Interview - Arne Kjørsvik, Eelume AS; David Mackay, Kongsberg Maritime Ltd.
Eelume articulated robot technology has emerged from more than 10 years of scientific research into snake-like robotics at NTNU – the Norwegian University of Science and Technology, and SINTEF the applied research organisation, both based in Trondheim. A strategic partnership with Equinor and Kongsberg Maritime has been instrumental in the development of this technology, and its introduction in to the global marketplace.
Can you tell us about the Eelume underwater inspection, maintenance and repair robot?
The robot is multi-task configurable, and can be made up of a number of different articulated body modules, joint modules, sensor modules, inspection modules, battery modules and payload modules At the heart of the Eelume robot flexibility is the custom designed articulated joint module. This module uses precision, high-torque, servo-controlled motor and gearbox assemblies, mounted within a rugged, lightweight mechanical frame. The joint module is fully enclosed and sealed within a flexible bellows which is oil-filled and allows for pressure-balanced joint operation even at great ocean depths. Figure 4: EELY500 with single-joint configuration Figure 5: EELY500 with 3-joint configuration Eelume has also been designed from the outset to offer a future resident subsea capability, operating from a seabed mounted or structure mounted docking garage. The Eelume robot control and communication architecture is based on Ethernet network technology, allowing long-distance remote-controlled operations from onshore. Future Eelume configurations will allow fully autonomous, and augmented operator control.
What are the key benefits of this product for the industry?
Eelume technology is aimed primarily at reducing the operating costs, and increasing the efficiency of inspection and intervention tasks for all subsea operations, in both traditional oil and gas recovery and in renewable energy generation. By offering flexible, task configurable, subsea-resident inspection and intervention technology, Eelume can significantly reduce the mobilisation and operating costs for carrying out IMR tasks, by removing or substantially reducing the need for costly vessel-deployed ROV or diver interventions. A subsea-resident Eelume intervention robot solution offers the opportunity for increased operational efficiency and reduced downtime, by minimising mobilisation and deployment time and dramatically reducing the associated high costs of ROV and Diving support vessel day-rate hire for planned and on-demand IMR tasks.
Can you tell us about the strategic partnership formed with Kongsberg Maritime and Equinor (LOOP product development program)?
The strategic partnership with both Equinor and Kongsberg Maritime has been instrumental in the development of the Eelume flexible robot technology, and in the introduction of this technology to the global marketplace. Equinor has a stated ambition to become ‘the world’s most carbon efficient oil and gas producer with developing renewable business’ Through the LOOP programme they provide demanding customer input, as well as funding, technical advisory and planning support for the development and use of Eelume technology in their future oilfield operations. They also provide access to real offshore oilfield installations for testing and qualification of Eelume technology developments. This ensures that the development of the Eelume technology is closely tied to the real needs of a demanding end customer.
How can Eelume technology help to transform the subsea industry?
In recent years there has been a dramatic increase in the use of subsea technologies for the development of offshore oil and gas fields. This has led to an increasing number of installed subsea wells and trees, and increasingly complex subsea production facilities and infrastructure on the seabed. This growth in the number of subsea production installations has created a growing demand for subsea inspection, maintenance and repair operations. The already large installed base of mature and ageing subsea production facilities will also require significant maintenance upkeep, with many now being considered for life-extension programmes to increase their useful production lifespan. Eelume technology is aimed primarily at reducing the through-life field operating costs, and increasing the efficiency of inspection and intervention tasks for all subsea operations, in both traditional oil and gas recovery and in renewable energy generation.
Are there any challenges posed with this technology?
Eelume robot technology offers unique multi-task configuration flexibility for performing subsea inspection and intervention tasks, especially in confined and restricted areas. One of the main challenges is to inform and hopefully educate the subsea market on what is now possible using this technology. Much of the existing seabed infrastructure used in the offshore energy industries is designed around the use of conventional, expensive to deploy, vessel supported work-class ROV’s or divers. A change of mindset, and perhaps also a change in business models, will be required to take full advantage of future subsea resident, task configurable, flexible underwater robots like Eelume. The adoption of autonomous subsea robotic solutions will need significant efforts by subsea infrastructure designers and offshore energy operators to help facilitate the use of future high levels of autonomy or operator augmented robot operations to maximize the benefits and efficiencies possible in offshore inspection and intervention tasks, and to benefit from the significant cost savings they will make possible.
What are the next steps for the Eelume technology?
Resident subsea tethered Eelume robot operations will be proven in Norwegian fjord trials before the end of 2018, followed swiftly by real offshore oilfield installation for detailed resident subsea proving trials for IMR operations with a major North Sea oil & gas operator in early 2019. Fully tether-less battery powered and autonomous subsea operation will be tested later within 2019, with offshore proving trials in 2020.