Interest is surging in offshore energy industries in using remote survey technologies for more cost-efficient, safer, and lower-carbon certification, verification and inspection of assets and operations. Amid COVID-19 travel restrictions throughout most of 2020, and over the last three quarters alone, DNV has conducted thousands of remote surveys in the oil and gas sector to give supply chains the assurance they need to keep projects and operations running safely and on schedule.
Remote surveys involve fixed and mobile cameras (e.g. smartphones) giving customers instant access to DNV experts worldwide and are applicable for many of our services such as verification, certification, inspections and marine assurance.
For Nautec, remote survey became the lifeline to keep on track with deadlines for the planned launch of a new product. The Singapore-based company develops and provides advanced cement and composite grouts used worldwide for installing or requalifying offshore assets for the oil and gas and wind power industries. Its products have been used in over 100 offshore projects primarily in South East Asia, India, the Middle East and Gulf of Mexico, where operational temperatures often exceed 35°C.
The last mile to commercial launch within tight deadlines
To compliment its ultra-high strength product NaX® Q140-E, which already carried DNVGL-OS-C502 Type Approval Certification, Nautec had developed NaX® Q110-E. The new product is a highly flowable silo storage and auger transfer compliant product with a rapid strength development, yet with a high flow retention for application in elevated temperature regimes up to 40 °C. The unique fresh properties, which cater for fast material deployment, and a characteristic compressive strength of 126.5 MPa (75 mm cubes) makes NaX® Q110-E an extraordinarily strong contender for installation of offshore structures both within the Oil and Gas market and the offshore wind market according to Nautec.
With these benefits to pitch to customers, Nautec wanted to launch Q110-E commercially, and required Type Approval Certification (TAC) based on DNV Standard DNV-ST-C502 Offshore concrete structures. This standard provides principles, technical requirements, and guidelines for design, construction, and in-service inspection for both floating and ground-supported structures.
Nautec needed to achieve TAC for Q110-E within tight timescales to meet its business plans and commitments. COVID-19 threatened to derail this timetable as pandemic-related restrictions meant DNV experts could not travel to witness testing and conduct inspections.
Remote survey keeps technology approval on track
To keep the TAC process on track, DNV worked with Nautec by using remote survey. Our facilities in St. John’s, Newfoundland, Canada, and in Oslo, Norway, acted as the project back-offices, with DNV technical experts directing camera operations for remote inspection and witnessing in Malaysia, Mexico, and Singapore (Figure 1), coordinated by a local office DNV surveyor who was on site to witness the various laboratory tests and mock-up trials.
Figure 1: 12 days, five countries and one accomplished deadline aided by remote survey
Smart cameras livestreaming images and video to experts at various distant locations were operated mainly by DNV surveyors. Where international travel restrictions prevented our surveyors doing this, we trained local engineering experts to handle camera operations while being guided by the experts online. For example, the client's personnel conducted the livestreaming from their factory in Malaysia for one of the post-trial inspections.
The remote survey project setup and secure data transfer allowed DNV to witness laboratory testing of materials at standard and high temperatures in Singapore. In Malaysia, we inspected the Nautec grout production facility; witnessed a silo transfer trial for bulk stored/transported grout; inspected low-temperature thick annulus testing of the grout; and, witnessed thin annulus testing and a pumpability test at high temperatures. In Mexico, we validated a batching equipment demonstration for Nautec's silo feed, batch mixing grout spread.
New way of working allows for more flexibility and supports relationships
The project for Nautec included approximately 12 survey-days utilizing the remote inspection solution between May and September 2020. For context, a TAC process for a previous NAUTEC grout involved assigning a DNV expert from Norway to work for two weeks in Malaysia.
“Time savings are among the benefits of remote survey,” said Ole Martin Hauge, Senior Engineer DNV supporting the project from Norway. “Avoiding travel and accommodation requirements cuts those costs and reduces carbon emissions.”
He added that despite the lack of physical meetings, the project showed that through instant and simultaneous online availability of several experts, regardless of their location, the TAC process allowed for closer dialogue with the customer. “This allows us to respond flexibly and rapidly to needs that can arise during TAC projects, and supports better relationships,” Hauge observed.
Although inviting customers to participate in a remote survey session is not a prerequisite for TAC, DNV included Nautec. This allowed the client's senior personnel to witness the work, as they were also unable to travel themselves due to COVID-19 restrictions. A further benefit was that it meant senior Nautec employees could witness the test and give input to resolve any issues as they came up. Underlining the point about flexibility, the test in Mexico was arranged at short notice when the need for it became clear; this suited the client's schedule, and the necessary equipment was also there.
“This illustrates that when additional needs arise during a project, it may be possible to respond by arranging a remote survey rather than sending out a surveyor again,” explained John O`Malley, Principal Engineer DNV, who was coordinating and executing the remote survey work from Canada.
“The flexible approach working across various time zones underpinned with remote access technology adopted by DNV was the key enabler for Nautec to get its new product to market on schedule” said Nautec VP for Offshore Projects, Louren Woof.
“Managing to issue the TAC certification before the end of 2020 in the midst of a global pandemic, was a real achievement and in a fast-moving, competitive market could make all the difference.” Woof ads.
Here to stay
Reflecting on the work with Nautec and other customers, O`Malley concluded: “It has shown that remote survey can be effective and reliable for many applications. Inspection visits may still be needed after COVID-19 restrictions relax or end. Mock-ups can be large and complex, for example, and may require inspectors to be physically present during the TAC process. However, some customers who have opted for remote survey during the pandemic tell us they think the approach is here to stay and could or should become the new normal once COVID-19 restrictions end.”