Automation With Remarkable Robotics

Online Editor

The first Ex-proof legged robot makes it possible to automate routine oil & gas inspection tasks

Oil & gas and chemical operations are complex and safety is paramount. Plant operators are required to pay special attention to the infrastructure where flammable and potentially explosive matters are processed. Ensuring availability and safety in these operationally intricate facilities requires frequent inspections and detailed monitoring. Often, these inspections must be performed in or close to potentially hazardous environments, and therefore all on-site equipment must be Ex-certified as safe for use in potentially explosive atmospheres. This means that any equipment used in these areas must be guaranteed not to cause an explosion, even in the presence of high levels of combustible substances.

ANYmal X, the Ex-certified, legged robotic inspection solution, aims to be the gamechanger. Operators in the oil & gas and chemical sectors can now include safe, autonomous and highly mobile robots in their inspection and workforce planning.

“For the first time, this closes an important technical gap, conducting automated inspections in very complex environments, with stairs and tight passages, and this in combination with Ex-zones is a novelty!” comments Peter Welter, automation manager at BASF.

For the oil & gas sector, robot inspection solutions reduce HSE risks and OPEX, including the high cost of moving inspection specialists offshore. With autonomous robotic inspections, plant operators benefit from the reduction in manual work, less exposure of people to hazardous environments, no facility inspection shutdowns, less unplanned downtime, improved workflows due to better data tagging, automatic reporting and generating insights that enable swift operations adjustments.

Industry-Wide Impact

The robot was unveiled at the Offshore Technology Conference OTC Asia in March 2022. At the event, Petronas and ANYbotics signed a commercial agreement to scale ANYmal X deployments to dozens of facilities up until 2025. Petronas is planning deployment at upstream platforms, LNG regasification terminals and downstream refinery plants.

“Several partners are including the robot in their inspection and workforce planning. We are thrilled about this industry-wide impact to improve the safety and efficiency of operations in oil & gas and chemicals through our robotic solution,” says Péter Fankhauser, CEO. The company says that customers intend deploying 300+ units during the next few years.

To ensure the seamless introduction of inspection robots to their operations, ANYbotics developed an exclusive early adopters programme for strategic customers. The programme underpins the cross-functional embracing of robotics and prepares the partner organisations for 2023 scaling. Central to the programme are numerous trial deployments at customer facilities. The programme includes workshops, training on operational safety, security, and standard operating procedures, as well as priority access to 2023 ANYmal X production deliveries.

“Our offshore and onshore assets require Ex-certification in certain areas. Robots moving in these areas would therefore need to be certified. For this reason, we are taking part in the onboarding program,”comments Anders Røyrøy, principal researcher automation, Equinor.

Petronas has been spearheading the integration of autonomous, legged Ex-certified robots by partnering with ANYbotics to co-develop ANYmal X since 2019. Additionally, several global operators have already signed up for the onboarding programme, including Equinor, Petrobras and Shell.

“As Petrobras offshore platforms are large and complex assets, we need detailed and up-to-date information to keep a proper maintenance plan. ANYmal X can be an autonomous plant surveyor, an on-demand inspector and an important tool to respond to safety incidents,” says Gustavo Levin, R&D manager, Petrobras.

Each partner defines the mission tasks that the robot will perform together with ANYbotics. The tasks include visual inspections and automated readouts of analogue instruments such as gauges, liquid level and lever positions, advanced thermography and vibration analysis of the equipment, and 3D scanning of the infrastructure. In addition, the unit is equipped with gas detection sensors to monitor the presence of methane, carbon monoxide, hydrogen sulphide and several other gases. The product integrates as an end-to-end solution through its software API with asset management software and digital twin platforms such as Cognite Data Fusion and Woodside Fuse for automated reporting.

A Remarkable Engineering Achievement

Until now, Ex-certified robots were bulky, slow and lacked the mobility required to navigate the complex, multi-level nature of typical industrial facilities. The ANYbotics team developed ANYmal X with identical performance, functionality, speed and mobility to that of ANYmal (Gen. D), the previous generation non-Ex inspection robot. The latest offering is approved according to the IECEx and ATEX certification standards for usage in Zone 1 explosive atmospheres. The challenge of packing all inspection robot capabilities and performance into an Ex-proof system was a serious undertaking and required the firm to completely rethink how it develops robots.

For safe usage in hazardous and potentially explosive environments, all systems need protection against any gas ignition. Robots work with motors, electronics, batteries and in this case, self-contained systems. Temperature control therefore requires complex thermal management. No suitable components existed, so the company developed the necessary high-performance components for the advanced thermal management system. In addition, the drivetrain needed multiple-redundancy protection. Such systems are not typically found in robots, so the team effectively re-engineered standard heavy machinery protocols to meet their weight, mobility and Ex-requirements.

The result is that all optics and sensors are fully functional and simultaneously, totally protected, impact-resistant and highly ruggedised. This means the robot can inspect and navigate autonomously in Ex-conditions. Furthermore, the latest generation controller makes operating the robot easy and intuitive. The control software is tablet agnostic, and this means that operators can use their existing industrial Ex-rated tablets.

“Integrating autonomous robots into oil & gas workforces is now not only possible, but effortless,” comments Mario Mauerer, CTO hardware, ANYbotics.