The huge global growth in offshore renewable energy, particularly offshore wind, over the past decade has driven continual improvements in associated products, services and processes.
For example, limited access to offshore wind turbines for scheduled operations and unscheduled maintenance, due to weather and other access issues, can often result in huge overall costs for windfarm operators.
This creates an opportunity for the development of disruptive innovations to lower these costs and increase the efficiency of carrying out operations and maintenance activities (O&M). As a result, the sector is increasingly turning to robotics and autonomous systems for the answers.
Submarine Technology Ltd (STL) specialises in subsea and offshore industries, offering consultancy, design and development services. The firm has developed a multi-axis robotic arm to be used offshore by installing a stand-alone motion-compensating arm on a vessel to enable the transfer of personnel or equipment from the vessel to a platform.
Initially, STL focused on developing the ship-mounted robotic arm to transfer crew from a vessel to a fixed offshore structure – the Neptune Project. The motion-compensated personnel-access system reduces the hazards associated with choppy seas and intense wave motions to allow for safer crew transfers by limiting the relative movement between the vessel and structure.
STL has been able to further develop its Neptune technology with the help of the EU funded Marine-i programme, a £9.3m collaboration project in which ORE Catapult is a project partner. Marine-i plays a vital role in accelerating innovation in the marine energy sector in order to exploit the full potential of wave and tidal energy sources.
Since engaging with Marine-i, STL has identified further applications where its Neptune technology can be used. As a result, STL has extended the motion-compensating technology to provide a “synchronous-stabilisation” capability, enabling movement between two floating platforms such as transferring from a vessel to a floating device. This is known as Autonomous Synchronised Stabilisation Platform (ASSP).
The robotic arm will increase efficiency and access for offshore operations as well as improving the safety of technicians transferring between two moving platforms. It could also be used for other applications such as the launch and recovery of ROV’s and AUV’s (Remotely-Operated and Autonomous Underwater Vehicles).
The potential market for the ship-based robotics of the Neptune and ASSP is enormous as virtually all the global fleet of offshore support vessels could benefit from adoption of the technology. According to an OECD report (Offshore Vessels, Mobile Offshore Drilling Units, Floating Production Unit Market Review) there were 5236 vessels in relevant categories in 2014 and the numbers have been increasing since then. STL is already discussing specific applications with interested parties in the UK, Norway, Denmark and Holland.
STL has benefitted greatly from the support of ORE Catapult. Since engaging with the Catapult and the Marine-i programme, the vast potential of STL’s technology has become apparent. With our support, STL was able to extend its technology to allow for “synchronous-stabilisation” capabilities and offer new applications of the technology to better suit the needs of the industry.
We have provided STL with crucial networking opportunities, introducing the firm to key industry and academic contacts to further develop its robotic arm technology as well as potential end users. We have showcased STL at the 2019 All Energy Conference, Sea Works in 2019 and helped STL host its own workshop in October 2019. This has resulted in a number of enquiries interested in the building of a full-size prototype.
ORE Catapult is now working with STL, National Oceanographic Centre, University of Portsmouth and Plymouth SMART Sound to scope a follow-on project to develop a full-size robotic arm.
Thanks to the exposure ORE Catapult has provided, STL has opened a new office in Falmouth and intends to base a Business Development Manager there. Additional jobs will be created as commercialisation proceeds.