Ebara Environmental Plant Co., Ltd., a world leader in the field of waste treatment, and HiBot, a hi-tech venture dedicated to developing robots for infrastructure inspection, have successfully concluded field tests of a new robotic system developed for the autonomous and continuous measurement of wall thickness in boiler pipes.
 
At Ebara’s waste treatment plants, boilers are used to regenerate the heat that results from the treatment processes. Those boilers contain water pipes that may suffer from corrosion and wear over time. For Ebara, it is very important to measure the thickness of the pipes regularly in order to quantify the wear.
 
However, the water pipes of a boiler are small. The current inspection method consists of cutting the pipes from the boiler and then inserting small probes that are able to measure the metal thickness from inside the pipe. Cutting the pipes and then soldering them back to the boiler are very time-consuming steps, which Ebara has been trying to simplify.
 
At the same time, HiBot, famous for its compact robots that are able to move and inspect confined spaces, had been developing a new system for inspection of very small pipes. Ebara and HiBot agreed to co-develop a mobile robot for inspection of boiler pipes that would be able to measure pipe thickness continuously from inside, thus eliminating the need to cut the pipes for inspection.
 
Pipe Robot  Prototype during tests 
Boiler pipe inspection robot (left) and inspection probe entering one pipe during laboratory tests (right)
 
This robot contains a measurement probe equipped with several ultra-sound transducers. During the field trial, the robot entered the head drum from the inspection hole and moved inside the drum until reaching the water pipes to be inspected. At those points, the robot inserted the measurement probe in the water pipe. The field trial confirmed the capability of the system to measure the pipe thickness from inside in a continuous and stable manner.
 
“The ability to enter boilers from the head drum and to perform continuous inspection of the water pipes is a major milestone in this field”, mentioned Michele Guarnieri, HiBot’s CEO. “The next step is to enable AI-based data processing and visualization, in line with our efforts to establish predictive maintenance of infrastructure.”