Oil & Gas Pipeline Monitoring Using Autonomous Robots
Although countries are shifting towards more eco-friendly and sustainable options like electric and hydrogen-powered vehicles or equipment, the demand for oil and gas has never been higher. This demand will continue to grow until these eco-friendly options become more viable in terms of cost and consumer acceptance. Thus, we will continue to depend on oil and gas to produce electricity, heat our homes, and fuel our vehicles, for at least a couple of years.
In order to make sure the said demand is met, countries have developed an extensive network of oil and gas pipelines to transport the oil across long distances. The pipelines are usually constructed on-shore or off-shore, and each of these types present its own set of difficulties when it comes to monitoring and repair works. Also, since these pipelines are an essential part of the ecosystem, their continued operation is vital. The failure of these pipes can result in loss of oil and gas, environmental hazards, transport delays, and air pollution.
The oil and gas industry has adopted some innovative methods to carry out inspections and maintenance tasks and ensure pipelines’ continuous operation. One solution that companies around the world are actively adopting is the use of autonomous robots.
Easier Access to Underwater Pipeline Systems
Large sections of the pipeline systems run under the sea. They run at depths as low as 3,000 feet below sea level and are susceptible to failure due to a wide variety of reasons like corrosion, erosion, external influences, etc. This means that unique systems need to be developed to monitor and maintain the pipeline in the challenging underwater environment.
Although sensors can help monitor and detect faults and failures, carrying out the necessary maintenance tasks poses its own set of challenges. Accessing the pipelines at such great depths is dangerous for humans. Not only are we facing high pressure and a lack of oxygen, but there is also always the danger of explosions. Thus, the industry has turned to autonomous robots. Autonomous robots can be deployed into the ocean to carry out various tasks like construction, inspection, and pipeline maintenance.
A company looking to make this process even more accessible and cost-effective is Eelume Subsea Intervention. The Eelume is a 20 foot long, snake-like autonomous robot fitted with a selection of sensors and a camera at each end. This self-propelling robot can travel up to 12.4 miles, following a predetermined route, before needing a recharge. The Eelume is unique because, unlike other Autonomous Underwater Vehicles (AUV), the Eelume comes with its own docking station that can be installed at depths up to 547 yards. They can be stored there for up to six months without being brought back to the surface. The addition of the docking station can potentially save companies up to $100,000 per day in transportation and maintenance costs.
Avitas Systems is another player in the robotics field. Their focus lies in creating systems that reduce asset downtime, improve safety, and decrease inspection times and costs. The solutions developed by Avitas allow oil and gas companies to perform automated and remotely monitored inspections using autonomous aerial and land robots equipped with cameras and sensors. From data acquisition, analysis, and visualization to recommendation generation and reporting, their state-of-the-art robotics and deep learning systems are designed to complete the inspection process without any human assistance. The company works with a large number of other robotics providers to offer customized solutions that solve the needs of the client.
Easier Access to Difficult Sections of the Pipeline
Pipelines need to be regularly inspected and maintained to ensure continued operation. These inspections are usually carried out with the help of advanced Pipeline Inspection Gauges (or PIGs). But PIGs can only travel across straight cross-sections of the pipeline. They cannot adapt to sharp changes in direction or diameter, making the inspection of these vital pipeline sections impossible.
With the help of autonomous robots, in-pipe inspections become easier as they have the ability to navigate the pipeline by themselves. The movement of the robot is usually decided with the help of a preinstalled map of the pipeline system. These robots can also be fitted with tools, sensors, and cameras necessary for maintenance and inspection.
Since 2009, SMP Robotics‘ life’s mission is to create robots that explore places difficult for people to reach, including inside of gas pipelines. This is why they developed the S6 Gas Leak Detection and Isolation robot, specifically designed for regular gas pipeline inspections without human interference. In its autonomous mode, the S6 can follow a predetermined route and analyze gas concentration along the way. If the gas concentration is high, the operator is immediately notified to take necessary measures to prevent catastrophic failures.
Another company using robotics to change the way pipeline inspections are carried out is Eddyfi. Eddyfi offers a wide array of solutions (sensors, software, robots, etc.) to carry out non-destructive inspections and repairs. In 2018, the company acquired Inuktun, a robot manufacturer of a semi-autonomous crawling system called VersaTrax, which can carry out inspections and detect defects without any human interference. The company hopes that this acquisition will help them meet the increasing demand for robotic pipeline inspections, while enabling customers to have their own off-the-shelf, yet customized, solutions.
Future of Autonomous Robots in Pipeline Inspection
According to a recent study, the global market for pipeline inspection robots is estimated to cross $2 billion by 2026. This looks like a realistic target as companies are becoming more aware of the positive effects of adopting these solutions for their businesses. It has been estimated that by implementing the use of advanced techniques for inspection like autonomous robots, companies can avoid unnecessary pipeline replacements that can save them more than $16,000 per km per year.
Also, the use of autonomous robots for pipeline inspection can help reduce workplace accidents that occur during maintenance or inspections. These added benefits can save companies millions in liability fees and ensure that prolonged delays due to injuries happen less often. Over the next few years, we will see more companies looking to provide oil and gas companies with robotic solutions.
Leave a Comment