feature

snake arm:
the robot who saves lives

Business units and our technology companies are looking outside the industry for technology solutions that drive safety and performance. But finding and adapting technology suitable for offshore work is another challenge.

Taking on that challenge, in late 2017 Chevron Energy Technology Company (ETC), in partnership with the Chevron Upstream Europe (CUE) business unit, completed the world’s first offshore trial for internal pressure vessel inspection through the application of an innovative robotic arm. While robotics inspection is an established technology in the nuclear and aerospace industries, by partnering with service providers from these industries Chevron has been able to develop solutions for use in the oil, gas and petrochemicals industry.

meet snake arm

innovating through robotics

innovating through robotics

Chevron recently completed the world’s first offshore trial for internal pressure vessel inspection through the application of an innovative robotic arm. [Video time 3:03]

teaser trailer: innovating through robotics

teaser trailer: innovating through robotics

The robot recently on trial in the U.K. North Sea is called “Snake Arm,” a technology used in other onshore industrial settings, but never before in an offshore oil and gas environment. [Video time 0:48]

The robot is a long, slender, flexible arm that can fit through small openings and around obstacles, with the ability to navigate through an open space using a process that enables the arm to follow the same path as its front end. The innovative technology enables users to inspect the interiors of confined vessel spaces – bypassing the need for workers to incur risk by entering the hazardous spaces themselves.

Traditionally, inspections of pressure vessels and above-ground storage tanks are carried out, in full, by humans, to ensure that the assets are safe to operate. The impetus for developing inspection robots grows out of concern for the safety of workers performing these inspections, which also requires shutting down the assets to ensure the inspectors’ safety.

Lear

Did you know?

According to the U.S. National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, an average of 92 people die in the United States each year working in confined spaces. Repair, maintenance, cleaning and inspection activities account for a quarter of the fatalities.

With pressure vessels making up the majority of petrochemical assets at offshore and onshore processing plants, the opportunity to use technology to reduce human exposure to potentially hazardous situations, such as confined space entry, is an important focus area for safety performance improvement.

Worker conducting world’s first inspection using the snake arm robot
Engineer using the system’s remote capability
Chevron

Top and bottom left: An inspection engineer operates the innovative robotic technology on the Alba Northern Platform in the U.K. North Sea. Lower right: The innovative Snake Arm robot enters a confined space.

“Despite human-entry inspections requiring pressure vessels to be taken out of operation prior to the commencement of a campaign, statistics show that fatalities while performing these inspection, maintenance and repair tasks still occur across our industry,” said Russell Brown, senior reliability engineer for ETC.

“To ensure safety and reduce shutdown costs, robotic inspection processes are a vital technology development. Chevron and the wider industry have been looking for solutions that will help minimize human entry in confined and hazardous environments for tasks like cleaning and inspection – ‘Snake-Arm’ could be one of the solutions.”

partnering for new solutions

In partnership with service provider OC Robotics, Chevron has been driving a project to explore the feasibility of robotic inspection of offshore oil and gas pressure vessels. Partly funded by Innovate U.K. (through the “Energy Game Changer” program), the U.K. government’s innovation agency tasked with driving productivity and growth by supporting businesses to realize the potential of new technologies, the project culminated with last year’s world first offshore trial on Chevron’s Alba Northern Platform in the U.K. North Sea.

Alba Northern Platform

The world’s first offshore trial took place on Chevron’s Alba Northern Platform in the U.K. North Sea.

“Hosting the Snake-Arm robot offshore trial in the North Sea represented a major milestone for the project,” said John O’Brien, Facilities Engineering R&D Portfolio Manager for ETC. “With continued collaboration and partnership, we can assess the results and move forward to determine the technology’s best use among our worldwide Chevron business units.”

“This is designed as a solution that assists in our long-term objective of removing people from hazardous areas and managing operating expenses for inspection and maintenance.”

John O’Brien
Facilities Engineering R&D Portfolio Manager
Chevron Energy Technology Company

Greta Lydecker, CUE’s managing director, added: “This technology is particularly important for mature assets where asset integrity issues are more prevalent. Having innovative techniques like Snake Arm will allow us to help prevent serious incidents, better manage our assets, minimize shutdown times and inspection-related costs, and improve production reliability.”

Published: February 2018