Robot for the inspection of petrochemical storage tanks

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By Ally Winning

Project nautilUS is a UK-based consortium that consists of leading global companies and institutions. These bodies have worked together since February 2018 in an attempt to design and develop a multi-million-pound certified non-destructive testing (NDT) solution. The project has been funded by Innovate UK. Members of the consortium include InnoTecUK, London South Bank University, Sonomatic, and TWI. Electrocomponents was tasked to develope the Quality Functional Deployment (QFD) model through RS Monition, the company’s maintenance engineering specialist service, and its DesignSpark engineering platform and community.

The nautilUS solution takes the form of a small robot that is able to monitor and plot its own position while carrying out corrosion inspection. The robot uses active real-time remote controls to move around a tank, and an ultrasound probe to measure any floor thinning. The robot then records data regarding location for post-processing after it is retrieved. The design has been kept to the smallest possible size for entry through the smallest manholes of liquid storage tanks. To perform the inspection in an explosive and flammable environment, the robot’s operation must avoid sparking.

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 the nice-to-haves. 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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