International interest in small SA firm’s inspection robot

15th July 2016 By: Keith Campbell - Creamer Media Senior Deputy Editor

Barely launched on to the market, a South African designed and developed inspection robot has already won local orders and attracted international interest, with potential overseas clients set to come to this country to examine it.

The machine is the Ryonic Modular Inspection System, or RMIS, produced by Johannesburg-based Ryonic Industries. “We’ve been developing the project for two years, attracting a lot of interest, both local and international,” reports company MD and chief roboticist Ryan Beech. “It’s a pipeline inspection crawler robot, although it can be adapted to other roles as well. It’s been on the market for only a couple of months.” The robot is being marketed as the RMIS Crawler System.

With international interest already demonstrated, the company will be exhibiting the RMIS at overseas shows, starting in Germany next year. “We expect to do well in international markets,” he observes. “We’re a small but dynamic team. We’re doing a lot of first-in-the-world work.”

“We basically designed it from the ground up,” he explains. “Everything is done in-house. It’s our first major project. We’ve done a lot of testing. Currently, we assemble them manually but our aim is, as soon as volumes justify it, to set up a dedicated production facility – we’re looking for financing for this. The bulk of the RMIS electronics, mechanical parts, body parts, are designed and built locally. We also do the software. Basically, only the sensors are imported, and we’re working on our own laser sensor. Our ultimate aim is to get to 100% local content.”

The RMIS can create three-dimensional (3D) models of the pipe through which it moves. The robot is integrated with a virtual reality (VR) system and the operator can use the VR technology to “walk through” the pipe and examine any weld or flaw in greater detail. Data can also be superimposed on the VR image. “The crawler is really a chassis. It’s all about the sensors,” he highlights. “There’s a huge array of sensors that we can fit on to it.”

The RMIS can be fitted with different types of cameras (including pan-tilt-zoom and panamorph cameras), laser and sonar sensors and nondestructive test equipment. It can be powered by an onboard battery (which has a life of six hours) or through a cable, as required. It can communicate either through a wireless system (at a rate of 100 Megabits/second) or through a high strength umbilical cable. The wireless system has a range of 1 000 m but this can be extended by another 1 000 m by use of a repeater, while the standard umbilical cable has a maximum length of 2 000 m.

The machine is waterproofed. It comes in short-range and long-range versions, with the former having a maximum range of 500 m and the latter able to reach 2 000 m. Remote online support is available 24/7 and the company provides a 12-month warranty. The RMIS is constructed from lightweight but high-strength materials, including aerospace grade aluminium, used to make the body.

The software includes nine modules as standard fit. These are – standard video recording; geographic information system mapping; 3D modelling; image unwrapping for panamorph cameras; VR simulations; customised reporting interface; control interface; Internet of Things and cloud-based global reporting; and defect and fault tagging. The RMIS can also be used with software platforms from other suppliers if necessary.

“Our next project is a ship hull inspection and cleaning robot, that would attach magnetically to the hull and clean the hull while the ship is in motion,” points out Beech. “With a cleaner hull, there is less drag and so less fuel consumption, and faster hull inspection time results in shorter and less expensive in-port time and costs.”