French partnership working to decrease pipeline inspection costs

The trio includes tubular solutions provider Vallourec, startup FORSSEA Robotics, and navigation solutions provider iXblue.

Traditionally, the inspection of subsea pipelines and structures requires the use of a surface vessel (manned or unmanned) with acoustic positioning used to monitor the deployment of Autonomous Underwater Vehicles (AUVs) or Remotely Operated Vehicles (ROVs).

These subsea vehicles then collect the required information – such as a pipeline’s general aspect and route, anode consumption, free span, burial and crossing areas – using observation sensors.

In order to reduce pipeline inspection operational costs, the trio decided to develop a solution using visual markers directly integrated on subsea pipelines that enables vessel-free subsea navigation.

The project relies on barcodes placed on installed pipes, resulting in many passive positioning references logged with their own coordinates during the laying operation which will remain accessible throughout the life of the field.

These markers would act as navigation aids for subsea drones equipped with FORSEEA cameras and iXblue’s inertial navigation system that easily relay the pipelines’ locations to the operators thus removing the need for acoustic positioning systems and costly mother vessels.

To remain visible to divers and subsea drones throughout the project’s lifespan, these markers are long-term resistant to marine growth and erosion.

Back in January, the group did a first sea trial on much smaller surfaces – down to pipes of 6” in diameter – in the South of France, proving that these markers can provide accurate subsea positioning without the need of acoustic systems.

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