Developing the next generation of robotics for oil and gas

pressureScotland’s Oil and Gas Technology Centre is investing £1.1m in three robotics projects intended to transform pressure vessel inspection, which costs the industry hundreds of millions each year and poses significant safety challenges.

The projects were selected as part of its first ‘Asset Integrity’ call for ideas, which was launched last year. Pressure vessel inspection was identified by the industry as a key challenge in maximising economic return from the UK continental shelf.

Non-intrusive inspection (NII) of pressure vessels can deliver significant cost and safety benefits. Inspection specialist Sonomatic is aiming to develop the next generation of robotic NII technology, with improved speed, agility and autonomy compared with existing systems. The robot, incorporating advanced inspection technologies, will help increase production up-time, reduce costs and improve efficiency.

Separately, the centre is working Strathclyde University to develop a new robot crawler equipped with 3D laser scanning and non-destructive testing technology. Existing crawlers are typically deployed only when there is clear line-of-sight for the operator. The university’s solution will construct a virtual, dynamic 3D representation of the inspection site meaning it can be operated safely from a remote location.

The centre is also supporting Strathclyde in the use of swarms of small unmanned aerial vehicles, or drones, for visual inspection offshore. Drone swarms, which are being rapidly adopted by the military and for logistics activities, could deliver a safe, flexible and cost-effective alternative to human inspection.

The second call for ideas is focused on predicting, preventing, detecting and repairing corrosion under insulation. Rebecca Allison, asset integrity solution centre manager, said: “From day one, developing and deploying new technology for pressure vessel inspection has been a key focus area for the Oil and Gas Technology Centre.

“We’re delighted to be investing in robotics projects with Sonomatic and the University of Strathclyde, which we believe can significantly reduce costs, improve efficiency and enhance safety.

“Process vessel inspection and corrosion under insulation cost the industry more than £300 million each year so it is important that our first two calls for ideas focus on these challenges. We’re always looking for innovative ideas and concepts from inside and outside the oil and gas industry and look forward to launching our next Call in March.”

Mark Stone, integrity services manager, Sonomatic, added: “There have been significant advances in robotics technology, inspection solutions and data science over the past few years and the support from the technology centre will ensure these are soon available in a practical tool for field application.”

Willie Reid, director of the Strathclyde Oil and Gas Institute, commented: “The robotics team at Strathclyde, led by Dr Gordon Dobie and Dr Erfu Yang, are excited to be working with the centre on these challenges for improving inspection for offshore asset integrity.

“In a multi-disciplinary approach, they will use the broad experience of both the Centre for Ultrasonic Engineering and also the Department of Design, Manufacture and Engineering Management. We will also utilise our experience in transferring technology from other sectors into oil and gas.”