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20/01/2020 – News / Technology / Robotics / Innovation / Pipeline Technology / Forth Engineering / UK

World-first pipeline tech to improve performance and safety will feature at UK robotics event

World-first pipeline tech to improve per

With the potential to revolutionise performance and safety in industries around the world, a world-first in pipeline technology is set to feature at a leading robotics conference in the UK city of Manchester later this month.

Internal defects in pipelines are invariably difficult and costly to repair, in addition to the often far more considerable revenue losses from a pipeline being out of action during any period of repair downtime. In response to such challenges, the first ever FSWBot – Friction Stir Welding Robotic Crawler for internal repair and refurbishment of pipelines – has been developed to transform the way industries deal with pipeline issues.


Led by award-winning Cumbria-based technology solutions business Forth Engineering, the FSWBot project has been attracting attention from around the world since being showcased in Aberdeen, Scotland, back in November 2019.


The pioneering technology will feature in a presentation at a Transformative Robotics for Industries day at the 4th Annual Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) UK and Ireland Robotics and Automation Society (RAS) Chapter Conference held at the University of Manchester on Wednesday 22nd January.


An FSWBot presentation will also take place at Europe’s leading offshore pipeline technology conference (OPT) – to be held in Amsterdam in February. It will also be presented at Friction Stir Welding International Symposium in Kyoto, Japan, in May.


State-of-the-art technologies 


Peter Routledge, Forth Engineering Project Manager, said his company had already received considerable interest and many inquiries about the FSWBot from across the globe. “Interest is really building – including from Saudi Arabia, America, Canada, France and Spain,” he reported.


The project, sponsored by Innovate UK, seeks to integrate several state-of-the-art technologies – including friction stir welding, milling, patch deployment and ultrasonic NDT – onto a robotic system that can be deployed to conduct repairs on pipelines without the need for the pipeline to be closed down for the duration of the repair. 


If successful, it is envisaged that the system could be further developed to carry out a range of repair and fabrication tasks.


The FSWBot received funding from UK Innovate in 2018 for a consortium led by Forth Engineering to develop a ‘proof of concept’ system. 


Forth Engineering is working with consortium members TWI, J4IC, Innvotek and LSBU on the project, which will have a major positive impact on safety within the industry.


Friction stir welding is a solid state welding process that generates enough frictional heat to soften or plasticise the metal without melting it, allowing metal components to be forged together at the joint line


This system will demonstrate that a patch weld can be made in steel pipe under oil, and that a representative FSW system can be made small enough to operate in a 36-inch diameter export pipe. 


“Fantastic opportunity” for industry engagement


The consortium wants to hear from companies which might have an interest in such a system, in order to consider their potential needs and applications, helping to ensure its benefits can be brought to as many industry sectors as possible while the technology is being developed.


Mark Telford, Managing Director of Forth, said his company has developed a worldwide reputation for developing a range of robotic solutions for use in harsh environments. “The tools we have developed over the years have been for, and used by, Sellafield, to successfully solve challenges in the nuclear industry. So our technology is tried and tested in harsh environments,” he affirmed.


“There’s a fantastic opportunity for other businesses and organisations in the UK and across the world, whether that’s other nuclear operations, or oil & gas, renewables, and perhaps areas we haven’t even thought of, to make use of that technology, and to share their challenges so we can develop the FSWBot in ways to help them.”


The development of the FSWBot is on-going, with the project due to be completed by end of January 2021. For further information, contact:

Mark Telford, Managing Director of Forth

How the FSWBot works


The FSWBot is envisaged to be a five-segment or six-segment PIG-type vehicle, which will be inserted at the production end of the pipeline and will travel with the oil flow to a pre-designated spot to perform a repair. 


One segment will carry the FSW machine and a steel patch dispenser, with the other segments carrying the navigation, control system, communications, NDT (non-destructive testing), and power storage/generation payloads. 


On entering the pipe segment containing the pre-identified defects, the FSWBot will stop, then slowly advance until the FSW system is in place over the defect. It will then lock itself in place and confirm that it is correctly located to perform the repair.


An on-board turbine in a duct within the FSWBot will harvest energy from the oil flow within the pipe to augment any power cells carried on the system, with the duct providing through flow in the pipe. 


Once energised, the FSW unit will deploy a milling tool to cut away the corroded area and prepare a pocket in the pipe wall into which a steel patch will be dispensed.


The FSW unit will then weld this patch in place and deploy the milling system again to ensure that the patch is flush with the pipe wall and will not initiate turbulent flow, nor impede the passage of subsequent cleaning or inspection PIGs. 


FSWBot will then deploy NDT packages to inspect the weld for quality assurance, before unclamping and moving downstream to repeat the process on any further defects. 


For updates on the project, visit:

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