National Grid Gas Transmission is unlocking powerful robotic potential with its ground-breaking GRAID project. Tamsin Kashap examines how the technology fits into the wider world of robotics and the benefits a high-tech future can have for our customers.
Rise of the robots
"We believe the technology can bring significant benefits and we want to deliver the best value to customers and stakeholders from the investment that we make."
Tamsin Kashap, National Grid’s Gas Transmission Innovation Manager.
The GRAID project should save the business around £58m over 20 years and reduce CO2 emissions by around 2,145 tonnes a year.
Source: National Grid.
Robots have always captured the human imagination. From ancient Greek texts that raised the concept of mechanical servants to modern-day chess robots, space probes and machines that can clean our homes, robots excite and mystify us in equal measure.
Modern devices have come a long way since the early days of robotic innovation, when robots seemed to be the stuff of science fiction. We’ve now come to casually accept their presence in our lives. The toaster pops up on its own or our car starts at the press of a button, and we think no more about it.
But robotic innovation, whether in the energy sector or outside it, has a fascinating history in which bright ideas have been backed by big investment to solve complex problems.
Champion of technology
National Grid is a real champion of robotic technology. With much of our infrastructure existing underground, robotics provide us with the opportunity to complete vital jobs on the network that would have previously involved excavation, expense and disruption to our customers. The rise of the robots certainly has the potential to benefit our customers and stakeholders.
The history of robotics makes fascinating reading. Innovations like Joseph Marie Jacquard’s automated loom and General Motors’ industrial robot Unimate revolutionised the world of industry. And with the rapid growth in computer power, digital sensors and high-bandwidth communications, robots are now improving at a phenomenal rate. An exciting future lies ahead.
Our business has been embracing robotic technology for a number of years now. We believe the technology can bring significant benefits and we want to deliver the best value to customers and stakeholders from the investment that we make.
National Grid has two exciting robotics projects that are well under way in the Gas Distribution area of our business, called Tier One Replacement System (TORS) and Prism.
TORS’ objective is to develop a robotic platform that can make service-to-mains connections without the need for excavations. Once operational, the robot will locate where the newly inserted service to each property needs to connect to the newly inserted main and then make the connection between them without excavation. It’s an outstanding achievement of science and design.
The Prism project is also breaking new ground in how we replace ageing gas pipes. The technology creates a new pipe with a life of up to 50 years by blowing a polymer inside an existing pipe. First, a robot is sent into the old redundant gas mains to map the joint to each customer’s service pipe before the polymer is applied using a stream of air.
Both of these are in development and, if successful, will reduce time, cost and reduce disruption for our customers and stakeholders using the road network.
Raising the bar
Our new GRAID (Gas Robotic Agile Inspection Device) project will raise the bar even higher and solve a very challenging problem for our business – how to get accurate information about the condition of below ground pipework at our high-pressure gas installations.
Our business already has excellent information on our network of 5,000 gas pipelines. We use a combination of in-line inspection (using pipeline inspection gauges – or PIGs) and cathodic protection to ensure our pipes are safe, secure and that gas is flowing reliably around the network. However, we don’t have such reliable information about our high-pressure gas installations.
But that’s about to change. At the end of last year, the GRAID project was awarded £5.7m funding as a result of the Network Innovation Competition (NIC), the annual event which allows all Network Licensees to compete for a share of £18m.
We’ll now move forward to design and build a revolutionary robot that can undertake the difficult inspection of these high-pressure pipelines. The robots will be under tremendous pressure. In fact, they’ll travel through underground pipe work at pressures 50 times higher than is possible with current techniques. It equates to five times the maximum pressure experienced underwater by a submarine.
By accurately assessing the condition of buried pipes – and avoiding the need for complex, deep excavations – it will mean we only replace assets when absolutely necessary. This should save the business around £58m over 20 years and reduce CO2 emissions by around 2,145 tonnes a year.
The funding is a huge stepping stone in helping us bring a high-value innovation out of the science lab and into use across our business. It’s a great example of our continued commitment to innovation across Gas Transmission and we’re proud to be at the forefront of such exciting innovation.
[The project has moved on since this article. Read the latest GRAID article here.]