ROV Access Checks and Design Reviews Webinar

PaleBlue CorporateBlog

On June 20th 2023, PaleBlue hosted a webinar titled “ROV Access Checks and Design Reviews”. The event, presented by Mr. Snorre Balkøy, Discipline Lead for ROV & 3D studies at Aker Solutions, and Dr. Felix Gorbatsevich, CEO of PaleBlue, focused on subsea engineering, design reviews and ROV access verification. This article provides a comprehensive summary of the webinar, that covered approaches and solutions to streamline subsea verification tasks. 

The agenda was:

  1. Traditional tools and methods used
  2. Key features for subsea access checks
  3. Case Study: Aker Solutions using PaleBlue ROV Access Simulator

The following is a summarized transcript of the webinar’s highlights.

Traditional tools and methods used

Opening with access checks and how they are traditionally done in projects, Snorre Balkøy explained:

At Aker Solutions, the primary goal of ROV access checks is to ensure the functionality and operability of equipment when deployed subsea, The critical factors in these checks are ensuring the ROV can successfully enter the work area, stabilize, read markings, and view indicators. Previously, ROV checks were conducted with CAD tools, moving models in SolidWorks. However, this method was neither easy nor effective. It failed to offer a realistic representation of access, mainly due to the lack of an operational camera for proper viewing and limited interaction capabilities with the ROV’s arms. The usage of CAD tools was a slow and time-consuming process, primarily due to the complexities of loading extensive models into the CAD software, making it challenging to work with.

“Following the initial design checks, site integration tests were conducted using large mock-ups, which were maneuvered around by cranes, typically in constrained spaces. This was the only way to earn the client’s confidence in the early days. However, the advent of simulation tools is gradually eliminating this tedious process.

“In the design phase, these new simulation tools are increasingly employed for design reviews. They offer the advantage of providing a more accessible and interactive medium to move around with the ROV, making it easier to showcase and understand designs, rather than trying to explain static images.”

Key features for subsea access checks

PaleBlue CEO, Felix Gorbatsevich, elaborated on how simulators are revolutionizing access checks and design reviews:

“Simulators have been transforming this field for a number of years now, mainly in design reviews and access checks,” Gorbatsevich began. “The primary advantage of simulators lies in their efficiency and specialization over traditional CAD-based and hardware mock-up methods. They offer a specialized system for engineering and design reviews, which allows users to fly an ROV around the subsea structure, effectively executing operations like accessing interfaces and operating tools.

PaleBlue ROV Access Simulator – Real-time Access Checks – Image Credit: PaleBlue

“One notable feature is the ability to load subsea CAD models directly into the simulator. While CAD packages are excellent for designing 3D structures, they often fall short when it comes to efficiently navigating through these models or operating within them. Simulators address this gap, offering the ability to perform realistic operations on the actual 3D data.

“Another crucial factor is the ROV controls. While an ROV pilot simulator strives to replicate the actual controls used for piloting the ROV, an engineering simulator aims for efficiency and speed. The goal is to accomplish the task as quickly and efficiently as possible, ideally with cost-effective ROV control methods.”

Gorbatsevich pointed out:

The ability to control the ROV, its manipulator arms, and the peripheral devices is paramount. The simulator also needs to take into account certain physics involved in steering the ROV, such as landing it on various structures and accounting for underwater current-induced drift.

“Interface checks, which involve the use of manipulators and various types of clamps to access different kinds of valves and interfaces, require a simulator that accurately models the physics of these interactions.”

Ultimately, Gorbatsevich proposed that: “an ROV access check simulator lies somewhere between a CAD package and an ROV piloting simulator. It combines the best of both worlds, optimized for design reviews and access checks. However, it typically would not include features such as limited view distance or atmospheric effects as they aren’t relevant in an engineering simulator.”

PaleBlue ROV Access Simulator – Control ROV with Gamepad and Joystick – Image Credit: PaleBlue

In the next section of the webinar, Mr. Felix Gorbatsevich elaborated on the features of an ROV simulator:

Tether management was brought up as a significant aspect of ROV simulators.“Realistic tether management is crucial for simulating ROV movements through complex subsea environments and how they may interact with objects in the vicinity.

“Incorporating physics in the simulation is key to assigning realistic movements, collision volumes, and interaction limits to the model parts, enabling physical interaction within the simulated environment. The balance between the desired level of detail in physics and time commitment to setup is also crucial. This flexibility allows for task-specific adjustment of physics complexity, a feature that we deemed crucial for efficient operation.”

PaleBlue ROV Access Simulator – Tether Management – Image credit: PaleBlue

Gorbatsevich also underscored the importance of keyframes for documenting operations, facilitating repeatability, and saving future efforts.

“Another important feature is the ability to load and work natively with CAD models of subsea designs, update them with each design iteration, and report any access issues. Although he mentioned that model optimization is still necessary due to hardware limitations, built-in optimization features have become more prevalent, making processes faster and more efficient.”

Gorbatsevich concluded by explaining the importance of developing a system that runs on generic PC hardware and uses off-the-shelf gaming controls: “This allows for an efficient and quick system that doesn’t require expensive custom hardware or controls, making it an ideal solution for engineering tasks.”

Case Study: Aker Solutions using PaleBlue Simulator

In the final part of the webinar, Mr. Balkøy explained his experience of working with PaleBlue ROV access check simulator at Aker Solutions:

Balkøy started by mentioning:

“It’s crucial to treat the models as perishable items, necessitating swift action. Obtain the model, input it into the simulator, verify, and then report back to the designer for any modifications. This process, once a weeks-long endeavor, can now be executed in mere minutes. Throughout the design process, we often revisit and recheck the same model and interfaces multiple times. 

“This repetition led to the inception of the “keyframes” concept. It essentially captures a snapshot of the ROV arm positions and camera for a specific task. This eliminates the need for constant rechecks. Instead, you can simply refer to the keyframes, a function that saves us countless hours daily. Its brilliance extends beyond efficiency – the added ability to produce animations using it is a delightful bonus.

Next, Mr. Snorre Balkøy shared how PaleBlue’s ROV access check simulator made his job at Aker Solutions easier.

“Working with models now is a quick process. Traditionally, you needed to move fast to get the model, but in the simulator, you just have to put it in the simulator, check it, and give feedback to the designers. This is much faster than the old way of doing things, which took weeks.”

He also spoke about how designs often need to be checked over and over again:

“To make this easier, we used a feature called ‘keyframes’. This feature takes a picture of the ROV arm positions and camera for each task. So, instead of having to check each interface again, you just run it through the keyframes. This saves a lot of time each day.

“An added benefit of the keyframes feature is that it can be used to create animations. This has been a great bonus for the team.”

PaleBlue ROV Access Simulator – Smart Keyframes for verification – Image Credit: PaleBlue

The webinar concluded with Q&A and a discussion within the participant group.

PaleBlue and Aker Solutions would like to thank all the webinar participants for their interest and the views they expressed.

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About Felix Gorbatsevich
Dr. Felix Gorbatsevich is the co-founder and CEO of PaleBlue, a company producing simulators and training solutions. He has worked previously at technology and software companies, including Aker Solutions, MHWirth, Sun Microsystems, and small and medium enterprises in roles ranging from software engineer and systems architect to project manager and managing director. Now at PaleBlue, Gorbatsevich leads the development of 3D simulators and virtual reality solutions for PaleBlue’s clients, including Saudi Aramco, Neptune Energy and the European Space Agency. He holds a Ph.D. in computer science.

About Snorre Balkøy
Working at Aker Solutions in the ROV department for the last 12 years, Snorre Balkøy focuses on ensuring ROV access and operability of designs for the subsea market. He has led Aker’s ROV Access group for the last 10 years. Prior to working at Aker Solutions, Balkøy worked offshore for seven years, operating ROVs and working on AUVs and trenchers. He also has experience in the aviation industry as a system avionic for SAS and later for the Royal Norwegian Air Force. He studied system avionics and dynamic web design.

About PaleBlue
PaleBlue is a VR technology company, which has established a unique set of capabilities within 3D, VR, and multi-user experiences, used in simulation training environments. The company builds on a 20+ years experience track of building 3D and training simulation systems for the energy industry, including crane training, underwater robot simulators, drilling operation simulators, and more.

About Aker Solutions
Aker Solutions delivers integrated solutions, products, and services to the global energy industry. Aker Solutions enables low-carbon oil and gas production and develops renewable solutions to meet future energy needs. By combining innovative digital solutions and predictable project execution, the company accelerates the transition to sustainable energy production.