Innovation – in all its forms

Elaine Maslin

August 1, 2015

Standardization has been high on the agenda at the Underwater Technology Conference (UTC) in Bergen for the past two years. This year, the focus was “innovating for the next wave.” Elaine Maslin reports on innovations discussed and on show.

Aker Solutions’ electronic actuator. Photo from Aker Solutions. 

Innovation can take many forms, said Simon Davies, manager, technology management, Statoil, while introducing the first panel session during this year’s UTC.

One such form is learning from and leveraging expertise from other industries and both were evident at UTC. Aker Solutions’ latest subsea control module, Vector 6, was developed with expertise from a telecommunications business and its new electronic actuator was developed with the help of an automotive industry-focused firm.

Shell is using non-oil and business expertise a different way. It has launched a new program – Shell TechWorks – to bring in innovation from outside the exploration business, its head of program management, Julie Ferland told UTC. She says engineering and program managers from outside the oil and gas industry have been recruited into the program to use a systems engineering approach to collaborate directly with other businesses to solve the oil industry’s challenges.

Ferland herself comes from outside the industry. A gas turbine engineer in the navy, she’s also been a saturation diver and, most recently, worked at AUV firm Hydroid, developing the Remus AUV.

“We are bringing a perspective from aerospace and other industries to see and understand what other technologies can be brought in to the industry and what minor changes need to be made to make it meet the needs in the industry,” she says. Interestingly, the group’s first innovation was around how they found information from within Shell in order to carry out their first step, which was to delve into the business to create a systems model and to define what specific goals were in order to define them to the market.

Hervé Valla . Photo from Aker. 

For Hervé Valla, chief technical officer, Aker Solutions, looking at the bigger picture – problems on a systems level – is a key to innovation, instead of operating in silos, which the industry has a tendency to do.

Aker Solutions is doing this with its subsea alliance with Baker Hughes, he says, removing the “false barrier” separating the well and subsea. One of their first innovations, PowerJump (OE: NCE Subsea supplement 2015) is a system innovation using existing components, he says. In less than a year, components have already been qualified and a prototype is being built.

But, he also suggests technology development around creating families of products, which can be adapted, rather than reinvented, for different situations, but built from the same core components, such as the firm’s new subsea control module, Vector 6, which has a standard chassis, but its software means it can be modified to meet deployment requirements. What is interesting about Vector 6, is that it was developed by a team that had been brought into Aker Solutions through the acquisition of the telecommunications business in 2012. “They came with a completely different mindset and challenged us a lot,” Valla says.

Aker Solutions worked with another non-oil and gas core firm Devotek to develop a subsea electric actuator, as part of its work on the Åsgard and Ormen Lange subsea compression projects. Devotek, which is traditionally more involved in the automotive sector, has made a solution smaller and lighter than any other on the market, Valla says. It is now fully tested and qualified and being offered in tenders.

The 83cm high (smaller than a Dyson vacuum cleaner), 85kg in the water, subsea electric actuator, qualified for 4000m water depth and -5 to 55°C operating temperatures, has been designed for a 25-year running, with a dual motor and gear oil system, for barrier protection and lubrication, has a metal pressure compensator with condition monitoring. Maximum torque output is 2700nm with 50,000 cycle lifetime at 1800nm nominal torque.


Jupiter’s subsea inline contamination monitor.
 Photo from Zetechnics. 

UK-based Zetechnics has also drawn on wider industry technology to help offer a new solution. Tim Overfield, the firm’s managing director, said a conversation with an ROV operator about monitoring hydraulic fluid condition and another with a hydraulic fluid monitoring technology firm, led to their Jupiter trademarked subsea in line contamination monitor (ICM). Units sold fast after it was shown at Subsea Expo in Aberdeen earlier this year and the sales continued at UTC.

The 4000m deepwater-rated ICM is a permanent hydraulic fluid (mineral oil or synthetic oil-based with a water glycol version available) monitoring tool, which enables operators to identify early when hydraulic fluid has any contamination in it so that maintenance can be carried out before it causes a problem and at a time that suits. The ICM unit measures hydraulic fluid for particulate and water contamination. The 120mm-diameter, 200mm-long, titanium encased 2.3kg in water ICM, which can run periodically or continually, needs just 24v and stores up to 4000 sample tests to its memory.

Zetechtics also had its latest subsea control unit, Jupiter 2, on show at UTC. Launched earlier this year, it is the latest version of the firm’s first control unit, deployed first in 1998. Jupiter 2 has been launched as a family of units, which can be adapted according to client requirements. Its innovation is bringing what in the past has been two separate units in to one, enabling control of small but also very powerful functions, from 12l/min to 160l/min from one unit, making it a flexible, multipurpose unit. Jupiter systems have always exhibited very high dependability with that very first unit recently overhauled and redeployed; it had no damage to the electronics, just needed hydraulic valves replacing and the software upgrading.

Overfield says the industry would benefit from more standardization, which it has historically tried to achieve, but not quite fully managed, as well as using technologies from other industries, but only where they are found to be high-enough quality.


Founded in 2009, and based in Kildare, Ireland, Cathx Ocean presented its subsea optical measurement capabilities in a UTC technical session. CTO Michael Flynn outlined a case study from the North Sea, which showed how the firm’s tools and techniques were able to provide high resolution images of a pipeline section.

Traditional techniques, such as HD video and multi-beam sonar, have limited resolution, he says. HD video stills, however provide better resolution. If laser profiling can be used in combination with HD stills, high resolution images can be created and a 3D point cloud. Each pixel on the image can be calibrated as X, Y, Z points thanks to linking the camera with the laser and using basic trigonometry, he says. At 5m distance, you can get 2mm resolution on the point cloud data set.

With this technique, the difficulty comes when you want to shoot images of laser profiles, which are best seen in darkness, while you need intense bursts of light for the HD stills. Cathx solved this with sequencing. For example, in variable turbidity, 3D laser data is sequenced with co-registered still images.


Norway-based Halfwave launched its ARTEMIS subsea pipeline and riser inspection tool, based on acoustic resonance technology (ART) developed by Det Norske Veritas (DNV, now part of DNV GL) over the last 20 years.

ART is an ultra-wideband inspection technology that exploits the phenomenon of half-wave resonance. A sending transducer transmits a broad-band acoustic signal toward a metal structure of interest. The signal spreads in the structure, exciting half-wave resonances. The response of the structure transmits a characteristic signal which is detected by a receiving transmitter, with the results then analyzed revealing resonance peak frequencies, from which the structure’s thickness can estimated.

ARTEMIS was developed to inspect subsea pipeline and riser integrity from the outside and through coatings using ART. It is deployed by ROV and performs a 360° scan, using ART, through pipeline and riser coatings. Halfwave, which is owned by private equity house Energy Ventures, DNV GL, Chevron and certain staff, says it has qualified the technology with one operator.

ARTEMIS follows hot on the heels of Halfwave’s ART Scan, an in line internal pipeline scanner, launched earlier this year.