Oil Tank Scanning Software
Oil and gas equipment manufacturer achieves 30% sales increase with user experience overhaul
Product improvements backed by human-centered design and user research allow MFE to recoup development costs within a year of sales
Now the most competitive tank scanner on the market
Create a new tablet app for MFE’s fourth-generation oil tank scanner, resolving critical user experience issues that had previously prevented MFE customers from experiencing the full time-saving impact of the first digitally-enabled scanner on the market.
- Electron framework and Wrapper
- Windows desktop application
- User Research
- UX design and prototyping
- User interface design
- Custom animation
Sensitive software built for the people using it
Inside an oil tank, it is dark and damp. The atmosphere is susceptible to extreme temperatures: sub-zero in cold parts of the world and over 130 degrees Farenheit in the hot desert. Even after it has been thoroughly cleaned, hazardous chemical substances coat a tank’s inner surfaces.
Imagine climbing into one of those tanks wearing a bulky hazmat suit and gloves for the tedious yet critical job of scanning the floor plates to locate defects. Imagine fumbling with the tablet in extremely low light as you seek the exact positioning of every defect. The pressure is significant–mistakes could cost the tank owner thousands.
We did more than imagine it.
On a sunny Texas day, we drove down to Dripping Springs for a visit with MFE Enterprises. At the ranch, we got a firsthand experience of what it would be like to use a scanner and tablet app from the floor of a giant oil tank.
That’s what we like to call user research.
3 phases of operating a tank floor scanner
Our hands-on experience provided us with a long list of critical user requirements. In order to succeed in the market, the tool we were creating needed to be hyper-sensitive to the very human experience each operator would face at the bottom of a gigantic oil tank.
Map the tank floor
To use the scanner, a human operator must first equip the scanner with the data it needs to create a virtual map of the tank floor. This step requires the operator to manually enter data about the tank’s dimensions into the app on the accompanying tablet.
Position and move the scanner
The operator then pushes the scanner along each portion of the tank floor. Magnetic Flux Leakage (MFL) technology allows the scanner to read the volumetric loss of mass along each point on the floor and correlate the defect to the relative floor position in the tank via a velocity-adjusting algorithm.
Use the report to fix the defects
Using the dimensions entered by the operator, the scanner then determines the relative location of each defect and submits that data to the desktop application on the tablet. There, the operator can access a summary of defects and their locations so they can be found and treated.
User experience design for faster, easier, and more accurate scanning
MFE Enterprises designed and built a high-tech scanner for inspecting tank floor plates. The first digitally-enabled tank floor scanner, MFE’s third version of the Mark Tank Floor Scanner was revolutionary. Intended to help customers spend less time and labor fixing tank floors, it not only located defects but presented operators with a detailed report and a digital map of tank-floor deficiencies.While the Mark III Tank Floor Scanner was well received by customers worldwide (nothing like it had ever before been available), there were usability issues that MFE needed to address in its next version of the product.Re-working the original Mark III software was not a viable option, so we built brand new software from scratch for the Mark IV Tank Floor Scanner. Our custom solution fully resolved each of the usability problems customers were experiencing with the previous version.
An unnavigable user interface was leading to mapping errors and incorrect location reports.Operators made frequent errors during the mapping stage as they tried navigating the app’s confusing screen design in physically uncomfortable and poorly lit conditions.While it was still an improvement over former methods, operators were often spending 3-4 days in a hostile environment generating erroneous location reports.
Now, the new user interface allows operators to easily and accurately capture current locations and scanning direction on the first attempt.
Moving the scanner machine incrementally across the tank floor was strenuous and time consuming.To completely scan the tank, operators had to lift the nearly 300-pound scanning machine hundreds of times over rivets in the floor–a daunting task, even for two people.
We adjusted the software’s velocity calculations allowing MFE to make the scanner machine more than 200 pounds lighter. Now, the scanning job is far more efficient and far less hazardous.
Operators were manually compensating for gaps in the technology.Upon discovering a defect, the operator had to rock the heavy machine back-and-forth several times, causing repetitive stress injuries over time.
Together with MFE, we created a new feature that eliminates the need to rock the scanner back and forth over a defect.