How Alcoa Worked With Nexxis to Build a Bespoke Custom Robot for Pipeline Inspection
Thinking about what the Powertrain is going to do for Alcoa is really the tool that’s going to do the reconnaissance for us into our pipelines, the hundreds of kilometers of pipelines we’ve got, and then go and find those regions of interest, where we see something’s going to go wrong, flag that for the rest of the business so we can take the appropriate steps. My name is Steve Botha, I work for Alcoa, I’ve been with Alcoa for 12 years, the whole crux behind approaching Nexxis was to find something that can find the wear areas inside the pipelines as opposed to the existing techniques that have looked from the outside.
My name’s Leon McEniery. I’m one of the robotics engineers here at Nexxis, I was the software team lead for the Powertrain project and it’s been really fun, because we got to integrate with all of these novel technologies and build this novel robotic control system from the ground up. As it’s a modular system, we can look to improve it with different payloads or more drive capabilities and through field testing, we can identify how we can improve the product. My dream was to have a robot that can actually go vertically up these lines that are 28 meters high, and find these very hard-to-access areas. And you can pinpoint exactly where those wear spots are. With the Powertrain, we then scoped up from exactly that specific application, we said, “Okay, we needed something to do XY and Z, we needed to climb so high, so many meters, so many bends, be caustic resistant, it needs to have cameras in the front and the back. And then we need a central unit that can actually focus really into that, and also some mechanism that can look at the depth of that anomaly that we found on the way”.
The payload we have incorporated into Powertrain is used to quantify any indications that it finds in the pipe using depth cameras. The operator can drive the Powertrain through the pipe work and visually find an area of interest, park this payload module up to that area, and then start taking measurements with the depth camera. It’s exciting to see us grow from a business that was just using whatever equipment was available in the market to making the equipment and putting the exact technology that we want to see into the market.
One of the biggest things with Powertrain, when we started the design study, was how sharp the angle of the bands was. It’s a 1.5 D bend, especially given that it’s a 180 ml pipe, which is really small. That was my biggest concern basically like will this crawler at 180 ml diameter be able to go through the bend, it gives me a great sense of satisfaction seeing something go from within the computer to an actual product. And then you can see it do all its things and it’s very cool I can only say that the enthusiasm that I’ve seen from the Nexxis team on all levels, the way they came on board and didn’t shy away. And I definitely think what we got in the end product, actually way surpassed what I initially envisioned.