An exciting opportunity has become available to help bring to market world pioneering robotics to
repair oil pipelines from a safe, remote distance without the need to stop production.
A team led by engineering firm Forth has worked for the past two-and-a-half years on the creation of
FSWBot, an innovative friction stir welding robotic crawler devised for internal repair and refurbishment of pipelines, and they are now looking for assistance to help bring the working prototype to the commercial stage.
The FSWBot is being developed to travel hundreds of miles down an oil pipeline to scan for any defects
in the structure, and carry out subsequent repairs – all while oil continues to flow. The robot is controlled
remotely by engineers at a safe distance from the pipeline.
This process will remove the need for divers to work on pipelines and for oil production to be halted,
therefore saving significant time, money and, by removing humans from hazardous environments,
potentially saving lives.
The FSWBot has innovative technology which allows the robot to ‘walk’ to the exact point of defect, place
a milling patch in place and then weld the problem area.
Forth has produced a concept model of the FSWBot and successfully demonstrated the prototype to a
consortium of partners at its headquarters in Cumbria in July. The Innovate UK-backed project has also
been supported by partners TWI, Joining 4.0 Innovation Centre (J4IC, a partnership between TWI and
Lancaster University), Innvotek and London South Bank University (LSBU).
Now that the pilot system has been demonstrated successfully, Forth is seeking further partners for full
commercial deployment of the equipment.
Chris Downham, programme manager at Forth, said: “An exciting opportunity to bring such a pioneering piece of kit to the commercial stage now exists, and we’re keen to hear from anyone who may be interested in helping us get to the final stage.
“Our team has worked tirelessly to design and construct the prototype, and we are extremely proud of
how well the new technology works.
“In order to improve on the working prototype and assist with the commissioning process, we would like to work with partners who would be interested in helping develop such innovative technology.
“This technology is a world-first piece of equipment and it will have a major, positive impact on the oil and gas industry, ensuring oil pipeline repairs are carried out more safely, quicker and without restricting production.
“It is a great opportunity for partners to be involved in something which will change the way the industry
works across the world.”
The FSWBot integrates several state-of-the-art technologies, including friction stir welding, milling, patch deployment and ultrasonic NDT, onto a robotic system which can be deployed to conduct repairs on pipelines without the need for the pipeline to be closed down for the duration of the repair.
Friction stir welding is a solid state welding process which generates enough frictional heat to soften or
plasticise the metal without melting it, allowing metal components to be forged at the joint line.
The FSWBot will be a five or six-segment PIG type which will be inserted at the production end of the
pipeline and will flow with the oil to a pre-designated area, where it will stop and perform the repair work.
One segment will carry the FSW machine and a steel patch dispenser, with other segments carrying the
navigation, control system, communications, NDT and power storage/generation payloads.
An FSWBot2 is also under consideration for multipurpose repairs and inspections. This innovation would be a very different robot but would build on the learning from the initial development. It would be able to inspect and repair fatigue and corrosion in offshore assets as well as other subsea infrastructure and applications in other industries. It will be able to climb and walk and will be deployed from a system which has the ability to lock onto a structure.
Founded more than 20 years ago, Forth specialises in providing engineering solutions across all sectors
and provides management of oil and gas and subsea industries to nuclear standards.
The company is able to test its prototypes at its main base in Cumbria which also boasts a bespoke Deep
Recovery Facility which, at 22.5 metres long and six metres deep allowing it to hold 1.2 million litres of
water, is one of the largest wet test facilities in the UK. This facility allows the company to test underwater technology and innovations.