Saudi Aramco’s internally developed underwater inspection robot, the Shallow Water Inspection and Monitoring Robot (SWIM-R), was recently field tested and demonstrated at the Ras Tanura West Pier with the help of the Marine Department.
SWIM-R capabilities were validated by carrying out multiple inspection tasks on underwater pipelines. The robot successfully performed visual inspection, marine-life cleaning, and ultrasonic thickness readings, as well as cathodic protection voltage measurements.
During the test, SWIM-R was effectively able to maneuver and navigate through currents as well as crawl on the seabed.
Toward deployment, commercialization
After the field test, the Research and Development Center (R&DC) presented the technology as a part of the stage-gate review process. The technology was well-received by all gatekeepers and was unanimously voted to successfully graduate into the commercialization and deployment phase.
The Marine Department showed great commitment to, and ownership of, the incoming technology by proposing to fund two additional units of SWIM-R for immediate deployment. The success of this technology highlights the strong interdepartmental collaboration and business alignment between the two departments.
Moving forward, the entire project team will support the Technology Strategy and Planning Department during the deployment stage to ensure that the technology is successfully deployed in Saudi Aramco facilities and commercialized for the global market.
One of 11 inventions
The technology was developed by the Intelligent Systems Lab of the Oil and Gas Network Integrity Division (OGNI) at the R&DC in close collaboration and partnership with the Underwater Inspection and Repair Unit of the Industrial Services Marine Department. The project resulted in 11 inventions, including seven that are filed at the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. The project team consisted of seven research and development (R&D) engineers, one engineer on assignment from the Inspection Department, and two members of the Marine Department.
SWIM-R was recently presented at the Annual Technical Conference and Exhibition of the Society of Petroleum Engineers in Dubai, where it impressed many of the international attendees, who praised the technology for its value proposition and expressed their interest in adopting the compact, underwater robot that can be easily deployed in extremely shallow waters.
The groundbreaking technology is the type of innovation that is key to tackling the significant challenges that Saudi Aramco faces within its wider business. In particular, the inspection of pipelines in shallow waters has previously been problematic as current inspection procedures are performed by divers who are connected to a support ship or a diving support vessel (DSV) using an umbilical cord. This cord is used for oxygen to the diver, communication to the diver, and relaying a live camera video signal.
However, it is particularly difficult and sometimes impossible to navigate a DSV in shallow waters due to the risk of impact with the seabed or underwater obstacles. Therefore, alternative methods are used for shallow water pipeline inspection, including the usage of zodiacs. These methods are extremely slow as compared to inspection in deeper waters. SWIM-R enables the inspection of these shallow water pipelines safely and efficiently while drastically reducing the associated time and cost of shallow-water inspections.
Committed to reducing corrosion costs
SWIM-R was designed, developed and field tested in less than two years, allowing for its deployment five months ahead of schedule.
The robot serves as an example of successful technology created as part of the research portfolio managed by the OGNI Division at the R&DC, which is committed to reducing the cost of corrosion within the company’s facilities through innovative and fast-paced technology development while the Intelligent Systems Team within this division helps to drive this effort.