Underwater remotely operated vehicles (ROVs) are used in subsea and offshore projects sometimes operating at depth of up to 3,000 meters below sea-level.

These ROVs assist with servicing subsea infrastructure, managing assets and performing maintenance and construction tasks at the seafloor. Because these robots are complex and need to be agile to work remotely underwater, these projects require highly skilled and trained operators.

However, Mark Carrier, market development director for emerging industrial internet of things (IoT) markets at Real-Time Innovations (RTI), tells Engineering360, these operators are in short supply and the oil industry is bracing for an era where 50 percent of the employee base will be eligible for retirement in a few years. Automation in these oil and gas subsea operations can help bridge the labor gap, he says.

“The industry has always been a technical laggard and is turning to other industries for examples on how to solve the problems of safety and loss of domain knowledge,” Carrier says. “Most automation projects in the oil and gas segment are aimed at removing the human from the day-to-day operations to an oversight role. Having the human oversee the process instead of facilitating the process provides a safer and more economical solution.”

TechnipFMC’s deepwater RLWI stack being deployed in Australia. Source: TechnipFMCTechnipFMC’s deepwater RLWI stack being deployed in Australia. Source: TechnipFMCRTI’s connectivity framework, called RTI Connext DDS, which enables faster and more secure connectivity to underwater ROVs has recently been adopted by the Schilling Robotics business unit of TechnipFMC for a new generation of remote robotics controls to provide semi-automation reducing the dependency on a human workforce.

In the past, these underwater ROVs have been teleoperated but with the Connext DDS system it is possible for underwater real-time robotic control boosting efficiency, lowering costs and accelerating oil and gas schedules.

“When you are operating on critical infrastructure that is thousands of meters below the ocean’s surface, performance and reliability are crucial because the smallest mistake could lead to a multi-billion-dollar disaster,” says Bijou Abraham, chief software engineer at TechnipFMC.

TechnipFMC has previously used RTI’s software in the core software stack for its robotic systems but upgrading to Connext DDS allows TechnipFMC to implement new features without having to re-architect the data transport infrastructure — adding or removing features to meet market demands.

Carrier believes TechnipFMC will apply the new software stack to existing system in a retrofit to reduce costs. “Savings may not be significantly realized on single implementations but if implemented on a fleet of submersibles, the cost savings, even on a retrofit, will yield a significant savings,” he says.

According to market research firm Market Insight Reports, the underwater ROV market is forecasted to grow at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 15.5 percent through 2021. This is the result of rising demand in the oil and gas energy industries as well as investments in scientific research and defense.

To contact the author of this article, email pbrown@globalspec.com