The Frontier of Rig Platform Robotics

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The Frontier of Rig Platform Robotics

PanXchange Blog

This post summarizes some of our key takeaways from a recent article in the Journal of Petroleum Technology. Read the full article here.

Rig platforms are often in remote locations with harsh, dangerous environments and limited resources for human operators on site. That is what makes them the perfect environment to implement robots, according to robotics researcher Anders Røyrøy at Equinor. There is also less to worry about with respect to social distancing in the age of COVID-19.

Traditionally, robotics projects have been focused on improving efficiency, reliability, and safety of existing (or “brownfield”) sites—those with existing manpower not initially designed with robots in mind to install platforms. However, French supermajor Total E&P is “pushing the envelope” by developing remote or unmanned robotic solutions for specific functions on greenfield sites—that is, on automated, unmanned platforms tailor-made to accommodate mobile, multi-purpose ground robots. Jean-Michel Munoz, Total’s Next-­Generation Facilities R&D project manager was quoted saying “Total is now engaged in the development of industrial-grade ARGOS-type (autonomous robot for gas and oil sites) robots” with adaptive and learning capabilities.

There are several safety and cost advantages for operating remote production sites using robotics in place of human crews, including:

  • Capability to do tasks humans are not physically built to perform.
  • No need for living quarters, catering, evacuation boats, and staff transportation.
  • Results in lower operating costs, lower capital costs, and a smaller carbon footprint.

Before integrating robots, it goes without saying that it is important to assess their capabilities and limitations. Digital simulation can provide a risk-free tool for testing and demonstrating the functionality of robots within specific working conditions, however, a simulation cannot replace demonstrated real-world performance. For this reason, during the early stages of implementation, companies like total are monitoring autonomous robots through Human Machine interfaces (HMIs) and operational control rooms.

In addition, “the development of technology is not the issue,” said Steven Trevino, program manager for the North American chapter of SPRINT Robotics, it is “business readiness” to accept and adapt to new technology. Some factors currently hindering large scale deployment of robots include;

  • People / Cultural Factors: conservatism, perceived safety risk, job security risks, ethics, etc.
  • Business Factors; adapting current processes and retro-fitting designs.
  • Potential Regulatory Hurdles; ether from industrial or government regulators.
  • Delivery & Service Capabilities; ability to have robot projects executed, robots maintained, etc.
  • Safety Issues; explosion-proof robot design required, considering chemicals onsite.
  • Technology Issues: battery longevity, cybersecurity, data management, network coverage, etc.
  • Skills Gap; for robotics engineers, etc.
  • Budget issues

That said, some companies are well on their way toward reaching this goal starting with MVPs –  minimum viable products that have the minimum functionality to still deliver a solution for a problem. Some notable examples include Equinox’s HX robot for cleaning and inspecting heat exchangers, Total’s OGRIP robot used for inspecting offshore gas plants (implemented in 2018), The ARGOS Joint Industry Project’s robots for operational tasks on wellhead platforms and Robotic Drilling Systems robots aimed at replacing all manual and remotely controlled operations performed on the drill floor.