Subsea Expo

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Subsea Trials and Testing Boom Reported by Leading Training Centre

11 January 2012

The upturn in research indicates a growing confidence in the industry with an increase in contracts being awarded as well as the rapid expansion of the renewable industry.

Companies including Subsea Asset Location Technologies (SALT) Ltd, VerdErg, Subsea 7 and Nautronix and have all completed trials at The Underwater Centre in Fort William in recent months.

The Underwater Centre is a purpose built subsea training facility and is unique as it leases the seabed of Loch Linnhe surrounding the extensive pier complex, with waters plunging to depths of 150 metres. Incorporated in the facilities is also an indoor sea water tank.

VerdErg, specialist supplier of subsea diverless connectors, subsea structures and field architecture to the offshore energy industry, tested a gas pipeline thermal insulation system at the centre.

The trial involved heating a subsea pipe flange that had been insulated with a prototype VerdErg insulation system to a predetermined temperature, which was then allowed to cool for 24 hours whilst data logging tracked the temperature at a number of locations within the pipe.

Wainford Deeks, Lead Test and Analysis Engineer at VerdErg said: 'The purpose of the test was to see if the prototype behaved in the same way as our mathematical design models, which it successfully did.

'Following the successful completion of the trial the insulation is now to be used on a major new gas field in the North Sea.'

Wainford continues: 'We chose the Underwater Centre as it was the only open water facility that had all the facilities we required, either already in place, or with the ability to adapt existing facilities to suit our requirements.

'During the test we were most impressed with the flexible attitude of The Underwater Centre staff and the ability to sort problems quickly without hindering progress of the test, which was on a very tight timescale.'

Subsea 7, as part of its applied technology focus to provide reliable solutions for its clients, used the Centre's facilities at Loch Linhe to assess dimensional and volumetric changes in soft elastomer seals due to changes in water depths. A number of elastomer samples were also subjected to long term soak tests at depth. The final seal component was assembled in an 11Te structure and the whole structure was deployed at a specified water depth in Loch Linhe to check for system integrity and as part of the system Factory Acceptance Test.

John Mair , Subsea 7's Technology Development Director said: 'The Underwater Centre provided the project with diving support, planning, heavy lift and all other necessary means to conduct hyperbaric test at Loch Linhe within a short timescale and without the expenses of building a large diameter hyperbaric chambers or a full scale offshore deployment trial.'

Marine Technology solutions company, Nautronix, who are global leaders in through water communication and positioning technology for the offshore industry have also spent time at the Centre.

The NASNet® (Nautronix Acoustic Subsea Network) which is a similar system to GPS, provides a solution for all survey, drilling, construction and IRM operations, allowing an unlimited number of users on and below the surface to obtain precise navigational data.

As part of testing and ongoing system enhancements of the technology, they utilised The Underwater Centre's facilities by deploying a combination of NASNet® Stations and NASNet® MS's in the Centre's seabed area in Loch Linnhe.

Alan Buchan, NASNet® Systems Manager said: 'To continually improve and ensure the NASNet® system meets our customer requirements and be in a position to provide the acoustic positioning system of choice to the industry, Nautronix recognises the need to conduct and prove function via in-water operational representative trials.

'The sheltered, deepwater facilities offered by The Underwater Centre provide the opportunity for this to happen in an efficient, safe and controlled environment. Nautronix look forward to extending the relationship with The Underwater Centre for future trials.'

SALT Ltd, carried out a trial using the SonarBell® to mark a cable/pipeline at the Underwater Centre. This was then tracked by the Seaeye Falcon inspection ROV fitted with a Tritech SeaKing sonar. A line of twelve 100mm SonarBell® units and one 200mm unit, (tuned to the frequency of the sonar), were positioned along the bed of the loch.

The SonarBell® units were easily distinguished due to the high target strength, and the ROV operator was then able to track the pipeline using sonar alone without the need for visual clues.

The pipeline remains on the base of Loch, and is now being utilised within ROV pilot training. Andy Tulloch, CEO of SALT said 'We have developed a positive working relationship with the team at The Underwater Centre, who have enabled us to create and execute a very successful trial, which can be now be re-visited with clients when necessary.'

Steve Ham, General Manager at The Underwater Centre said: 'The facilities and support we offer are ideal for trials and are currently very much in demand.

'The unique environment, including sheltered sea loch, range of vessels, diving and ROV support means that we are able to offer highly realistic and industry relevant conditions for testing a variety of subsea technology.

'Another advantage we can offer to companies undertaking trials here is the unrivalled experience of our instructional and support staff, who have important knowledge of the loch and the local environment in general.

'We very much pride ourselves in offering a tailored approach to each individual trial which ensures each one is undertaken to the highest standard.'

The Underwater Centre also delivers a number of subsea training courses, such as Remotely Operated Vehicle (ROV) pilot technician training and also the internationally recognised HSE commercial diving courses. All of the Centre's courses are designed to equip students with the skills they will need to forge careers in the subsea industry.

The Centre's extensive pier complex includes four dive stations, classrooms, workshops and decompression chambers.

In addition to this, there are three fully equipped barges set up to support a variety of diving disciplines including closed bell, wet bell and surface supplied diving. With accommodation and additional classrooms based at the landward end of the pier, The Underwater Centre is set up to provide its students with the skills and experience to succeed in their new careers.