Floating asset owners are paying increased attention to hull integrity, particularly for assets designed for extended periods on station. Their priorities are to avoid the disruption and costs associated with having to disconnect floating facilities from subsea production systems for unplanned drydock repairs that
can occur if major damage goes undetected. The challenge is to obtain
useful data on hull condition safely, with minimum production disrup-
tion and in compliance with class and/or regulatory requirements.
The HITS (Hull Inspection Techniques & Strategy) joint industry
project was created as a result of discussions by members of the
FPSO Research Forum and has been addressing these and other
issues since its formation in March 2011. The strength of HITS lies
in the close collaboration of its members representing regulators,
operators and class. This helps the JIP achieve its objectives which
are to encourage industry to develop solutions for hull inspections,
evaluate their worth in practical trials, and bring the benefits to the
industry in a short time frame.
EM&I, an asset integrity specialist, is responsible for facilitating
HITS. The company has a track record of developing its own ‘
disruptive’ inspection technologies for offshore application.
HITS’ first task was to agree the scope, program and priorities, all
completed in the first year through an industry-wide survey of existing practices, a study of hull inspection regulatory requirements, and
canvassing of the industry’s views on potential areas for improvement.
The study concluded that the main challenges that needed to be
addressed were improving safety and inspection quality by minimizing diving operations; avoiding man entry into confined spaces; and
seeking methods of minimizing tank cleaning for inspection purposes.
An unexpected additional challenge that arose later was the need to
develop a competency standard for hull inspectors.
The recent collapse in the price of oil has in many ways acceler-
ated the impetus behind HITS, which to date has delivered two safer,
cost-reducing solutions for performing underwater hull inspections
without divers and inspection of confined spaces without the need for
man entry. Both methods have been validated by class and are being
used on floating production, drilling and accommodation facilities.
Since its inception, the HITS JIP membership has included oil
companies such as BP, Chevron, Shell and Total; an FPSO charterer,
SBM Offshore; and four classification societies, ABS, Bureau Veritas,
Lloyd’s Register and DNV GL. Petrobras, ExxonMobil and others
have also expressed interest in participating. Members meet every
six months to review progress and to give guidance to companies
tasked with developing innovations: the next meeting is at the 39th
FPSO Forum in Galveston in October.
HITS’ progress to date has led to the members sanctioning further
extensions to the project, with HITS 1, 2 and 3 scopes completed and
HITS 4 and 5 under way. The members recognized that the drive
toward remote inspections required a standardized way of assess-
ing the capabilities of the innovations proposed. They decided to do
this against a ‘Class Equivalent’ standard, recognizing that, despite
the focus on the robotic element, the (human) inspection capability
With guidance from the classification society members, HITS
defined a ‘Class Equivalent’ standard for general and close visual inspection and commissioned a study to assess the capability of camera
systems currently employed by ROVs and UAVs (unmanned aerial
vehicles) and measured their ability to detect typical defect types
under site conditions. Using these standards, the JIP commissioned
a further study on UAVs. Then followed further tests using technology adapted from the gas transport industry to ‘see’ inside isolation
valves, with acoustic imaging applied to evaluate the potential to
inspect through crude oil, along with practical tests of optical, NDT
and laser inspection systems.
Independent specialists performed many of the tests at the Forth
Engineering test center in Cumbria, northwest England, which had
been set up primarily to develop and test remote inspection, mainte-
nance and decommissioning solutions for the nuclear industry. HITS’
members were clear that the developed solutions also needed to be
tested under site conditions before they could be realistically deployed
offshore. Several successful developments followed, with various
HITS participants making their operating assets available for trials.
Pacific Drilling’s Pacific Sharav provided the seventh inspection project
for the ODIN system. (All photos courtesy EM&I)
Operators, class societies targeting
safer, more informative hull inspections
The EM&I Technology Centre at Forth Engineering in Cumbria.