Game-Changing Pipe Inspection Robot Nears Completion

New Technology Brings Wireless Capability to Pipe Cleaning, Analysis

How much thought do you give to the act of turning on a faucet and having water immediately available? What about pressing the handle at the gas pump and instantly fueling your vehicle? Few people consider the complex pipe architecture that makes our world possible — and the inherent obstacles that architecture creates. One current Houston Mechatronics project aims to tackle such roadblocks head-on.

In 2016 our crew began working alongside a valued client to improve pipe inspection and cleaning processes for large industrial plants. Pipes in these particular applications require periodic cleaning as well as pipe integrity testing. Current practices require either manual inspections at a few external points, or robotic tools to carry out their work inside pipes while remaining tethered to an outside unit. After navigating a few pipe bends, tether cords begin to build up drag and large forces prohibit further progress. Our team’s goal was to, quite literally, cut the cord on those setbacks.

We set out to create a wireless pipe inspection solution that could navigate every twist and turn. The finished product would ideally gauge not only whether the structure had been properly cleaned, but could measure pipe wall thickness along the way, while locating any defects or fractures.

With a team of roboticists working at breakneck pace, our company unveiled the first prototype just a few short weeks after launching the project, and has continued rocking and rolling in the months that followed. The current iteration boasts a camera that can stream visual data live, allowing personnel to identify issues as the bot traverses the pipe. A fine-tuned sensor also provides real-time thickness measurements from inside the pipe — a massive improvement from current practices which require companies to measure from outside the pipe.

Our first production-level pipe inspection robot is under development now, and we expect it to reach completion this spring. Still, it is a process. As we continue our prototype endeavor, the robot’s iterations are changing less and less, and we are converging on a solution we are confident will change the way companies tackle such pipe processes.

The sky’s the limit when it comes to ways we can incorporate such technology into oil and gas, municipal pipes and other specialties. As it turns out, there is a lot of piping infrastructure in our modern world. It is gratifying to see such groundbreaking innovation come together, and to know our team spearheaded the change.