Two major coatings providers are rolling out remote inspection services, taking advantage of new technologies that are changing the nature of underwater surveys
Leading coatings provider Hempel has launched an underwater hull inspection service using remote operated vehicles (ROVs). The service is currently being rolled out at key ports across the Asia Pacific region and will be extended to maritime hubs worldwide in the near future. Under Hempel’s Hull Inspection Service, inspections are conducted by an expert coatings advisor operating an ROV. The ROV captures high-resolution video footage and images of the hull for real-time assessment.
Hempel’s head of services group vice president Klaus Moeller said : “The ability to utilise remote hull inspections through the deployment of highly sophisticated and purpose-built ROVs is a significant step-change in the ability to create advanced hull maintenance plans. The inspection is conducted by highly trained ROV experts who combine their expertise with information on the vessel’s trading activity to compile the final report, which includes recommendations to optimise hull performance. This provides operators with tangible, accurate and consistent evidence upon which to base their operational decisions, while also providing proof of hull condition for relevant industry authorities.”
Hempel says that using ROVs for hull inspections simplifies the process and allows for more frequent and less costly hull inspections. As no divers are required, inspections can be conducted without the need to shut down vessel systems making it possible to complete hull inspections in two hours or less, even alongside cargo loading or discharge.
Hempel head of marine business Christian Ottosen said: “All prudent owners and operators are moving toward evidence-based performance monitoring across all their systems and assets. They are utilising a growing range of tools and applications that enable them to understand all of the influencing factors which have the potential to impact vessel performance.”
“Remote hull inspections are a significant step-change in the ability to create advanced hull maintenance plans”
He continued: “Hull fouling is a significant contributor to speed loss and at its worst, has the potential to increase engine power requirements by close to 20% over five years. Being able to routinely and consistently monitor hull condition between routine dry-dockings with ROVs enables shipowners and operators to implement an appropriate maintenance schedule which optimises vessel performance.”
AkzoNobel has gathered data on the performance of its coatings across thousands of vessels and structures. To do so, the company uses AIS to remotely monitor its customer’s vessels and follow factors such as location and speed. The data forms the backbone of an artificial intelligence (AI) system that helps the company assess the performance of its coatings. The longer a vessel is static, the more it becomes susceptible to biofouling.
The company identifies correlations between the drop-off of coating performance and factors such as location. Correlation, of course, does not prove causation, meaning a drop off in performance may have root causes that do not include biofouling or the need for new coatings.
To augment its AI analysis, AkzoNobel uses coating inspections to quickly identify – or eliminate – the coating as the culprit for a vessel’s diminished performance. “It is a very challenging industry because we are competing with nature,” said AkzoNobel diagnostic manager Dr Adam Bell. “A lot of damage can happen to the hull. If damage exists, the coating does not have a chance.”
Traditionally, AkzoNobel worked with diving companies that send human divers to perform ship hull inspections. However, relying on human divers for inspections has raised challenges, including diver safety, time constraints by port authorities to sea conditions making inspection dives impossible.
Due to these issues, Dr Bell and his team began researching ways to optimise visual inspections of vessels’ hulls using unmanned technologies. The team’s research led them to micro ROVs which can be deployed by one operator to collect video footage of the state of a vessel’s hull. The footage provides the requisite data for the visual inspection and the whole process can be completed in under one hour from the safety of dry land.
Based on Dr Bell’s success, AkzoNobel acquired several SeaDrone Inspector 3 ROVs to perform ship hull inspections. Given the benefits of the new method, AkzoNobel asked Dr Bell and his team to get the ROVs and their operators up and running immediately.
Dr Bell’s team taught AkzoNobel technical service representatives (TSRs) to perform coating inspections using the SeaDrone Inspector 3 ROVs, and these TSRs have since become the company’s front-line customer service representatives. They spend time at the ports working with AkzoNobel customers and performing the inspections.
In terms of operational guidance, Dr Bell said keeping the very costly ROVs in sight is a cardinal rule. “I talk about operating in straight lines. Instead of sending the ROV down the vessel, underneath and up the other side, I tell them to always keep the ROV within view,” Dr Bell said. “Don’t lose sight of the ROV, or else you are in trouble.”
This particular operational limitation means it is important for the company and its TSRs to plan the inspection points the ROVs need to capture in a range of different circumstances and conditions. As an example, Dr Bell explained that in bright sunlight it is difficult for operators to see the screen and to properly guide the drone. To combat the sun, Dr Bell sometimes uses a VR headset and a PS3 gaming controller.
“Don’t lose sight of the ROV, or else you are in trouble”
“I have been on the dockside driving the drone completely unaware that people are standing next to me taking selfies,” he said. In terms of timings, he said it is crucial for operators to quickly gather images to represent the hull’s condition. “If we inspect every square metre, that will take an unreasonable amount of time,” Dr Bell said. “It’s about understanding what is representative.”
According to Dr Bell, the SeaDrone Inspector 3 is particularly suited for close ship work. It is over-powered for its size and able to combat currents that would fatigue a human diver. The propulsion units are inboard the drone, protecting them from damage through contact with the hull, and the drone has powerful LED lights that shine above and below, as well as in front of the machine.
Remote inspection and autonomous vehicles are also being tested in combination in some sectors. Defence contractor L3Harris Technologies’ civilian division, L3 ASV, designs and builds autonomous surface vehicles (ASVs). It has combined with Perceptual Robotics, producers of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), to produce an autonomous package for the inspection of windfarm structures. The package has demonstrated collaborative autonomous activity. The ASV transported, deployed, and remotely recovered the UAV. The UAV has the capability to remotely inspect the blades for defects and relay the data online to inspection authorities.