060 – “Hull Crawling Robots”

Author: Shane Comer
Company: Portsmouth Naval Shipyard
Phone: (207) 752-6608
Email: shane.comer@navy.mil

Overhaul and modernization of submarines is an inherently dangerous and difficult task. Portsmouth Naval Shipyard has worked in partnership with a small business (International Climbing Machines) to revolutionize various work processes using robotics technology. The hull climbing machines take the human out of harm’s way by providing an autonomous, interchangeable platform to execute functions such as tile removal, blast and paint, cleaning, surveying and more. While still in its early stages these units have been deployed on various hulls and performed experimental tasks.

When discussing a safety example in particular, to remove certain types of tile from the submarine we use very high-pressure water jets to blast it off the underlying metal hull. This is performed with a person holding a lance and maintaining control to blast the tile away. No matter how much personal protective gear one wears, there is risk of losing control and injuring oneself, which has actually happened before.

Using a robot instead to perform this work, we have fully mitigated the risk to personnel by moving them outside of any potential harm from a dangerous blast of water. When discussing an efficiency example in particular, we cite the job of surveying the dry dock floor. This task generally takes a team of multiple people multiple days to hand mark (crouching to the floor) and survey for contamination. With a hull crawling robot modified for crawling the floor, this may be accomplished with one person in a much shorter time frame, in a far more ergonomically friendly manner utilizing a remote control. While much remains to be discovered and trialed in the usage of these robots, we are well on our way to a safer and more productive work environment using this technology.