A Deeply Impressive Bit of Kit; World’s Biggest Subsea Robot

By Tony Henderson

HISTORY repeated itself yesterday as a subsea company unveiled the latest pioneering piece of Tyneside technology.

SMD, a leading designer and maker of specialised underwater robot vehicles, is setting up a new base at the Turbinia works site at Davy Bank in Wallsend, which will be officially opened on April 25.

This is where, from 1898, the steam turbine inventor Sir Charles Parsons worked on his engines and Turbinia, then the fastest boat afloat.

Yesterday SMD loaded UT1 (Ultra Trencher 1), a remote controlled submersible robot (ROV), on to a ship for delivery to CTC Marine Projects. The pounds 10m machine will be the world’s largest ROV which is capable of self propelling and supporting its own weight in water.

Weighing 50 tonnes and the size of small house, it is designed to bury largediameter oil and gas pipelines laid on the ocean floor.

It does this by “flying” down up to a mile deep below the surface using powerful propellers.

It then lands over the pipeline and deploys a pair of “jet swords” either side of the pipe which inject high pressure water to “fluidise” the surface. Burying the pipelines protects them from fishing, shipwrecks and natural currents. This enables oil and gas to be safely transported from the offshore fields to land to provide secure energy supplies.

There is an extensive network of pipelines across the North Sea enabling gas to be exported to countries such as the UK, Germany and other places from the oil-rich areas such as Norway and, in the future, Russia.

SMD, founded in 1980 by Newcastle University lecturer Alan Reece, works with fuel pipelines, telecommunications, subsea mining and offshore windfarm renewable energy fields.

In 2005 SMD, which is moving from its base in Walker, Newcastle, employed 40 people and had an annual turnover of pounds 10m. Last year the workforce was 150 and the turnover pounds 40m.

Of the giant ROV, Mr Jones said: “This is a step change in technology to put this kind of high power in deep water.

“There is a lot of development in oil and gas, in looking for more and more new fields and getting the most out of existing fields, and there is a big subsea sector in the North East.”

Darlington company CTC, which specialises in subsea trenching and installation of pipelines and cables, will deploy its new ROV worldwide and next month is due to take delivery of a sophisticated subsea rock trenching machine from SMD.

CTC head of marketing Fiona Duckworth said: “The new ROV will be the most powerful machine in its class.”

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