large marine structures such as oil tankers and offshore platforms.  These structures require regular monitoring to test for corrosion or structural faults, which is carried out manually and requires inspectors to work in enclosed areas or tanks, which are usually poorly lit and hazardous. This poses huge health and safety risks and maritime insurance companies estimate that there are dozens of deaths annually as a result. A report from the Marine Accident Investigation Branch states that accidents in enclosed areas are one of the most common causes of fatalities on board ships. 

Raouf Kattan of Safinah and Justin Pringle of Drone Ops met almost by chance at Rise and Design, held by Design Network North at Gateshead’s Northern Design Centre. On discussing the problem, they realised that by pooling their considerable but very different expertise, they may be able to come up with a solution. Using advanced drones, equipped with sensors and scanners to carry out inspection, would remove all risk to human life as well as improve efficiency and cost effectiveness.

The two companies held a workshop in March 2016 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 Akzo Nobel, who are based in Gateshead and Wallsend’s Barrier UK.

Before the workshop had even begun, Safinah and Drone Ops were offered a substantial investment into their product from one organisation. By halfway through they had received a third of the funding necessary to take their innovation 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 across the globe.

There are still significant barriers to be overcome, such as enabling the drones to carry multiple sensors, developing systems to map the large areas under inspection, and navigation through enclosed areas, but the team are confident they can develop what will be a world first, and which they hope would become the industry standard.

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 with 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 said, “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.”

This is an exciting time for all involved including Design Network North, a project ran by RTC and funded by ERDF, who are thrilled to hear that two valued clients are developing such a fantastic new project. 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.”

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.


Design Network North is part of RTC’s 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.
RTC 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.
Designing Better Business’ is part funded by European Regional Development Fund, as part of the European Structural and Investment Funds Growth Programme 2014-2020.