Autonomous or Remotely-operated Maintenance of Ships’ Tanks
Navy SBIR 2014.1 - Topic N141-042
NAVSEA - Mr. Dean Putnam - [email protected]
Opens: Dec 20, 2013 - Closes: Jan 22, 2014

N141-042 TITLE: Autonomous or Remotely-operated Maintenance of Ships’ Tanks


ACQUISITION PROGRAM: Cross Platform Systems Development (CPSD), R&D program

OBJECTIVE: The objective is to develop an innovative system that can autonomously or remotely perform the tasks of cleaning, inspecting and maintaining ship’s tanks.

DESCRIPTION: The U.S. Navy spends considerable resources on the inspection and maintenance of ships’ tanks. Currently, inspection and maintenance of tanks must be done manually. At this time, there are no known, existing systems that can meet all requirements. The Autonomous Maintenance Robot (AMR) is software developed to inspect the B-52 wing fuel tanks that has obstacle avoidance and route planning, but the robot does not have all the necessary detachments or software to complete all the tank maintenance tasks (Ref 1). The Robotic Hull Bio-mimetic Underwater Grooming system (Hull BUG) is an underwater robot used to clean a ship’s hull; however, it does not have the capability to maneuver around a confined, complex space such as a tank. It also doesn’t have the capability to perform many of the maintenance tasks both in regards to tools for the robot or software (Ref 2). The robot designed for unsupervised grit-blasting of ship hulls (Ref 3) which latches on to the ship hull through magnets can perform the task of de-coating, but lacks the capability to perform the other maintenance tasks, perform the tasks in a tank, or enter a tank.

This system development of this robot will require innovation that combines spatial navigation, gripping and stabilizing features, sensing capability, and ability to position and operate tools. These tanks are spaces of all shapes and sizes and often have very limited access. They may have contained hazardous materials such as kerosene and other fuels. The tanks may also present a slipping hazard due to slick surfaces. To allow human entry, certain tanks must first undergo time-consuming analysis for the presence of harmful gases. In all respects, these tanks present a challenging environment and serious safety concerns.

Periodically, tanks are opened and operations such as cleaning, de-rusting, de-coating, painting, and inspecting are performed within. The Navy is interested in automating these operations so as to minimize danger to personnel.

Ship tanks are typically constructed of steel, usually HY80 in surface ships or HY100 in submarines. However, tanks can also be constructed of aluminum. They may range in size from 100 cubic feet to 8000 cubic feet, but have no standard dimensions. Tanks may extend horizontally or vertically as much as 40 feet, and have curved surfaces. Internally, tanks are likely to contain ship structural members such as frames, bulkheads, piping, pipe hangers, cabling, ladders, and other features. These unusual configurations create inspection and maintenance challenges. A robotic system must be versatile to deal effectively with these varied landscapes.

Access to the ship’s tank is typically through a hatch at the top or side of the tank, usually 18 inches x 15 inches. The hatch is usually in a ship passageway several decks below the main deck. The passageway may be as narrow as 30 inches. Any proposed robotic maintenance equipment must be able to easily disassemble or collapse and be reassembled in confined spaces in order to perform the required inspection and maintenance tasks.

The autonomous or remotely operated system must be able to enter the tanks, perform some or all of the tasks currently performed manually (cleaning, de-rusting, de-coating, painting, and inspecting), and exit the tanks. The system must allow for transport by personnel through the ship to the tank access hatch.

PHASE I: The company will develop a concept for an autonomous or remotely operated system capable of remediating ship’s tanks that meet the requirements described above. The company will demonstrate the feasibility of the concept in meeting Navy needs and will establish that the concept can be feasibly developed into a useful product for the Navy. Feasibility will be established by assessing the risks involved in various system components and assessing the ability of the system to complete some or all of the maintenance tasks. The small business will provide a Phase II development plan that addresses technical risk reduction and provides performance goals and key technical milestones.

PHASE II: Based on the results of Phase I and the Phase II development plan, the small business will develop a prototype for evaluation. The prototype will be evaluated to determine its capability in meeting the performance goals defined in Phase II development plan and the Navy requirements for an autonomous or remotely operated system. The company will demonstrate system performance through the evaluation of the prototype in mock environments similar to what an autonomous or remotely operated system would encounter in various ship tanks. The company will use the evaluation results to refine the prototype into an initial design that will meet Navy requirements. The company will prepare a Phase III development plan to transition the technology to Navy use.

PHASE III: The company will be expected to support the Navy in transitioning the technology for Navy use. The company will develop an autonomous or remotely operated system for remediating ship tanks according to the Phase III development plan for evaluation to determine its effectiveness in an operationally relevant environment. The company will support the Navy for test and validation to certify and qualify the system for Navy use. A manual of the system capabilities and limitations will need to be created to ensure appropriate use of the system.

PRIVATE SECTOR COMMERCIAL POTENTIAL/DUAL-USE APPLICATIONS: Autonomous or remotely operated systems that could remediate ship tanks would not only be of great use to the Navy, but also to commercial ships, especially large ships with many tanks. Commercial ships are also required to remediate their tanks throughout the life of the vessel. A system that can accomplish some or all tank maintenance tasks can save time and money, as well as enhance crew safety.

1. Krasny, Darren P. "The Autonomous Maintenance Robot (AMR) for Confined Space Maintenance Applications." Naval Engineers Proceedings for Fleet Maintenance & Modernization Symposium. Sept 2012. <>.

2. "Robotic Hull Bio-Mimetic Underwater Grooming." November 2010, Office of Naval Research. April 2013 <>

3. Souto, Daniel, Andres Faina, Alvaro Diebe, Fernando Lopez-Pena, and Richard Duro. "A Robot for the Unsupervised Grit-Blasting of Ship Hulls." International Journal of Advanced Robotic Systems. 20 June 2012. <>

KEYWORDS: Robotic maintenance of ship tanks; Ship Tank cleaning; Autonomous system for maintenance of ship tanks; Remotely operated system for maintenance of ship tanks; Cleaning, De-rusting, De-coating, Painting, and Inspecting tanks.

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