ROVs take on BOPs

March 12, 2014

The first published image of the UHD Gen III ROV (FMC Technologies).

Elaine Maslin attended Subsea Expo in Aberdeen to view the latest in ROV technology and learned of a new model FMC Technologies Schilling Robotics plans to release.

The waters in which exploration and production firms are operating are getting deeper and subsea systems are getting ever more complex. Remotely operated vehicle (ROV) vendors such as FMC Technologies Schilling Robotics are adapting to meet the growing market and the challenges.

Rising to the demands being placed on ROV technology, FMC plans to unveil a new generation ROV, the UHD Gen III, the company told OE during Subsea Expo. The ROV will be revealed at the Offshore Technology Conference (OTC) this May in Houston.

The new HD ROV unit will meet API Standard 53, which concerns the installation and testing of blowout prevention equipment systems (4th edition, December 2012). The ROV will also be able to perform well intervention tasks, FMC says. The company will launch the new ROV in a buoyant market.

According to the International Marine Contractors Association (IMCA), there were 640 ROVs operating globally in August 2012. Last year, Douglas Westwood predicted that the ROV market would increase from US$1.4 billion in 2013 to $1.9 billion in 2017.

Speaking at Subsea Expo, Marine Richard, associate analyst at Infield Systems, said there had been a record 250 subsea tree contracts awarded in the first three quarters of 2013, with 80% in deep water. Three-quarters of those (188 contracts) were in Latin America.

The trend will continue, she predicted, with an estimated 2000 deepwater subsea equipment installations in the next five years–doubling that of the previous five years. Africa is forecast to dominate the global market, with 37% of subsea equipment spending, followed by Latin America (24%), she said.

Following the 2010 Gulf of Mexico Macondo disaster, greater emphasis is being placed on the deployment and capability of ROVs for secondary intervention on blowout preventers (BOPs) during drilling operations.

Last year, Brian Reid, in Subsea 7’s i-Tech7 division, told Subsea UK’s ROV conference that Macondo had a big impact on ROV service provision, increasing demand as operators try to manage risks by using ROVs as a back-up, in case a BOP fails. Companies wanted to have twin-ROV systems on rigs, and increased ROV support capability, he said. But they were also looking to ROV operators to meet API Standard 53, which requires operators to maintain the ROV and a trained crew on-board rigs, Reid said.

There have been concerns that such risks should not be shouldered by ROV operators. However, the market for the technology appears to exist.

Forum Energy Technologies' XLX Evo (FET).


FMC Schilling Robotics says its UHD Gen III is a response to the market for an ROV system able to meet API Standard 53 for secondary intervention on BOPs, which mandates 45-second ram closure. Developed over the last year, the UHD Gen III includes an integrated auxiliary pumping system able to pump 50gal/m up to 5000psi.

The 250Hp unit, with 150Hp auxiliary hydraulic output, is currently being pooltested at FMC Schilling Robotics’ manufacturing facility in Davis, California. Offshore trials are due start in the Gulf of Mexico in 2Q 2014, for three months. Commercial systems will be available after that.

FMC Schilling Robotics said the ROV will be able to carry 100gal of intervention fluid, and will be able to provide enough hydraulic power for BOP intervention, as well as the typical range of fluid intervention tasks such as connector actuation, seal testing, and hydrate remediation.

UHD Gen III will have automation capabilities, incorporating visual recognition technology, the company’s StationKeep technology, for position control accuracy of 10cm, and a power management system. Intervention tooling can be automatically acquired by the ROV manipulator, and the position of the tool can be maintained accurately, relative to a tooling interface panel.

FMC Schilling Robotics has also maintained its 60-min. maintenance philosophy on the UHD Gen III, based on Tyler Schilling’s belief in leveraging the principles of modern automotive and aircraft design to enable maintenance of major subsystems in under 60-min.

“I believe the ROV industry is beginning to enter a new phase… based on how ease of use,” Tyler told the September 2013 ROV conference.

New models on show

Also exhibiting at Subsea Expo was Forum Energy Technologies, which has two new Perry workclass ROVs: the heavy work-class 200hp XLX Evo, and the new XLX-C medium work-class 150hp ROV.

Just after Subsea Expo, Forum sold its first XLX-C ROV to Subsea 7, which ordered six, for three newbuild pipelay support vessels for the Brazilian market. Subsea 7 also ordered two XLX Evo ROVs for its newbuild vessel, the Seven Arctic (see p.60). The eight ROVs are due to be delivered 2014-2015.

Forum’s XLX range of ROVs use the company’s own ICE (integrated control engine software), real-time control system, with no subsea processor, control tray or pressure vessel. Core and survey junction boxes utilize separate plug-in data and power channels. Newer features on the XLX Evo (also available at 150hp) include integrated thruster feedback, allowing additional automatic control modules with no need for calibration, and full redundancy in case of sensor failure. Both have heading, depth, altitude, park and dynamic positioning, and braking control modes.

Forum has focused on reducing system complexity and maintenance times, consolidating system parts, and making control and operation easier, with no need for calibration.

SAAB Seaeye's Leopard

The XLX-C ROV is rated to 3000m operating depth, has a rationalized hydraulic power unit, integrated compensators, integrated retractable tooling basket, and meets Statoil specifications.

Also exhibiting their latest ROVs, featuring modular and easy to maintain and access systems, were SAAB Seaeye and Soil Machine Dynamics.

SAAB Seaeye, based in Hampshire, UK, and part of the Swedish SAAB group, had its new Leopard ROV on show.

The Leopard is an electric work-class ROV, which sits between the firm’s Panther and Jaguar units, in size. It can produce a half-tonne of forward thrust, via seven or 11 vectored, Seaeye SM9 500v, brushless DC thrusters, providing 6-axis control, to 3000m depth.

It has Seaeye’s iCON integrated intelligent control and power distribution system. This works from a central electronic pod, but with each component having its own microprocessor. This enables an advanced autopilot system, including pitch and roll stabilization, as well as built in diagnostics, redundancy, and remote internet access for upgrades and technical support.

Newcastle-based Soil Machine Dynamics (SMD) had its latest MKII Quasar at the show, specifically, a unit due to be shipped to Italian marine contracting firm Micoperi.

The 150Hp MKII Quasar has been designed for accessibility and ease of maintenance, SMD says. The latest version incorporates the DVECS-S advanced positioning system, designed with Edinburgh’s SeeByte, which enables advanced piloting functions.

The first three Quasar MKII ROVs with DVEC-S are being assembled and are due to be delivered this year. Two are for Aberdeen-based subsea installation contractor Bibby Offshore. 

Through communication with commonly fitted ROV instruments, DVECS-S can accurately control the position of the ROV throughout the water column, using different flight modes.

In auto-fly mode, the system allows the pilot to simply pointand- click on the map screen to move the ROV. In auto-fly survey mode, the ROV will follow a set of waypoints specified by the operator. In cruise mode, the ROV moves at a constant forward velocity, plus constant depth/altitude and heading.


SMD's Quasar MKII

At any time, the pilot can adjust all settings and trim lateral thrust. Using BlueView multi-beam imaging (MBI) sonar, DVECS-S allows object-relative positioning in the MBI sonar tracking flight mode. The pilot can control the ROV relative to objects in the workspace with advance/retreat; ascend/ descend; orbit clockwise/anti-clockwise. DVECS-S functionality can be extended to provide a mid-water dynamic positioning mode for vessel following.

Fugro Subsea Services had its 200hp FCV 3000 on display. The FCV 3000 work-class ROV has been designed to assist deepwater drilling and completions, subsea oilfield and construction support, and inspection, repair and maintenance operations. Tooling packages can be installed through standard interfaces– both mechanical and control–without needing to open pods and rewire.

Fugro uses its own control and communications system, based on singlemode, fiber-optic technology, including Fugro’s SMFO multiplexer. This can handle up to 12 conventional cameras (eight simultaneously) and provides a range of data protocols.