Hydraulics, from watermills to oil platforms


From watermills to oil platforms

Hydraulics is one of those technical sectors of activity which are both old and new at the same time. Take waterwheels for instance, people have been using them before even history was recorded. At the same time, the principle of using a liquid under pressure to transfer force and also to control complicated movements is relatively new, the last couple of centuries have seen it’s flourishing development since the modern age of industrialization. The hydraulics science known the fastest development in the last decades being also tightly correlated to the works made in the navy sector.

ROVs and the great depths

ROV Remotely Operated Vehicle

ROV comes from Remotely Operated Vehicle and has to be distinguished from Remote Control Vehicles which operate on land or in the air. ROVs are unoccupied, very maneuverable, operated by a crew aboard of a ship. They are linked to the ship by an umbilical cable, resistant to unfavorable weather conditions and great depths, often used together with TMS – Tether Management System.

TMS’s purpose is to extend/lengthen or shorten the umbilical cord, in order to cushion the force pulling of the water currents. Through the armored cable electrical conductors are applied and optical fibers which carry electrical energy, video and data signals between the operator and the TMS.

Once it has reached the ROV, the electrical energy is distributed between ROV’s components. Taking all this into account, in high-power applications, most of the electric power drives a high-power electric motor which drives a hydraulic pump. The hydraulic pump is then used for ignition and supply of equipment such as torque tools and handling arms, where electrical engines would be too hard to implement under the water.

Most ROV’s are equipped at least with a video camera and lights. Extra equipment can be included such as sonars, magnetometers, photo-camera, handling arms or cutting arms, measuring instruments for water clarity, temperature or density.

Technology evolution

US Navy financed most of the ROV technology development in the ‘60s. It was used for the rescue and recovery of items found at great depths, as the nuclear bombs lost in the Mediterranean Sea after the bomber aircraft B-52 crash in 1966, known as the “Palomares incident”.

The oil and liquefied gas industries have identified great potential in this project, so they have adapted it according to their own needs, creating a new ROV’s working class technology, which assisted the oil platforms development. In the 1980 the ROVs have become essential since most of the oil rig’s needs have definitely overpassed divers’ possibilities.

RMS Titanic ship wreck

The link between ROV and RMS Titanic ?

After the global economic recession started in the mod ‘80s, once the oil price dropped, the ROV industry development accelerated. Nowadays the ROVs can perform multiple tasks in numerous sectors. Their tasks may vary from a simple inspection of the submarine structures, pipes and platforms, till the connection of the pipes and placing the needed varieties under the water. They are used extensively in under water construction initiation and further repairing and maintenance.

Main ROV types are: military, scientific, educational and commercial. The submersible ROVs have been used for historical ship wrecks location, such as RMS Titanic, Bismarck, USS Yorktown, SS Central America , but also for recovering materials form the ocean floor and bringing them to the surface. While most ROVs are used in the oil and gas industry, other have found their use in the military for de-mining and inspection and science for ocean exploration.

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