Robots Inspecting European Critical Infrastructure


Advanced robotics and enterprise software company Gecko Robotics recently entered a collaboration with an energy provider to provide ultrasonic robotic inspection services across Europe.

According to the company's release, these advanced robotic inspections are anticipated to strengthen critical infrastructure and transform how installed equipment is inspected and maintained. 

About the Agreement

The wall-climbing robots are remote controlled and equipped with ultrasonic transducers, localization sensors, lasers and HD cameras. They can reportedly climb vertically and horizontally, adhering magnetically to an extensive range of equipment types.

These robots can then scan for changes in thickness, cracks, corrosion, blistering, and other forms of degradation. The company reports that the robots include localization technology to pinpoint exact locations on an asset for accurate inspections.

According to the release, data captured by the technology produce a validated report within 24 hours. Then, inspectors can examine corrosion trends over time, predict when failures will occur and estimate when repairs will be necessary.

Due to this process and quick turnaround, Gecko Robotics states that inspectors are able to “reduce asset downtime and lost production while ensuring critical repairs are conducted with high confidence.”

The latest three-year agreement with Siemens Energy’s European Field Service organization will reportedly develop new technologies and services to better serve customers across several industries, including pulp and paper, power generation (conventional and renewable), and oil and gas.

"Over the past year, we've worked closely with experts from Siemens Energy to understand the value and impact that the collaboration of our companies can create for the European energy market,” noted Ryan Herman, Gecko’s Managing Director, Europe.

“It’s become clear that by coming together to serve these customers, we can unlock new data insights and help achieve reliability and efficiency not previously possible.”

Previously, Gecko Robotics and Siemens Energy have completed in sections in Europe, including Poland (pulp/paper), Belgium (waste to energy), the Netherlands (food processing), and the United Kingdom (power generation). Siemens Energy has also established a new Product Competence Center in the Netherlands, with expansion plans underway.

“The collaboration between Gecko Robotics and Siemens Energy brings the best of both worlds together to deliver end-to-end value for our customers. With one of the industry’s largest installed fleets of rotating equipment, Siemens Energy will provide unparalleled customer access to bring proven robotics technology to its wide customer base,” according to Herman Smit, Manager Robotic Inspections at Siemens Energy.

“The robotic inspection system will not only ensure safe and reliable operations of customer assets but also provide rich multi-modal data to make condition-based maintenance of static equipment much more feasible.”

Siemens Energy will reportedly be responsible for hiring and training local technicians and customer service personnel across Europe. This allows Gecko Robotics to efficiently deliver state-of-the-art technology while adhering to all local safety and labor regulations.

Robotics for Inspection

Back in 2019, researchers from the University of Waterloo were working on developing a more reliable robotic inspection technology that could reduce the cost of bridge inspections.

Individually programmed with inspection plans and location focus areas per bridge inspection, the robots consist of six 5-megapixel cameras able to create a 360-degree view mounted on an autonomous ground vehicle. In addition to the cameras, the robots also use lidar—a remote sensing method using lasers—which collect data on present defects and makes an analysis of the inspected findings.

By using the automated system, human inspector subjectivity is eliminated due to its ability to precisely measure the size of defects while also revealing what would otherwise be invisible, sub-surface problems with its infrared cameras.

Additionally, the data recorded on the same bridge or structure can be cross-examined with previous inspection results, creating a display of key vulnerable areas. The university reported that the same software can even be used for inspections of water-based vehicles, drones, nuclear power plants, buildings and other infrastructure.

Last year, in April, a team from Carnegie Mellon’s Biorobotics Lab in the School of Computer Science's Robotics Institute tested what it’s calling a Hardened Underwater Modular Robot Snake. According to CMU, HUMRS was created to assist the Department of Defense with inspecting ships, submarines and other underwater infrastructure for damage or as part of routine maintenance.

Led by Howie Choset and Matt Travers, co-directors of the Biorobotics Lab, the submersible robot snake was developed through a grant from the Advanced Robotics for Manufacturing Institute. By utilizing HUMRS, the Navy would be able to inspect a ship while at sea and immediately alert the crew to critical damage or issues that require attention or maintenance.

Mechanical and mechatronics engineer in the Biorobotics Lab also working on the submersible snakebot, Nate Shoemaker-Trejo, explained that HUMRS’ distinguishing feature is that its narrow and jointed, giving it the ability to form and be flexible in otherwise tight spaces where traditional submersibles can’t reach.

Outside of inspecting ship hulls and vessels, Shoemaker-Trejo predicts that the developing technology could be used for inspecting underwater pipes for damage or blockages, assess offshore oil rigs, check the integrity of a tank while it is filled with liquid, as well as inspect and maintain any fluid-filled systems.

For the technology, CMU reported that the team used existing watertight modules that allow the robot to operate in bad conditions. This, in addition to its modular design, allows the robot to adapt to different tasks, whether squeezing through tight spaces under rubble, climbing up a tree or slithering around a corner underwater. The team also incorporated new modules containing the turbines and thrusters to better maneuver the robot underwater.

More recently, earlier this year, a cleaning and inspection tool development led by Australian energy company Woodside was launched and reportedly offers safe and cost-effective remote inspection of equipment on offshore platforms. The offshore caisson cleaning and inspection tool (CCAIT) system was a collaboration between Woodside and companies Nexxis, Monadelphous, WOMA and Fugro.

According to a release from Nexxis, the one-of-a-kind system utilizes a human-sized robot that is designed to inspect the inside of caissons. These caissons are vertical carbon steel pipes up to 70 meters (about 230 feet) long and up to 1.2 meters wide.

The CCAIT system was reportedly developed in response to possible COVID-related supply chain risks, and was designed, developed and deployed in less than 12 months.

Remotely controlled from a safe location on an offshore platform by skilled technicians, the tool is lowered inside the caisson via a tether and winch arrangement. Wheels are then extended to centralize the tool within the caisson, with probe arms stretched out to enable ultrasound inspection. 

High-definition cameras are able to stream video back to the technicians. Then, the technicians use this data alongside the asset team to define a forward plan.


Tagged categories: EMEA (Europe, Middle East and Africa); EU; Infrastructure; Infrastructure; Inspection; Inspection equipment; Program/Project Management; Robotics; Technology; Tools & Equipment

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