Opportunities and challenges facing robotic NDT in oil & gas industry


Robots are increasingly finding applications in various industries, especially oil & gas. Robotic NDT promises significant savings that can be achieved not only during the actual inspections but also because the requirement for some of the other peripheral activities like building scaffolding can be minimised. This is in addition to the improvements in the quality and consistency of inspection data, when compared with manual inspections. The time savings achieved by robotic NDT can be used to improve the density of the inspection data matrix, thus improving confidence in the integrity of the plant with the ultimate objective to run the plant longer. The possibility of performing robotic NDT while the plant is in operation has the potential to elevate NDT to the role of condition monitoring with the objective to minimise the plant shutdown time. Inspection robots have been in field use for some time now and have been deployed extensively in the oil & gas industry. The typical applications include storage tanks, pressure vessels and piping. However, these robots have been limited to their specialist roles due to issues related to deployment/obstacle avoidance/obstacle negotiation. With the advances in other industries, especially related to battery technologies, navigation, autonomy and with the size and weight of electronics shrinking, robotic NDT is at the cusp of major breakthroughs in shedding the shackles and moving into applications never possible before. The industry appears to be embracing robotic NDT and several high-profile projects have been undertaken in the past, or are currently under way/planned. The paper investigates the key challenges facing robotic NDT, the current trends in the end user attitudes and the future opportunities for robotic NDT.