RoboPipe, resembling a remotely controlled car, enables examining pipes of oil rigs

RoboPipe scans offshore rigs for cracks and corrosion

A robotic system designed by Mexican researchers can inspect pipes in the petrochemical industry without putting the lives of technicians at risk.

Resembling a popular children’s toy – a remote control car – the RoboPipe is equipped with an optical camera and ultrasound sensors. While it climbs up a pipe, with the help of magnets, the data is transmitted to the technician’s laptop, revealing cracks and corrosions.

The system, developed by the Mexican Corporation of Material Research (COMIMSA) is quite dexterous and can overcome obstacles, like 90 degrees elbows.

Until know, to verify the condition of offshore and onshore oil platforms, technicians have had to build scaffolding around the pipes to inspect the systems themselves. The robotic system, however, enables speeding up the whole process, examining daily between twelve and twenty meters of the pipe instead of the humanly possible four to six.

COMMIMSA’s Jesús García Ortiz said the RoboPipe’s camera can be operated even if high humidity and offers very good resolution, while the ultrasonic technology enables measuring the thickness of the pipe.

“In COMIMSA we decided to design a very small robot so it could pass between two pipes, through a space of 88 millimetres,” he said. “Also, it had to have the grip to climb up a vertical pipe passing welded joints and not fall because of its own weight or the weight of the equipment it carries to transmit the signals.”

This project was designed in association with the Institute of Superior Studies of Monterrey (ITESM), Campus Saltillo, which has developed its electronics and mechatronics systems.

The robot underwent lab tests as well as testing on onshore and offshore sites. The team is now developing a new prototype that would also be fitted with lasers to allow in depth measurements of surfaces.

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