Interview - James McNab, Radiation Methods SME, Oceaneering
Can you tell us more about how Oceaneering uses robotics, such as Terabot® manipulators and humanoid robots?
We have developed innovative robotic and automated tools specifically to minimise human exposure to hazardous situations. For example, our Terabot® robotic arms include a range of all-electric manipulators that limit or eliminate the need for direct human interaction in areas of potential risk or uncertainty. The systems can be automated to enable routine or repetitive tasks, and the arms have integrated, load-limiting clutches that protect the manipulator and its surroundings from damage. The joints are fully sealed, making them water and dust-tight, and they are also suitable for a wide range of hazardous or remote locations. Another technology designed and built by Oceaneering is the International Space Station (ISS) Robonaut 2 (R2), which is a faster, more technologically advanced dexterous, anthropomorphic robot. In the future it is predicted that these robots will be used as assistants for humans or as their stand-ins.
What impact is technology like this having on the oil and gas industry?
When it comes to monitoring and managing data, techniques harvested from the space industry are changing the way we manage our oil and gas projects. Both industries share common challenges, such as working in harsh and remote environments. The development of advanced communication and telemetry systems, materials sensors, simulation techniques, data management and autonomous ways of working ensure a more efficient and commercially productive delivery strategy. These projects provide wider benefits through the advancement of safety, performance and integrity technologies. The studies cover elements such as the impact of ultraviolet (UV) light on materials, along with coatings, solar cell testing and life-sustaining equipment – the results of which can provide us with better, more advanced ways of managing and delivering our services.
What are the benefits of using robotics as opposed to conventional methods?
The use of robotics provides improved operational safety. We work in a hazardous industry and any solution that mitigates risk and harm should be welcomed positively. Robotics can also help us drive efficiency by enabling repetitive tasks to be carried out autonomously, thereby freeing skilled resources to focus on specialist tasks.
What challenges do companies face when adopting new technology?
Our industry is naturally risk averse and achieving the buy-in to invest in, or adopt a new technology is sometimes a challenge, so we have to take the time to educate our customers and peers about our new technologies. Conversely, during the latest downturn, we have seen a rising interest in new technologies and applications. This is because organisations require smarter, more cost-effective solutions and are willing to explore alternative methodologies in order to reduce CAPEX and OPEX costs. One example is our new approach to the contentious task of managing inspection activities in the vicinity of nucleonic level control instrumentation. This work is mainly done during shutdown periods because the equipment can affect detectors, causing false readings and alarms to trip. Oceaneering’s new trip avoidance x-ray inspection (TAXI) system has little effect on nucleonic detectors, and eliminates the need for control room blind spots while also maximising plant uptime. This enables the inspection of piping in close proximity to vessels and other equipment with nucleonic devices to be performed in a faster and more efficient way. The application is also suitable for conducting inspections over insulation or coatings, avoiding the need to remove materials.
Are there any other technologies that Oceaneering is implementing – and in which areas?
Our Asset Integrity division is pioneering a number of different onshore and offshore applications to help manage the whole integrity loop more effectively. From providing remote inspection techniques, to offering more efficient ways of capturing and managing data through advanced systems, analyses and algorithms, we have a range of integrity solutions that help our customers optimise inspection and maintenance regimes, delivering significant time and cost savings.
What are the predictions/future plans for Oceaneering with regards to innovation and the development of new technologies?
Oceaneering places a large focus on both development and technology advancement. We are cultivating a series of integrity management solutions to reduce cost and waste in our industry. As a learning organisation, we continue to explore and adopt technologies from aerospace, communications, and manufacturing industries as drivers for our improvement. Adoption of non-traditional inspection techniques, such as 3D point cloud scanning to assist with improved visual communication, along with sensor technologies that provide real-time data capture for evergreen risk-based inspection (RBI) applications, and the long-term development of a digital ecosystem – are all included in our technology roadmap.
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