Robotics in Oil Drilling Rigs



The oil and gas industry is riddled with dangerous rigs and unsafe pipes. The operation and maintenance of oil rigs constantly put people in dangerous situations and cause many deaths. Automation of oil rigs is a product of robotic advancement that has the potential of saving many lives.


Areas of Automation


An oil drilling rig is a large facility with many challenges that people have to face every day. Almost all of these challenging tasks, however, can be automated through the use of robotics. Roughneck robots, fully automated land oil rigs, as well as state of the art underwater oil robots are bringing about much safer and reliable means of oil excavation.


Roughneck Robots


The job of a roughneck on an oil rig is one of the most dangerous jobs in the world. The roughneck’s job is to replace drilling pipes and casing on oil rigs in the middle of an excavation. It requires serious coordination and has many pitfalls that can lead to death.


The job of replacing pipes and casings may not seem very mechanically challenging, however, the power required to screw in such a large part is not easy to muster. For this purpose, roughneck robots often include a wrench-like system that can grip the replacement part and then screw it into place at high torque.


Automated roughneck robots are changing the oil industry by reducing human labour and keeping people safe from these dangerous jobs. Current roughneck robots, such as Nabors’s Electric Roughneck Robot, can handle torques of up to 270 kNm. These robots are fully automated and can either operate autonomously or be controlled from a safe distance.


Automated Rigs


The Oseberg H sea platform is the first entirely unmanned oil rig in the world. Located in the North Sea, the Norwegian company Equinor created this underwater oil rig relying only on the latest robotic technology. Humans only visit the rig a few times a year for maintenance. Other than that, there is no operation required and no danger whatsoever.


The rig is made up of many autonomous systems and assemblies which are all controlled in an almost assembly-line motion. These mechanical systems were designed by a company called Robotic Drilling Systems (RDS), and they include more than 100 axes coordinated in real-time. The software for this mechanism was developed by a company called Energid. Their actin software is responsible for autonomously controlling this mechanism.


There is no doubt that Oseberg H is a revolutionary platform and that the first of its kind with many more to come.


Underwater robots


A majority of oil drilling rigs work underwater, which comes with a whole new set of challenges. Along with being completely water-proof, these robots need to have functioning senses underwater.


The subsea robots designed by Houston Mechatronics have the capability of not only inspect but also maintain underwater oil drilling rigs. In autonomous mode, the robot can inspect the entire facility all on its own. In Control mode, the robot changes, and gripper arms unfold from its body. The robot can now be used to fix any damages or leakages around the underwater facility.


Along with Houston Mechatronics, the Eelume Subsea Intervention company is also creating snake robots that live permanently underwater for the inspection and maintenance of oil rigs. What sets them apart is the innovative swimming technology that allows the robots to access tight spots that not even humans can reach.


Drilling Robots


The ultimate goal of any oil rig is to drill into the earth in order to retrieve oil. The task of drilling itself is highly dangerous for humans to perform and causes many deaths every year. With the advent of drilling robots, this is about to change.


In order to complete the Oseberg H platform, Canrig robotics developed an oil drilling robot that can fully automate oil drilling, along with its adjoining tasks. The base robot is a 7 axis arm with a load capacity of 1500 kg. The robot also features rapid tool exchange and extreme accuracy. What’s more, is that along with a drilling robot, this robot can also act as a roughneck for the same rig.


Although Canrig robotics designed this 3-meter arm for the Oseberg Platform, it can also be adapted for use in other oil rigs. With this technology, more fully automated rigs will soon become a commodity.


Cost-Effective and Eco-Friendly


One of the most lucrative things about robotics in oil rigs, from a business standpoint, is that they can prove to be extremely cost-effective. Since the jobs on oil rigs are riddled with constant danger, the cost of manual labour also goes up dramatically. Automated oil rigs help to bring this cost down for oil companies since they replace the need for manual labour with the need for electricity, which is a lot cheaper.


Oil mining has led to many adverse effects on the environment since the industrial revolution. Another benefit of robotics entering the oil industry is that it opens doors to making the process of oil mining a little more eco-friendly. The use of renewable energy can easily be incorporated into any robotic system and considering the damage oil mining has done to the environment, it is the least this industry can do.


The Future of Robotics in Oil Rigs


It is clear that robotics has many profitable uses within the oil industry and that there is much scope for innovation. The current oil drilling process is optimised for humans, however, robots entering the field completely change the game.


Researchers are currently working to find more efficient ways in which we can optimise the oil drilling process and make an upgraded version of the Oseberg H platform. This technology will undoubtedly mature and bring about a time where humans will never have to set foot on an oil rig again.


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