Robotics & Automation News

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Robotics in Oil and Gas: The Need and the Applications

The 21st century has provided us with a lot of technologies straight out of the science-fiction of the past. And on this cutting edge of modern innovation, robotics is definitely among the most promising fields.

In fact, the technology related to robotics has proven to be one of the most pervasive contemporary innovations.

There are plenty of fields and industries where robotics are set to revolutionize the way we currently do things – from housekeeping to gas and oil. Currently, we will focus on the latter. Without any ado, let’s dive right into it.

Ups and Downs

In the previous ten years, things have been surprisingly good for the world of oil and gas. In fact, the oil prices have gone past the $100 mark (per barrel) several times.

These rising profits have their own flip sides, though. One of them is the fact that operational productivity hasn’t really improved for ages – that is, until 2014.

In 2014’s second half, the prices of oil started dropping dramatically, and they haven’t risen to their previous levels since. The inefficiencies that have previously been swept under soaring profits are now painfully visible.

Why are we talking about this? Because engineering consultants have been increasingly pointing towards robotics as the solution for growing inefficiency in the world of oil and gas. In the future, growth in this sector simply won’t be as tangible without increased reliance on automation.

Robotics Applications

There are plenty of different applications of robotic technologies in the oil and gas industries. In most cases, these rudimentary robots are designed to automate a single specific task – but one that’s usually dangerous and/or repetitive.

For instance, the connection of different segments of drill pipes beneath ocean water and rocks is one such job.

There are robots that handle this instead of human oilers; not only providing more efficiency to the oil company but also allowing for better safety conditions when it comes to human workers that are on the actual rig.

There are plenty of other applications as well – from automated aerial drones and robotic drills to autonomous vehicles that work underwater.

All of these reduce the amount of downtime on the seaside rigs – and any downtime on such sites is hugely expensive.

For this purpose, robots are crucial and hugely useful; by handling tasks that humans would otherwise have to do themselves, they’re a great productivity boost.

In the past six years, robotics has definitely found its place in the oil and gas industries. However, they still haven’t become quite mainstream; a lot of companies are struggling to adapt to new technologies.

However, operational costs are forcing many to look towards such new frontiers; not to mention the increasingly worrisome safety conditions for the people running the rigs.

Beginnings of Automation

While it may seem like robotics are only just finding their place in the gas and oil industries – it’s actually far from the truth. In reality, robotics began creeping into this sector all the way back in the 1950s. During that decade, the first machine that had some semblance of robotics was used in the oil industry.

Originally, the MOBOT – as it was called – was supposed to be used in nuclear plants. Its main purpose was to enable humans to handle menial tasks in radioactive areas from a safe distance. It boasted an astounding cable that was long over 200 feet!

While its original intended use was in nuclear facilities, the machine quickly proves to be more influential in the gas and oil sectors. Shell Oil began using an adapted version in this machine for underwater operations over the course of the next decade.

More specifically, the MOBOT was used to perform assembly tasks on the top of oil wells. When it was deployed successfully, there would be no need to send human divers into dangerous and deep environments to perform menial labor.

However, the MOBOT handled itself far from perfect in this environment. More often than not, it would get stuck and human divers would have to go down to retrieve it nonetheless.

On the other hand, robots were not just used for below-surface activities in the oil and gas industries. The rising demand for robotic automation in different environments led to robots taking over other tasks – such as inspection duties.

For the past fifteen years, multiple research and engineering teams that work for the oil and gas sectors have been trying to reduce the exposure of humans to dangerous conditions.

The current wave of robotics research in these sectors started in 2005. From then on, multiple teams have worked on general-purpose robots that were designed to complete maintenance tasks on all kinds of infrastructure for oil and gas.

However, while these first robots of the newer generation were sold in huge numbers – at the end of the day, they were not as deployable as everyone thought.

They were not as adaptable in the field – which is why the engineers started working on niche models. These would be designed for specific tasks from the get-go, eliminating the need to program them in the field.

These days, robots are used for a number of routine tasks. As we’ve already mentioned, many inspection jobs are performed by automated machines.

In extreme conditions, it is far safer for a robot to perform dial reading, check the positions of valves and gauges; not to mention things like the monitoring of harmful gases for potentially dangerous concentrations.

Stay Safe

In the past decade and a half, robots have started entering the forefront of the oil and gas industry. As mechanical automation becomes more and more perfect, robotics will continue to play an increasingly large role in dangerous field conditions.

We hope you have learned something new from this guide and that the info was useful to you. Make sure you are staying safe in these times we are going through. Have a good one, guys!

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