Smart Machines & Factories
industrial consortium commences field trials for low-cost, sustainable inspection in hazardous environments
Published:  30 June, 2021

Electrocomponents' Project Nautilus has entered the validation phase of its highly innovative inspection robotic platform developed for non-destructive testing (NDT) on storage tanks used in the petrochemical industry.

NautilUS 2 is a 12-month extension to the three-year project, enabling it to move forward from the initial phase of development and testing to the delivery of a commercially viable product based on the underlying technology. Field trials are now taking place on 10 water tanks in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) conducted by project partner Sonomatic, a leading oil and gas exploration service provider, which is supplying the NDT sensor and service. Two further consortium partners are providing remote support during this second phase, with project lead Electrocomponents responsible for fulfilling delivery, and InnoTecUK providing the robotics platform.

Oil and fuel storage facilities require a robust and reliable infrastructure and regular inspection is critical to ensure that tanks are fit for purpose. Existing inspection methods often result in storage tanks being taken out of service to be drained and inspected for corrosion, which is hazardous, time consuming and costly work.

However, one answer to this problem is a small robot that can monitor and plot its own position while carrying out inspections. The nautilUS robot uses active real-time remote controls to move around a tank and an ultrasound probe to take measurements of floor thinning. It then records data regarding location for post-processing following retrieval of the robot. The robot’s design also offers the smallest possible footprint to allow entry to liquid storage tanks via small manholes.

“The project has now been extended by a further 12 months, supported by additional funding from this innovative industrial consortium, which brings together complementary skillsets from many different companies and organisations in the UK,” said Mike Burrows, Senior Innovation Adviser at Electrocomponents.

“We are excited to see the project deliver proof of concept and move to the next stage in its evolution with field trials and possible commercialisation. The platform and the NDT inspection devices have gained significant interest from more than 60 operators and inspection companies. Additionally, we believe the platform will not only prove to be of significant value to the petrochemical industry, but also will open up many opportunities for the reuse of the technologies being deployed in the robotics and in the system.”

Project Nautilus is a UK-based consortium championed by several leading global companies and institutions, which started working together in February 2018 to design and develop multi-million-pound certified non-destructive testing (NDT). Co-funded by Innovate UK, the full consortium includes InnoTecUK, London South Bank University, Sonomatic, and TWI. In addition, the Quality Functional Deployment (QFD) model for the project was developed via RS Monition, Electrocomponents’ maintenance engineering specialist service.

The Nautilus project’s initial three-year development programme began in February 2018, and the prototype robot undertook its very first oil tank inspection in an industrial environment in the summer of 2020, achieving successful proof of concept for the project.

In addition to activities carried out by the project members, Electrocomponents’ DesignSpark engineering platform has been part of the multidisciplinary team throughout the project. Project Nautilus is detailed is this article: and further information about the field trials is available at: