Explosion-Proof Plant Inspection Robot Opens the Way to Unmanned Plant Operations
Case Study

Explosion-Proof Plant Inspection Robot Opens the Way to Unmanned Plant Operations

BACKGROUND

Volatile global oil prices and the quest to safeguard employees, particularly in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, mean industry is increasingly looking at ways to increase plant efficiency and improve worker safety.

Social distancing requirements and the need to prevent human exposure to hazardous situations, has led to efforts to minimize human involvement in on-site plant operations.

Industries are increasingly looking to robots and digital technologies as the solution. Autonomous robots can remotely monitor plant operations, gather and analyze data, perform simple maintenance tasks, and improve operational efficiency and on-site safety.

ISSUES
The current initial response to plant malfunction inevitably depends upon human workers, even if it involves risk to life.

Hazards at oil and gas plants or other facilities can result in fires, explosions or other serious incidents. While emergency alarm systems with cameras and sensors fitted to a plant can detect signs of malfunction, non-routine maintenance tasks such as detailed situational checks are left to human workers, leaving them exposed to potentially unsafe situations or hazardous environments, such as gas leaks.

In a normally unmanned installation (NUI), relying on humans to restart the system after shutdown could cause costly delays.

When an emergency or abnormality occurs in NUI operations it is possible to shut down the plant’s systems remotely from the Central Processing Platform (CPP). However, the restart work must be carried out on-site by dispatching human workers.

Transporting workers to a NUI is costly, and extreme weather or other factors can prevent helicopters or boats accessing facilities, resulting in a delay resuming operations and an expensive downtime loss.

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Realizing fully automated plant operation requires the use of various types of robots, yet current industrial use is limited.

Many oil and gas companies have a vision of operating fully unmanned plants in the future. To that end, key technologies like remotely operated vehicles (ROVs), underwater autonomous vehicles (UAVs) and other robots are already in use mainly in sub-sea and high-altitude areas where the physical involvement of workers is limited.

However at present, industrial use of robots in the oil and gas industry is limited to inspecting particular equipment and facilities. The development of an integrated and autonomous control system that enables more effective and broad use of robots is crucial to realize fully unmanned plant operations.

POINTS TO BE ADDRESSED
It is desirable to deploy specialized robots on oil and gas installations that can perform necessary equipment maintenance and operations in the event of an abnormality, without the need for human workers visiting the site.
It is necessary to have a system and an interface that enables accurate remote control of various non-routine tasks in case of plant emergencies.
It is essential to develop integrated and autonomous control systems for a variety of robots for future fully unmanned plant operations.
SOLUTIONS
KEY POINTS TO THE SOLUTIONS
To develop an autonomous inspection robot with explosion-proof performance, which is highly stable and versatile enough to conduct plant inspections and maintenance under normal conditions, and replace human workers as the initial response to an emergency situation.
It is essential to develop an autonomous inspection robot equipped with six-axis manipulators and an interface that enables accurate operation using both autonomous and remote control.
To develop an integrated and autonomous robot control system for multiple autonomous robots with different capabilities. The robot control system is expected to realize comprehensive management of entire oil and gas assets, including autonomous inspections and response to abnormalities under different site conditions.
EX ROVR is an explosion-proof plant inspection robot developed by MHI, which autonomously conducts on-site inspection and maintenance operations under normal conditions, and acts as first-responder in emergency situations.

Featuring ATEX and IECEx explosion-proof certifications, EX ROVR is ZONE 1 compatible. Its compact profile makes it both stable and versatile, so it can move autonomously throughout oil and gas industry plants. Fitted with four sub crawlers, the robot is a natural climber and can safely ascend or descend stairs to different elevations and navigate confined areas. The robot can monitor gauges. collect data and detect anomalies such as excessive heat signatures, abnormal sounds, flammable gas concentrations or visual anomalies, and perform some maintenance tasks.

EX ROVR can also respond quickly to emergency alarms in potentially hazardous situations, to check a site’s status and take some remedial actions. These features enhance site safety by cutting response times, reducing the number of human workers needed on-site and preventing humans entering hazardous situations.

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EX ROVR can operate autonomously or using remote control and is fitted with a six-axis manipulator to conduct precise work tasks.

Using high-accuracy 3D LiDAR technology, the system creates detailed real time 3D sensor maps of the environment and logs gauge data at set inspection points, allowing data to be tracked, trended and analyzed.

Arriving quickly on scene, the EX ROVR’s six-axis robotic arm can reach out to survey equipment, grip switches or valves to make adjustments and access objects in high or confined spaces.

All of the robot’s functions can be monitored and controlled remotely. The robot’s user-friendly interface allows operators to move seamlessly between autonomous and teleoperations as needed. In the event of an unmanned plant shutdown, EX ROVR can help off-site controllers restart plant systems quickly, often without the need to send humans to the site, preventing significant costly downtime.

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Land, sea, and air autonomous robots will cover entire assets and help realize future fully unmanned plant operations. MHI is developing an integrated and autonomous robotic control system that can perform inspections and respond to abnormalities, without human involvement.

Unmanned systems that perform inspections and respond to abnormalities are essential to realize the vision of fully unmanned plant operations held by many oil and gas operators.

In addition to EX ROVR, MHI is developing advanced technologies for a range of robots that can operate on land, at sea and in the air, operated by integration and autonomous control systems. The company is developing UAVs with long-flight-range capability and high wind-resistance, unmanned underwater vehicles (UUVs) and unmanned surface vehicles ( USVs), and CoasTitan, an autonomous unmanned vehicle networked surveillance system that combines these technologies.

With these systems, MHI will be positioned to work with customers and partners to realize fully unmanned plant operations.

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OUTLOOK

MHI aims to maximize the value of customer assets by utilizing accumulated robotics technologies, including unmanned robots compatible with land, sea, and air, together with sensing, analysis and evaluation technologies.

EX ROVR is one of the key digital solutions for oil and gas plant operations, which automates inspection and surveillance, harvests real-time field data, detects maintenance issues and acts as first-responder in emergency situations. Looking ahead, MHI will develop and introduce other robots, working with our partners to maximize the value of our customers' assets by providing support for advanced asset management and fully unmanned plant operations.

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