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Image courtesy of Chevron.

Chevron said on Monday that it’s testing a fleet of robots designed to make tank inspection work safer, faster and cheaper.

The company has begun field trials to test four robots designed to detect a range of potential tank defects weld cracks, pitting and wall thinning.

The robots are part of the Petrobot effort, a three-year joint-industry research project supported by a grant from the European Commission.

The program, now in its final year, is creating robotic tools for the inspection of pressure vessels and storage tanks.

Chevron, through its Aberdeen-based Chevron Upstream Europe (CUE) business unit and Global Technology Center (GTC), is among the consortium of 10 companies funding the research.

“The project mobilizes the complete value chain of robotics, technology and inspection providers and end-users in the oil, gas and petrochemical industries,” Chevron said.

The Petrobot project is focused on developing a fleet of robots that can be deployed by inspectors to conduct remote inspection of pressure vessels and storage tanks.

The project team has developed three offline pressure vessel inspection robots and one online tank robot.

The four robots are currently known as snake arm, fast, bike and tank.

Snake arm has a long, flexible arm that allows it navigate around obstacles and can also navigate through an open space using “nose following” that allows the robot’s arm to follow same path as its front end.

The
The “Snake Arm” robot. Image courtesy of Chevron.

Fast uses magnetic wheels to climb walls and maneuver in confined environments while carrying visual and other inspection equipment.

The
The “fast” robot. Image courtesy of Chevron.

Bike is a small autonomous robotic crawler equipped with magnetic wheels that is designed for complex environments within offline pressure vessels.

Bike can also climb over obstacles, Chevron said.

The
The “bike” robot. Image courtesy of Chevron.

Tank can inspect tanks while product is still stored inside and is a semi-autonomous robot carrying visual, magnetic and ultrasonic inspection technologies to investigate the condition of tank floors.

The
The “tank” robot. Image courtesy of Chevron.

The robots may allow oil and gas companies to significantly reduce the length and cost tied to tank inspections while also minimizing worker exposure to potentially hazardous conditions.

Traditional tank inspections require that oil, gas and petrochemical plants shut down during inspection operations.

Vessels are decoupled from live sections of the plant and the plants are then extensively cleaned to remove all products could be flammable or toxic.

Larger vessels may also require that scaffolding be erected to allow inspectors to access all necessary areas.

Following inspections, all of the preparation work is then done in reverse, Chevron said.

Chevron said its participation in Petrobot is aimed at specifying end-user requirements for the technology, measuring robot performance against end-user needs and ultimately becoming an end-user of the devices.

“The Petrobot project is particularly important for mature assets where asset integrity issues are more prevalent. Having a technology like the Snake Arm allows us to better manage our assets, prevent incidents, and improve production reliability,” CUE’s general manager of Growth and Future Projects Richard Hinkley said.