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UK-based Forth Engineering is developing a repair robot which operates from within flowing pipelines.

The Friction Stir Welding Robotic Crawler, known as FSWBot, will be capable of safely repairing pipelines from inside without shutting off the pipeline. Friction stir welding involves a tool rotating along a join between surfaces to create welding temperatures, meaning no sparks are produced. This allows the bot to join metal when submerged in oil.

FSWBot will consist of five or six joined segments, one containing the welding technology and patch dispenser and the others carrying systems for navigation, control, communications and non-destructive testing.

The machine travels from the point of production using pipeline flow. Once in the relevant section, the FSWBot moves slowly to position the welding segment over the defect. Milling tools cut away corroded areas before the machine dispenses a steel patch and welds it on. A small turbine can recharge the machine from passing flow as it works.

Project manager Peter Routledge said: “We have had interest from different sectors from a range of countries, including from Saudi Arabia, America, Canada, France and Spain. It is creating interest in the oil, water, waste, recycling and renewables industries, all looking at how they could apply it to make them more efficient.

“We have pipeline manufacturers looking at it, and also the steel industry to see if there’s a way they can replace traditional techniques with this technology. We are also looking at a vertical application, in addition to the horizontal method of deployment.”

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The company said it may use similar technology in other pipelines or fuel storage.

Forth Engineering is head of a consortium developing the project, which includes The Welding Institute, Joining 4.0 Innovation Centre, Innvotek and London South Bank University.

The company first publically showed the project last November, and it is currently at a conference in Amsterdam. It will also be shown in Kyoto, Japan, in May, and is due for completion by January 2021.