Written by Kerryn Caulfield, Executive Director for Composites Australia Inc.
For over 20 years, an average day at the office for DI-Design founder David Inggall was a remote subsea environment, constantly challenged by physical obstacles such as excessive water depth, extreme weather and wild currents. As a specialist in subsea remote intervention and robotic technology for the offshore oil and gas industries, David learnt his craft in places like the depths of the Black Sea and the brutal North Seas where 80 foot-tall freak waves have been recorded.
The need to improve these ruthless working conditions for divers and the maturity and accessibility of advanced materials has led to the worldwide adaptation of remote intervention or diverless (unmanned or remote) technology. Remotely Operated Vehicles (ROVs) now perform tasks previously carried out by divers. ROVs are used extensively in the construction of sub-sea developments and their subsequent repair and maintenance including pipeline surveys and inspection services, connecting pipelines, emergency repair and eventual decommissioning. By adding ancillary devices such as cameras, sonars, manipulators and custom tools, subsea ROVs are increasingly used to expand telecommunications, oceanographic, mining and defence sectors to areas that were once not thought possible or economically viable.
From its facility in Nunawading, Victoria, DIDesign specialises in the design and development of purpose-built subsea tooling including mini ROVs that provide solutions for challenging underwater problems in deep water frontiers off the West Coast of Africa, the North Sea and Australia at depths of over 2,000 metres. “Customarily, Work-Class vehicles ably perform a myriad of deep subsea tasks from Dynamic Positioned (DP) Class Support Vessels, but they are often over specified for shallow (1,000 metres or less) water operations. Our niche is providing more agile, cost effective solutions with a smaller team that can be mobilised quickly for shallow water operations often using smaller surface vessels”, said David.
Closer to home in the shallower waters of Bass Strait, DI-Design was engaged to develop solutions for a pipeline decommissioning a subsea oil field. “Our job was to cut through a 10mm split pin, dissemble a calcified 45 tonne rated shackle by unscrewing a 98mm nut and detaching an 8 kg bolt, all in depths of 150 metres with no hands. Our solution was a mini ROV using breakthrough 3D printing technology with carbon fibre composite attachments specifically designed for the commission”, said David.
According to David, accessibility of new technologies and materials is enabling increasingly swift response for near same day solutions. His Nunawading facility has been set-up to respond quickly to unexpected scenarios and includes five 3D printers of various capabilities, small scale filament winding machines and a network of local CNC machining capability. On hand is a suite of materials including buoyant plastics and high tensile steels that are chosen for their inherent non-ferrous properties to support pressures up to 700 Bar (10,150PSI) capacity. According to David, composites materials across all processes are an essential part of the suite of materials he uses for subsea remote intervention. In addition to his own equipment, he has built an extensive supply network on which he relies for bespoke components. The composites sleeve over the socket that unscrewed the 98mm nut in Bass Strait was filament wound by Penguin Composites in Tasmania.
For David, 3D printing technology in particular has been a game changer. “Working off-shore in deep water hubs requires ingenuity. We are often called upon to solve unexpected challenging problems in less than ideal conditions. 3D printing technology is now accessible, cost effective and portable. The old methods of tooling up over long periods on land are being challenged by 3D printing functional parts in materials such as carbon fibre, titanium and stainless-steel alloys. We can now solve underwater problems with task specific light weight 3D printing composite tools and perform tasks that were once the domain of divers and work class vehicles”.
Rapid response, efficient and effective interventions are the core concepts of the safety methodology developed by the offshore oil and gas industries to reduce vulnerability, protect personnel and facilities, and avert an environmental incident. “Keeping divers safe is a tenet of the sector, and as the offshore industry moves into deeper waters, the preference for diverless intervention only increases. Jobs such as connecting flow lines are now done by ROVs. It’s an exciting time for the sector and satisfying to be part of a revolution that keeps people safe while solving problems”, says David.
David Inggall will be presenting at the forthcoming Advancing Composites Innovation Conference from 2nd to 3rd April 2019.
This article first appeared in: Connection Magazine Issue 49: December, 2018