Ativatec makes its mark in Brazil’s deepwater intervention sector

Claudio Paschoa

August 1, 2014



Daniel Camerini at Ativatec’s workshop at UFRJ’s Technology Center in Rio de Janeiro. Photo by Claudio Paschoa. 

Claudio Paschoa discusses deepwater intervention equipment and services with Daniel Almeida Camerini, of Ativatec, at the company’s new headquarters in Rio de Janeiro.

It is widely known that the deepwater intervention equipment market in Brazil is dominated by foreign companies with proven expertise in the area. Very few fully Brazilian companies are present in this market, which is very competitive and requires large investments in high-end technology and specialized engineering skills, making it a market that has products of high aggregated value. With the increasing demand for deepwater intervention equipment and services from supermajors in Brazil, local companies, such as Ativatec, are faced with an excellent opportunity to grow. Daniel Almeida Camerini, a partner in Ativatec, emphasizes that the company continues to look for both local and foreign partners. Deepwater intervention is a constant challenge. Offshore Brazil, where deepwater pre-salt and post-salt plays abound, state oil and gas company Petrobras has invested in local up-and-coming deepwater equipment manufacturers and service providers for many years; yet few local companies can deliver subsea equipment or services that can compete with foreign manufacturers and service providers in terms of quality, reliability and price.

Ativatec is one of a small group of Brazilian companies that manufactures subsea equipment and provide services for deepwater inspection and intervention that have managed to win contracts from Petrobras. The company develops and operates equipment in the field for their clients. Ativatec is an offspring of the Genesis Institute of the Catholic University of Rio de Janeiro (PUC-Rio), which promotes technologically-focused businesses ventures run by university graduates.

“The Genesis Institute was important in integrating the company with professors and students at the university, to give visibility to the company through the media and in the technology and business communities specialized in subsea technology in Brazil,” Camerini said. Camerini holds a Master’s degree in automation and control engineering from PUC-Rio. He has coordinated R&D projects in the oil and gas industry as research engineer at PUC-Rio for the last 10 years and, along with partner Rodrigo Carvalho Ferreira, manages Ativatec. Both are graduates of PUC-Rio, where they also worked on research and development projects in partnership with the Petrobras Research Center (CENPES).

Ativatec first developed the special ROV tool test bolt (FTEB), designed in partnership with Petrobras, for testing integrity and shielding of screws in production equipment such as Xmas trees, MCVs and BAPs installed in water depths of up to 2000m. More than 50 successful inspections were made in offshore production fields for Petrobras in 2010. This tool performs structural tests and corrosion protection in bolts installed in places of difficult access on subsea production equipment. The embedded electronics offer real-time data during the operations.

ROV with GO-GLO bottles attached. Photo from Ativatec. 

In 2010, again in partnership with Petrobras, Ativatec developed another ROV tool for ultrasonic inspection of subsea equipment.

Baptized as Crab Tool, it is capable of detecting 3mm fissures in screws and plates installed in up to 3000m depths with high reliability. In 2011, more than 40 successful field inspections were done and the technology was patented. The Crab Tool is still used by Petrobras in the Campos Basin for inspection of wet Xmas trees and pipeline end manifold, which have bolts as key components.

Crab tool. Image from Ativatec.

Due to the extremely aggressive deepwater environment and the presence of hydrogen in water, Petrobras has faced some problems with these bolts, which had failed because of cracks. Offshore ultrasonic inspection is also a great challenge in deepwater pipeline maintenance technology. The Crab Tool or Crack Bolt Detection Tool was developed for in-situ bolt inspection in order to detect cracks, even small ones down to 3mm deep, nucleated from the thread. Fourteen ultrasound transducers, seven per side, sequentially scan the bolt and the respective A-scan is real time displayed at the surface. Once a crack is detected, it is possible to localize its location and length. Designed specifically to be operated by ROVs, the Crab Tool’s innovative technology was validated in offshore operations under 900m depth.

In 2012, Ativatec, once again in partnership with Petrobras, developed another ROV operated tool for use in breaking up hydrates present in connectors, in equipment such as MCVs, SCMs, tree caps and subsea Xmas trees, for the total or partial re-establishment of well production. The technology was approved in laboratory tests and was made available to the market in 2013.

Operators constantly need to deal with unwanted hydrate formation in subsea oil production systems such as pipelines, Xmas trees, manifolds, controls and connections. Hydrate condensation causes different problems, such as decrease in oil flow, blocked subsea valves and environmental risks. The subsea hydrate dissociation ROV tool, called SAES, is capable of heating a specific location of the subsea system and dissociating the hydrates, thus re-establishing the regular flow. The first prototype was produced and tested at Petrobras Research Center’s Subsea Technology Laboratory with success at 1500m depth pressure and 100°C temperature. It has been used in the Campos basin at plays such as Roncador and Marlin.

“The challenges in working with products used in the deepwater segment of the O&G industry are in offering products with simple interfaces to be operated and/or installed by ROVs and that offer at the same time high reliability, minimum maintenance needs, reduced weight and dimensions and high mechanical robustness to resist the high-salinity and high-pressure encountered in deepwater marine environments,” Camerini said.

Crab Tool deepwater operations. Photo from Petrobras. 

With the increased importance of deepwater environmental safety concerns, Petrobras quickly became interested in another simple and useful subsea ROV tool developed by Ativatec, designed specifically for deepwater environmental monitoring. The sediment collect tool (ASC), performed more than 90 offshore operations at Campos Basin in 2012. Its sample technology does not compress or deform the sediment sample, therefore allowing a reliable environmental sediment analysis. It is capable of sediment collection in water depths of 3000m and has an open/close visual indicator. It is also considerably lightweight at 58kg, with an in-water weight of 44kg and can handle samples with dimensions of 30 cm-by-5 cm-by-5 cm.

Another Ativatec-designed tool for deepwater environmental monitoring is the Water Sampling Combo 6. It is an ROV tool capable of collecting six water samples in different places in one single dive. The ROV arm secures each GO-FLO bottle in the place and moment that interests the operator for water sampling to occur. Its objective is to monitor, collect and research data on water quality. It has an individual bottle control, a visual bottle closing indicator, and also an ROV hydraulic interface. In 2012, the Combo 6 performed more than 40 offshore operations at Campos Basin.

“The Brazilian market for subsea robotics for inspection, intervention and environmental monitoring is in increasing expansion.

Various companies from around the world are investing in this area due to the aging of existing subsea equipment, which begin to deteriorate due to marine effects, generating production problems and even environmental accidents. Other than that, the exploration of the pre-salt demands great investments in new subsea technologies for E&P in ultra-deep waters, which has been attracting international companies to Brazil,” Camerini said.

Deepwater equipment control is always a challenge and it is interesting to look at what equipment Ativatec uses for deepwater acquisition, control and data transmission, and what are the challenges in real-time deepwater data transmission, when asked about this Daniel explained that, “All our equipment has optical interfaces for data transmission, through the ROV video camera and an electric interface via the ROV umbilical. The great difficulty in real-time deepwater data transmission lies in signal attenuation due to the long length of the umbilical cable, which in ultra-deep waters can reach 3km, which many times requires the use of fiber optics.”

Looking at the future, Ativatec is striving to increase its equipment while maintaining quality. In less than a year Ativatec has grown from a team of five to 12 and from a 40sq m room to a warehouse at the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro incubator complex located within the university’s technology center.