Saudi Arabia’s national petroleum and natural gas company, Saudi Arabian Oil Company (Saudi Aramco), has recently revealed and demonstrated a shallow-water inspection and monitoring robot (SWIM-R) that it has developed in-house.
Following the field test, Aramco’s Research and Development Center (R&DC) presented the technology, with observers agreeing to proceed to the commercialization and offshore deployment phase, offshore Saudi Arabia and elsewhere.
SWIM-R performed multiple inspection tasks on underwater pipelines. It successfully undertook visual inspection, marine-life cleaning, ultrasonic thickness readings, and cathodic protection voltage measurements.
During the trials at the Ras Tanura West Pier,the vehicle was able to maneuver and navigate through currents as well as crawl on the seabed.
The Marine Department proposed funding for two more SWIM-Rs for immediate deployment. The success of this technology highlights the strong interdepartmental collaboration and business alignment between the two departments.
The Intelligent Systems Lab of the Oil and Gas Network Integrity Division at the R&DC developed the system in partnership with the Underwater Inspection and Repair Unit of the Industrial Services Marine Department.
SWIM-R was also presented recently at the Annual Technical Conference and Exhibition of the Society of Petroleum Engineers in Dubai, where according to Aramco there was strong interest in the apparent ease of deployment in extremely shallow waters.
Traditionally, Aramco has found inspection of pipelines in shallow waters problematic with inspection procedures are performed by divers connected to a support ship or a diving support vessel (DSV) using an umbilical cord.
The latter is used to provide oxygen and communication to the diver, and to relay a live camera video signal.
However, it can sometimes prove impossible to navigate a DSV in shallow waters due to the risk of impact with the seabed or underwater obstacles. Alternative methods for shallow-water pipeline inspection include use of zodiacs, but are slow compared to inspection in deeper waters.
SWIM-R is said to enable safe, efficient, and swifter inspection of shallow-water pipelines.
The system was designed, developed, and field tested in less than two years, allowing it to be deployed five months ahead of schedule.