The Project nautilUS robot for inspections of petrochemical storage tanks
A revolutionary new method of conducting periodic inspections of petrochemical storage tanks has recently been developed.
Oil and fuel storage require a robust and reliable infrastructure, with regular inspection critical to ensure that tanks are fit for purpose. Existing inspection methods often require storage tanks to be taken out of service for drainage and inspected for corrosion, which is hazardous, time-consuming and costly work. The new technique helps to ensure that the hazards, environmental impact, and costs associated with the global industry are significantly reduced.
A UK-based consortium called Project nautilUS has designed and developed a multi-million-pound certified non-destructive testing solution. Co-funded by Innovate UK, the consortium also includes InnoTecUK, London South Bank University, Sonomatic, and TWI. Electrocomponents, the holding company for RS Components, has developed the Quality Functional Deployment model through its maintenance engineering specialist service, RS Monition. The company’s DesignSpark engineering platform and community also create opportunities for intellectual property development and commercialisation of the technology.
The nautilUS solution is in the form of a small robot which can monitor and plot its own position while carrying out corrosion inspection. The robot uses active real-time remote controls to move around a tank and an ultrasound probe to take measurements of floor thinning. It then records data regarding location for post-processing after the robot is retrieved.
The design aims to obtain the smallest possible footprint to allow entry by means of the smallest manholes of liquid storage tanks. For the robot to perform an inspection in an explosive and flammable environment, the robot operation must avoid sparking, which can create an explosion in the tank due to heat and the presence of vapour. The solution is said to be easy to use and offers unique movement capabilities. The technology can also be applied to the inspection of ship-borne fuel tanks, transportation tanks and water storage tanks.