IS & Ex


Intrinsically safe robot for tank inspection

March 2021 IS & Ex

Electrocomponents, the holding company for RS Components, is helping to revolutionise the way periodic inspections of petrochemical storage tanks are carried out, in order to reduce the hazards, environmental impact, and associated costs. Project nautilUS is a UK-based consortium championed by several leading global companies and institutions which have been working together since February 2018 to design and develop a certified non-destructive testing solution.

Oil and fuel storage requires a robust and reliable infrastructure, with regular inspection being critical to ensure that tanks are fit for purpose. Existing inspection methods often result in storage tanks being taken out of service to be drained and inspected for corrosion, which is hazardous, time-consuming and costly work.

The nautilUS solution addresses these issues head-on, in the form of a small robot which can monitor and plot its own position whilst 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 via the smallest manholes of liquid storage tanks. For the robot to perform an inspection in an explosive and flammable environment, the robot’s operation must avoid sparking, which can create an explosion in the tank due to heat and the presence of vapour. As well as offering ease of use and unique movement capabilities, the technology can also be applied to the inspection of ship-borne fuel and water storage tanks.

Michael Burrows, senior innovation advisor at Electrocomponents, said: “As well as our responsibilities around IP and commercialisation for nautilUS, we carried out a very extensive piece of work, called a Quality Functional Deployment (QFD) model, ahead of the project, where we went out to over 100 current users and tank farm operators to uncover their list of requirements. We needed to know what the must-haves were and this helped to shape the ergonomics, the ease of use, the size, the deployment, and the ability to deploy with limited people.”


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