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Worldwide there are many thousands of tanks in downstream oil and gas plants, refineries or tank terminals that are slowly degrading through corrosion, where the only way of inspecting them is through internal inspection, which up to now could only be done manually by emptying the tank, purging it of toxic gasses and then sending human operators in to carry out the inspection, which is both costly and time-consuming, so the aim of Project nautilUS was to create a mobile robotic solution (system) for the storage tank floor plate inspection segment, that removes the requirements to empty the tanks or shutting it down.
Project nautilUS has progressed into phase 2 with commercialisation and field trials, with three main partners being: Innvotek, Sonomatic and RS Components, and we thought it was time for an update, so we spoke with Michael Corsar (Innvotek’s CTO) and ask a few questions:
1) What was it about this project that was of interest to you, and why did you choose to continue being part of Phase 2 of the project?
The Phase 2 Nautilus project has continued the success of the project’s phase 1 that delivered a portable, Explosive Atmosphere’s compliant robot for in-service storage tank inspection. Performing this type of inspection in industries such as oil or chemicals is a task difficult and hazardous for human workers. We at Innvotek, specialise in developing automation and robotic solutions for hard-to-reach and dangerous environments, so we knew it was a challenge we were able to meet. The Phase 1 project created a robot that was successfully tested in a simulated oil tank environment at Sonomatic’s workshop in Warrington. The remotely controlled robot has been specifically developed to enable its deployment via human access points (normally of 450 mm in diameter) into liquid storage tanks. The robot’s small size and low weight also simplify logistics and storage when not in use.
2) Tell us more about the project results?
The tests demonstrated fully submerged and safe operation in oil, with NDT data collection being done in parallel. Robots’ capabilities have not only been proven but have also attracted attention from the industry’s end-users. All acquired Phase 1 learnings and industry feedback has been then taken forward into Phase 2, in which the robot underwent further development & optimisations, with continuous trials and demonstration in actual storage tanks done in parallel. This has enabled very quick validation of developments made. By the end of Phase 2, Nautilus has proven that it meets all expectations from end-users and is now part of Innvotek’s product offering.
3) What key areas of the project do you cover, and how do you fit in as part of this consortium?
Innvotek has developed the robot in the Phase 1 project and has further optimised and upgraded the platform in course of Phase 2.
4) Were there any unexpected issues you encountered in this second phase, and if so how did you navigate past these to get a solution?
The pandemic was definitely unexpected! We were finalising Phase 2 in the middle of it raging. We managed to validate our robot on multiple customer sites around MENA and Canada. The customer feedback allowed us to design an even better version which we have now started to sell.
5) Has the project delivered what you expected it to, and what would you say are the main takeaway points from the project for you?
The project has been a big success. We are proud to share that the Phase 2 project result is a fully market-ready product. The most crucial part of Phase 2 is testing and optimisation. All trials and tests in actual storage tanks contributed to the rugged and easy-to-use robot for Aboveground Storage Tank inspection.
6) What are the next steps for Innvotek following the completion of this government-funded project?
The next steps involve going to market and demonstrations to clients, with plans of introducing the solution into the inspection tests.
Michael Corsar - CTO at Innvotek
Further information on nautilUS can be found on DesignSpark:
- Project nautilUS - Revolutionising Petrochemical Oil Tank Inspections
- Project nautilUS member - InnoTecUK
- Project nautilUS the answer to low cost oil tank inspection
- Project nautilUS member - TWI interview
- Project nautliUS to commence field trials
- Project nautilUS - Phase two update, commercialisation and field trials