Subsea robotic maintenance

Subsea infrastructure and the demand for its maintenance is growing. Proper periodic monitoring of infrastructure, equipment and processes can improve operational efficiency, reduce downtime, ensure the safety of personnel, and prevent detriment to the environment. Demand for underwater equipment and services worldwide is expected to reach $7bn from 2019-2023.

Currently, sub-sea activities are assisted by Remotely Operated Vehicles (ROVs) that are equipped with cameras and lights and are operated by humans in surface-vessels.[1] ROVs are used at the initial construction - and subsequent repair and maintenance of infrastructure. They are tasked with monitoring wellhead integrity, risers, mooring lines, subsea spools and manifolds, pipelines, and other subsea structures. Technology today can operate downwards to 3km and stay submerged for as long as 5 years and have a field-proven concept monitoring of >100,000 hours.[2]

Operating cost reduction by the automation of ROVs are estimated to be as high as 60%.[3] Autonomous sub-sea equipment would be able to deploy on regular inspections without human assistance to improve the oversight of ageing assets. However, ROVs are limited in their ability to perform anything other than routine inspection.

The North Sea represents about 35% of the use of ROVs worldwide but this percentage is declining as ROVs are increasingly put to work in Australia, Brazil, the Caspian, China, the Far East, the Gulf of Mexico, India, the Mediterranean, the Persian Gulf, Russia, South America, and West Africa.[3]

When will autonomous robots be deployed for maintaining and making simple repairs to subsea installations?

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[1] Whitfield, S., (2018), AUVs Surface as Next-Gen Data Gathering Platforms.
[2] Williams, H., (2008), Passionate About… ROVs.
[3] Diala-McBride, C., (2019), Robots and the future of oil&gas workforce.
More information: 
Nichols, M., (2017), Advantages Of Drone-Based Preventive Maintenance In Offshore Oil Inspections.
Castellano, F., (2020), Commercial Drones Are Revolutionizing Business Operations.

By Matthew J. Spaniol