In an ever-progressing chain of developments designed to make the dirty work of oil production more safe and efficient, an ongoing project helmed by Shell is currently experimenting with new methods to change the way inspection is done on pressure vessels and storage tanks being used in the oil, gas, and petrochemical industry.
Introducing Petrobot, which according to the project's official website, is a forthcoming series of robots designed to be used by inspectors to conduct remote inspection in spaces where workers once had to enter themselves. Currently, the inspection of tanks and pressure vessels is done by personnel who have to shut down assets to ensure personal safety. Petrobot works without stopping production and without being decoupled from live sections of the plant. Furthermore, Petrobot eliminates the need for scaffolding to be erected in larger vessels where all necessary areas must be accessed during inspection.
The objective of Petrobot is to minimize the exposure of human workers to possibly hazardous conditions, reduce plant downtime, and save resources by using robotic technology to end the aforementioned process, which is long and costly.
Four robots are currently being tested; each with its own application. Three are for offline pressure vessel inspection, where the vessel is emptied and thoroughly cleaned prior to inspection. The fourth robot is for online storage tank inspection, where the tank is kept active with its contents still inside. The video below introduces each Petrobot and details their capabilities.
The project started in September 2013 and has a planned duration of three years. It is supported by an EU grant from the FP7 Robotics program; who covers research, innovations, and policies for industrial and service applications and for their integration into environments such as homes, public spaces, and factories.