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Fri May 27 2022

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Welding robot set to 'revolutionise' pipeline repair

20 Nov 19 A Cumbrian engineering company is leading the development of a welding robot to repair pipelines from the inside.

Forth Engineering managing director Mark Telford
Forth Engineering managing director Mark Telford

It is being described as a ‘world-first pipeline technology that will revolutionise performance and safety in industries around the world’.

The FSWBot is a friction stir welding robotic crawler for internal repair and refurbishment of pipelines.

It is being developed by a consortium led by Forth Engineering in Cumbria with UK government backing. The consortium includes TWI, J4IC, Innvotek and London South Bank University. The development project is due to be completed by end of January 2021.

In the meantime, the FSWBot will be presented at a British Manufacturing and Fabrication in the Offshore Energy Industry event in Aberdeen on 27th November 2019.

And it will also be presented at a Friction Stir Welding International Symposium in Kyoto, Japan in May 2020.

Forth Engineering project manager Peter Routledge said: "We are getting a lot of interest and inquiries about the FSWBot from across the globe. Interest is really building, including from America and Canada."

The project, sponsored by Innovate UK, seeks to integrate several technologies, including friction stir welding, milling, patch deployment and ultrasonic NDT, onto a robotic system that can be deployed to repair pipelines without the need for the pipeline to be closed down during the repair.

Friction stir welding is a solid state welding process that generates enough frictional heat to soften or plasticise the metal without melting it, allowing metal components to be forged together at the joint line.

This system will demonstrate that a patch weld can be made in steel pipe under oil, and that a representative FSW system can be made small enough to operate in a 36-inch diameter export pipe.

Forth Engineering managing director Mark Telford said: "As a company we have developed a worldwide reputation for developing a range of robotic solutions for use in harsh environments. The tools we have developed over the years have been for, and used by, Sellafield, to successfully solve challenges in the nuclear industry. So our technology is tried and tested in harsh environments.”

He added: "There's a fantastic opportunity for other businesses and organisations in the UK and across the world, whether that's other nuclear operations, or oil and gas, renewables, and perhaps areas we haven't even thought of, to make use of that technology, and to share their challenges so we can develop the FSWBot in ways to help them.

"At the moment, an industry, a company, or an organisation, may see their only solution as sending a person into that extremely hazardous area. But that costs a huge amount of money, takes a lot of time, and is, by the very nature of the situation, putting people's lives at risk.

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"We are very keen to talk to any businesses or organisations who are faced with that type of challenge and discuss with them alternative solutions to the problems they face.

"We would far rather those businesses talked to us and shared what their own particular issues are. That way we can see if we can help them. Because at the end of the day, that business, or organisation, might be able to save time, money and potentially save lives, just by talking to us and sharing with us the issue they face."

The concept: how the FSWBot works

The FSWBot is envisaged to be a five-segment or six-segment PIG type vehicle which will be inserted at the production end of an oil pipeline and will travel with the oil flow to a pre-designated spot to perform a repair.

One segment will carry the FSW machine and a steel patch dispenser, with the other segments carrying the navigation, control system, communications, non-destructive testing (NDT) and power storage/generation payloads.

On entering the pipe segment containing the pre-identified defects, the FSWBot will stop, then slowly advance until the FSW system is in place over the defect. It will then lock itself in place and confirm that it is correctly located to perform the repair.

An onboard turbine in a duct within the FSWBot will harvest energy from the oil flow within the pipe to augment any power cells carried on the system, with the duct providing through flow in the pipe.

Once energised, the FSW unit will deploy a milling tool to cut away the corroded area and prepare a pocket in the pipe wall into which a steel patch will be dispensed.

The FSW unit will then weld this patch in place and deploy the milling system again to ensure that the patch is flush with the pipe wall and will not initiate turbulent flow, nor impede the passage of subsequent cleaning or inspection PIGs.

FSWBot will then deploy NDT packages to inspect the weld for quality assurance before unclamping and moving downstream to repeat the process on any further defects.

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