Norway’s Equinor has used a drone to fly a 3D-printed part 80 km offshore to the Troll A platform in the North Sea
The flight from the Mongstad base to the Troll field took about one hour, with the drone reaching an altitude of about 5,000 feet. The flight was a test, the world’s first of its kind, where an actual freight operation was conducted over a lengthy distance to an operating offshore installation.
“Drones could reinforce safety, boost production efficiency and contribute to lower CO2 emissions from Norwegian oil and gas,” said Equinor executive vice president for development and production in Norway Arne Sigve Nylund. “Drones will also play a role as we shape new energy solutions on the Norwegian shelf. Development is rapid and we see a huge potential within drone technology that could transform the way we operate, both under and above the sea surface.”
Manufactured by Schiebel, the Camcopter s-100 drone has logged around 70,000 flying hours from other types of operations within the defence and coast guard services. The drone is more than four metres long and weighs in excess of 100 kg. It has a cruising speed of more than 150 km/h and it can carry cargo weighing up to 50 kg.
The operator of the drone is the Sandnes-based company Nordic Unmanned. Equinor and the drone operator co-operated with the Civil Aviation Authority, Avinor Air Navigation Services and the Norwegian Communications Authority in completing the operation.
“Over the longer term, we expect to see new infrastructure for logistics and support operations, which can reinforce what we already have within vessels and helicopters,” said Alena Korbovà Pedersen, who heads the work on developing logistics solutions in Equinor.
In addition to conducting logistics operations, airborne drones can also be used for inspections and observations of the technical condition of offshore installations and onshore facilities. Advanced camera equipment can be used in search and rescue operations, or for early detection of pollution on the sea. These abilities were also tested during the flight.
Drones can inspect wind turbines, deploy equipment to be used by personnel performing maintenance and repairs and quickly deliver critical parts. Using drones will also enable operators to avoid some vessel lifts, that can be both more costly and leave a greater environmental footprint.
Combining drone technology with 3D printing – another emerging technology – was a natural choice for the demonstration, said Equinor. The part transported was a diesel nozzle holder, a critical component in the lifeboats on Troll A, and no longer traditionally manufactured, making it difficult to obtain. The part was redesigned and modelled in 3D before an advanced metal 3D printer produced a replica in an industrial alloy, Inconel 718.