October 2019, Vol. 246, No. 10

Drones & Pipelines

Robotics Applications Making Advances in Norway

By Nicholas Newman, Contributing Editor

Increasingly we are seeing different types of robots being used throughout the energy supply chain. Such robots can range from remote control drones doing simple repetitive automated tasks to advanced artificial intelligence-equipped robots doing complex jobs. 

In the oil and gas industry, the use of robots, whether fixed or mobile, is not new, as such devices were introduced to a lesser extent in the 1970s. Today, however, we are beginning to see highly advanced applications of such robotics being used.

A pioneer of such technology has been Norway, as part of a joint European Union efforts under a funding and research plan known as EUMarineRobots to develop such robotics technology. In Norway, organizations include Equinor, the Norwegian Defence Research Establishment (FFI), Norsk NUI as and the Kongsberg Group are involved in the effort.

Norway is mainland’s Europe second-largest supplier of piped natural gas after Russia, supplying about 25% of the EU demand. The current total length of the Norwegian gas pipeline network is about 5,470 miles (8,800 km), which is roughly the distance from Oslo to Bangkok.

There are several reasons why the oil and gas industry in Norway is taking an active interest in robotics, in part it is part of a drive to cut costs and improve productivity, but it is also part of efforts to solve the industry’s skills shortage and reduce potential health and safety risks.

“The largest effect of our robot technology is enabling a large degree of autonomy. All operation can take place from a shore-based control center, so no offshore personnel are required to carry out operation,” said Arne Kjørsvik, CEO Eelume AS. “Putting people onshore reduces the HSE risk and improve environmental KIPs.”

The new tools gather information that companies like oil companies like Norway’s Equinor, Germany’s Wintershall and Anglo-Dutch-owned Shell, plus the Norwegian state-owned pipeline operator Gassco can use to optimise its maintenance plans, while inspection robots can replace time-consuming and costly inspections by humans and cut downtime for certain plant assets.

For instance, Lisbet Kallevik, communications director at Gassco observed, “Development work and testing that we have carried out, shows that it is the interaction between man and machine that is most important to focus on. If you succeed with this, you will achieve results.”

According to Kallevk, there are three important factors: the robot, which is the tool; the operator who controls the robot; and the inspector who assesses the condition and findings.

“All of these are important for success, but most importantly enough is to achieve a good interaction between them,” she said. “The technology is already in place.”

Here are a variety of robotic innovations that are being developed for operations offshore and onshore ranging from above the Arctic Circle to the Southern North Sea:

Eelume – This is a new underwater drone with a snake-like body and thrusters that enable it to swim around subsea installations and perform small tasks such as turning on or off valves and filming pipelines to check for faults.

“The main advantage of using our robot is its size, modularity and manoeuvrability. The robot can easily access constrained areas due to its small cross section size and flexible body,” said Arne Kjørsvik, CEO of Eelume AS.

Another advantage, according to Kjørsvik, is a robot that can carry any kind of sensor or tool, since it is developing a generic platform to carry tools and sensors. Also, maneuverability is a plus because the drone can hold any orientation, vertically or upside down, in the water.

The technology is being developed by Trondheim-based company Eelume, in cooperation with fellow Norwegian companies Equinor and maritime technology provider Kongsberg Maritime. It has a long, slender body and red, shining eyes and carries out underwater intervention tasks that would normally require the mobilization of a remote-controlled robot from the surface.

The Eelume enables access to difficult to reach locations and reduced maintenance and inspection costs. In addition, with it parked on the seabed, it is easier to dispatch to a section of an underwater pipeline than it would be to launch a remotely operated underwater vehicle (ROV) from a ship.

Hugin ROV 1000 – This is a robot packed with sensors that enable it to map everything from water quality to conducting surveys of the seabed. It is a free-swimming autonomous ROV, which can operate to a depth of 3,280 feet (1,000 meters).

Its hydrodynamic shape, accurate instruments and excellent battery capacity makes it an ideal autonomous underwater vehicle. It can operate up to a day at a speed of 4 knots (4.6 mph) and can be operated in moderately rough seas.

Today, Hugin ROVs are used prior to development of major oil fields on the Norwegian continental shelf. The ROV is completely autonomous. So far, the ROV has mapped over 74,565 miles (120,000 km) of seabed, which is the equivalent of sailing round the world at the equator, down to a depth of 4,500 meters.

Its on-board technology includes a gyroscope, accelerometer, Doppler logs, and echo-sounder and sonar systems.  It is effective at locating small objects underwater.

E-ROV drone – The empowered remotely operated vehicle (E-ROV) developed in-house by an Equinor research team, works remotely via a fast Ethernet connection, making it possible to operate from a remote-control room, not just from a ship offshore.

This is being achieved by the installation of a 4G network on the Norwegian Continental Shelf. The control signals and video are transmitted via a buoy on the surface that is equipped with a 4G transmitter and receiver.

With its on-board battery and subsea charging station, the E-ROV provides enough energy for it operates independent of a mother ship – much like a robot vacuum cleaner. This gives considerable cost savings, environmental advantages, and the ability to respond in time-critical operations such as valve operations, start-up activities, and monitoring.

Houston-based maritime engineering company Oceaneering International has been awarded the contract to build E-ROV, and the pilot has been qualified to carry out valve operations on the Troll field.

RDS robots – The drill floor robots from Robotic Drilling Systems (RDS) can do almost everything that needs to be done on the drill floor. This reduces the risk of accidents significantly and means that work can be carried out more efficiently.

Four robots developed by the company, with financing from Equinor and engineering services company Odfjell Drilling and others, will replace all manual and remotely controlled operations that are currently performed on the drill floor.

The four robots carry out the jobs at about the same speed as a crew under perfect conditions. The difference is that the robots work equally efficiently under less than optimum conditions.

HX Cleaning robot – The innovator behind the HX clean and inspection robot were Equinor’s Erling Lunde and Anders Røyrøy, cybernetic graduates from the Trondheim-based Norwegian University of Science and Technology.  The new robot will clean and inspect tube heat exchangers on platforms or onshore installations without having to stop production.


Robots are being developed for the oil and gas sector that can be used anywhere inspection or the operation of tools is needed under water.

In addition, it is likely that AI will be used in inspection works and torque tool operation, then implemented in other parts of the autonomy system as we moved forward. P&GJ

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