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Last month I had the pleasure, alongside GreigRS, to meet the team behind Project nautilUS, a joint initiative between six UK based organisations which aims to revolutionise the way that periodic inspections of petrochemical storage tanks are carried out.
Since February 2018, the project nautilUS team has been working tirelessly to develop a multi-million-pound certified Non-Destructive Testing (NDT) solution, in the shape of a small robot to perform in-service inspections.
The robot uses active real-time remote controls to move around a tank and an ultrasound probe to make measurements of floor thinning, and records data regarding location for post-processing after the robot is retrieved.
The design aims to obtain the smallest possible footprint to allow entry via the smallest manholes of liquid storage tanks. For the robot to perform an inspection in an explosive and flammable environment, the robot operation must avoid sparking which can create an explosion in the tank due to heat and the presence of vapour.
The Project nautilUS robot development is being co-funded by the UK's innovation agency and offers a significant reduction in the costs, danger, environmental impact and the health & safety risks involved in the periodic inspection of the storage tanks.
As well as offering ease of use and unique movement capabilities, the technology can also be applied for the inspection of ship-borne fuel tanks, transportation tanks and water storage tanks.
The project brings together a multidisciplinary partnership (find out more at the foot of this article), which contains the experience and expertise to efficiently implement the work in addressing the skills and needs of Project nautilUS, as well as ensuring the long-term sustainability of the project outcomes.
Why is this solution needed?
The project initially focused on the specific market sector of refined petrochemical storage and moved on to unrefined too, having the benefit of feedback from the least challenging application. Globally there are over 500,000 storage tanks of which almost one third are in Europe (166,000). Of these 40,000 are large petrochemical tanks.
Project NautilUS will have an impact both in the provision of new low-cost testing methods allowing customers to drive down operational costs through preventative maintenance and in reducing the cost and complexity in current testing practices (£10BN p.a. industry saving). It is common within the industry for major companies to outsource to specialist providers who supply services and specialist equipment tailored to specific customer needs.
Generally, the UK Non-Destructive Testing (NDT) industry has a small number of consolidated international players, with a pool of niche technology, products and service providers that are accessed opportunistically. Analysis of the industrial landscape reveals there are two main areas or gaps which have held back full exploitation of the benefits available from NDT: timely technology transfer of new techniques and market perception of the value of inspection in some quarters. For the future, there are two additional potential barriers: the need to maintain or grow investment in R&D and the increasing skills gap due to an ageing workforce and the need to adopt more advanced NDT technology. Project NautilUS surmounts these barriers.
The focus of UK activity in the petrochemical sector is on service provision and in supplying a ready market for new products and providing a pathway for growth both from capturing market share and by creating new markets, in this case, for semi-permanently deployed low-cost robots for statistical monitoring. The main barriers to entry will be demonstrating both standards compliance and efficacy of the system.
Watch below as Haris Aslam, a nautilUS project team member working for InnoTecUK, gives a brief demonstration of the robot in action.
The Project nautilUS partners are:
RS Monition is a comprehensive range of cutting-edge maintenance engineering services brought to you by RS Components. Their team of accredited industry experts are behind the design, development and application of reliability and condition-monitoring systems, and have over 30 years’ experience across a broad spectrum of industrial sectors.
InnoTecUK is a dynamic and progressive research and innovation company specialising in the development and commercialisation of novel solutions to overcome complex societal challenges.
TWI helps people and organisations all over the world maximise the performance of welding, joining and allied processes; and the resulting products and assets they create.
Sonomatic is a worldwide organisation whose expertise in ultrasonic inspection design, development and application, dates back more than 30 years to their roots in the nuclear sector. Today the company has widened its focus and provides proven yet pioneering services to customers in defence and power generation.
The London South Bank University mission is to be recognised as an enterprising civic university that addresses real-world challenges. They aim to be London’s top modern university and have set a corporate strategy to help achieve their vision.
Innovate UK is the UK’s innovation agency. As part of UK Research and Innovation, a non-departmental public body funded by a grant-in-aid from the UK government, they support science and technology ideas that can help the economy to grow. With a strong business focus, Innovate UK drive growth by working with companies to de-risk, enable and support innovation.