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The Underwater Centre signs major trials contract for subsea pipeline inspection

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World Pipelines,

Leading subsea training and trials centre, The Underwater Centre, has today signed a basic agreement with Kawasaki Heavy Industries, Ltd in Japan to carry out a verification test of a prototype AUV equipped with a robot arm for subsea pipeline inspection.

The test, scheduled for October 2018 at The Underwater Centre in Fort William, will be the first test of its kind in the world.

Steve Ham, Commercial Director at The Underwater Centre, travelled to Tokyo for the signing of the agreement, which was witnessed by Fiona Hyslop, Scottish Cabinet Secretary for Culture, Tourism and External Affairs.

As a purpose-built subsea training and trials facility, The Underwater Centre incorporates an extensive pier complex including four dive stations, classrooms, workshops and decompression chambers plus mechanical and electrical workshops, a 1.5 million l. indoor tank and classrooms as part of their ROV training suite.

In November 2017, Kawasaki (KHI) successfully completed a 15-day verification test at The Underwater Centre for the automated underwater docking of a prototype AUV to its charging station, involving contactless charging and large-capacity optical communication.

With a focus on the growing demand for pipeline maintenance in offshore oil and gas fields, Kawasaki has been developing leading-edge component technologies for AUVs, based on sophisticated submarine technologies fostered in-house over many years.

Aiming at commercialisation in 2020, Kawasaki is currently developing an AUV capable of underwater charging and transferring of inspection data to the mother ship - features that allow for longer deployment time - while autonomously locating and tracking pipelines at close range, including those buried under seabed sediment.

For the upcoming test, leveraging on synergies of its technologies, Kawasaki plans to use a prototype AUV equipped with a robot arm with an attached inspection tool unit – which is currently under development – to achieve autonomous locating and tracking of subsea pipelines.

The test will focus on verifying the robot arm’s capability to absorb the movement of the AUV due to tidal currents, as well as verifying that the inspection tool unit can continuously track a pipeline under those conditions.

Scotland is a global leader in offshore development, innovating subsea technology for offshore oil and gas development.

Reflecting the Scottish Government’s strong interest in this collaboration, the basic agreement with The Underwater Centre was signed in the presence of the Scottish Cabinet Secretary for Culture, Tourism and External Affairs, Fiona Hyslop, who was visiting Japan.

Ms Hyslop gave an address, saying: “I am delighted that Kawasaki Heavy Industries, Ltd, one of Japan’s major companies, has decided to develop this innovative technology in Scotland. It is fantastic news for The Underwater Centre in Fort William. Scottish Development International has worked hard behind the scenes to help secure this hugely significant agreement.

“Kawasaki also has excellent links with Edinburgh Centre for Robotics at Heriot-Watt University, which is developing the control software and multi sensor algorithms for the AUV system to enable it to track pipes underwater.

“The Scottish Government’s Subsea Action Plan, launched in January 2017, reflects our ambitions to support this important sector, not only in international oil and gas markets, but also to diversify into other sectors including renewables and deep sea mining.”

Steve Ham, The Underwater Centre’s Commercial Director, said: “The Underwater Centre has been really delighted to support KHI during the testing of their AUV in our seawater test site. We have built up a very good relationship over the development and delivery of the project and we look forward to welcoming them back to Fort William later this year and in future.

“I’d also like to acknowledge the strong support provided by the External Affairs Secretary Fiona Hyslop and Scottish Development International in Japan.”

The agreement also states that The Underwater Centre will be collaborating with Kawasaki on future development of underwater vehicle technology.

The contract will advance Kawasaki’s commitment to further strengthening its partnership with the Scottish Government and The Underwater Centre, to drive the development of technologies forward for AUVs and other underwater vehicles.

Based on the shore of Loch Linnhe, sheltered by the surrounding mountains, the centre’s unique location allows it to provide year-round training and testing in an open water environment, while still being centrally located in Fort William, the largest town in the Scottish Highlands.

The mix of facilities and equipment means The Underwater Centre can accommodate various complexities of trials and testing projects, including deep water subsea testing site down to 150 m, with a 500 m private pier, electrical and mechanical workshops, 1.5 million l. onshore tank, training and testing areas, land and work boats, FRCs, ROV vessels, diving barges, crane, forklift and transport vehicles.

Industry and public bodies including Oil & Gas UK, Subsea UK, Subsea 7, TechnipFMC, Premier Oil and Highlands and Islands Enterprise (HIE) recently collaborated to support the centre and ensure its continued success.

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