The Design and Development of a Revolutionary Autonomous Subsea Inspection Capability

Thursday February 6th, 2020 TAGS: , , , , , ,

Minimising Ship Time, Increasing Safety and Reducing Costs

In 2020, the topic of autonomy needs no introduction. Many corners of the global maritime industry are looking into the capabilities of autonomy and exploring the operational possibilities it could provide. The offshore energy industry is no exception.

The inspection of subsea assets is a routine task for offshore oil and gas and wind operators. As many oil and gas platforms in and around the UK are coming towards the end of their life, monitoring and maintenance is, therefore, an increasingly important task; one which must have minimal impact on routine business.

The ability to increase efficiency and reduce risk to human life has brought autonomy to the forefront as a technology area of interest.

The ‘Autonomous Robotic Intervention System for Extreme Maritime Environments’ (ARISE) project was kick-started in 2017 to address this idea. Led by L3Harris, and partnered by the University of Exeter, the project sought to develop an integrated autonomous system to de-risk and enhance inspection work in the offshore environment.

Phase 1 of the project ran from 2017-2018 and entailed the design work and feasibility testing of deploying and recovering an ROV from the C-Worker 7 Autonomous Surface Vehicle (ASV).

C-Worker 7 ROV Payload Design

The whole payload system was hosted within the moon pool of the C-Worker 7, requiring only power and data connections from the host vessel. The system included:

  • A winch system with 50m of tether and powered sheath wheel for tension management
  • Actuated lock latch system to retain ROV during transit
  • Electronics enclosure hosting ROV and USBL topsides
  • Pole mounted Sonardyne Mini Ranger 2 USBL system
  • ROV housing

The development and early testing phase culminated in a two-week demonstration in Cawsand Bay, Plymouth, UK. The demonstration, which was supported by oil and gas supermajor BP, marked an industry first showcase of an ASV deploying, operating and recovering an inspection class ROV.

In proving its capability to conduct vertical and horizontal subsea inspection, the system exhibited to be an ideal solution for tasks such as jacket and hull inspections as well as pipeline and cable surveys.

“The C-Worker 7 autonomous vessel, paired with an ROV, has significant potential to change the way subsea inspection tasks are carried out, said Peter Collinson, Senior Subsea and Environmental Specialist, BP. “It is an exciting time for the oil and gas industry. The technology is there – imagination is the only thing that can hold the industry back.”

There were some valuable lessons learned during this first phase. It was acknowledged that to be effective in real-world operations, the ROV’s tether would need to be much longer and the launch and recovery system for the ROV needed further development.

Following the success of the initial proof of concept operations, the project continued into a second phase, which began in spring 2019 and is set to run until spring 2021.

Taking all the lessons learned and feedback from phase 1, the second phase seeks to evolve the system to a pre-commercial state capable of completing inspection down to 150m water depth.

In order to achieve greater depths, the ROV’s tether will be increased to 200m. Different concepts of launching and recovering the ROV will be explored to remove the onus from the operator and rely more on the system.

L3Harris continues to develop its autonomy capability across the board; this project will be able to capitalise on features such as improved over the horizon autonomy and autonomous navigation capability.

Once deployed, this will be a game-changing system enabling significant reductions in terms of cost and time spent at sea for both operators and ships. The outcome will be a system that negates the need to put people at risk in the extreme environments of offshore renewable energy and oil and gas. The system will be deployed in commercial North Sea inspection operations in summer 2020.

The project received part-funding by the UK government’s innovation fund, Innovate UK.

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