It’s November and you are looking forward to wandering the aisles at the annual International WorkBoat Show (IWBS) to be held in New Orleans, Nov. 29 to Dec. 1. But this year, after leaving your hotel, there will be an additional incentive when walking up to the Morial Convention Center, home of the WorkBoat Show.
Yes, there will be the show’s 700-plus exhibitors and plenty of time for networking, viewing, and learning of the latest technologies being displayed, but this year there’s a new component — Underwater Intervention (UI).
LOOK OUT BELOW
While the primary operating mode of workboats is cutting through the surface of rivers, oceans and lakes, the focus of Underwater Intervention is “all about getting things done underwater, from shallow inland waterways, infrastructure inspection and remediation, to full ocean-depth exploration, and everything in between,” said Bob Christ, president, Seatrepid International, a robotics solution company in Robert, La.
The first Underwater Intervention show took place in 1993 in San Diego. It combined the ROV (Remotely Operated Vehicle) Conference and the Association of Diving Contractors International (ADCI) Underwater Conference. That continued until 2021 when Covid-19 intervened, and the Underwater Intervention show was put on hold until 2022. That's when UI officials met with IWBS staff and Underwater Intervention was added to the 2023 WorkBoat Show.
“There’s a lot of synergy between the WorkBoat Show and Underwater Intervention. We think it’s a great fit,” said Chuck Richards of CA Richards & Associates, Houston, co-chairman of Underwater Intervention.
That explains the current IWBS floorplan with Underwater Intervention set up in a dedicated pavilion with 57 exhibitors. It will be next to the WorkBoat Show’s registration booth.
“For those who don’t normally attend the WorkBoat Show, they will have a chance to see the latest trends and technology shaping the workboat industry,” said Steve Pratt, of J.F. Brennan Co., a marine construction firm in La Crosse, Wis., explaining the obvious relationship between the two shows. “Everything that happens underwater requires a boat topside,” he said.
WorkBoat Show attendees unfamiliar with the technology employed below the water’s surface will have their own learning experience.
“They will see some very interesting technology,” said Steve Struble, diving consultant and the show’s commercial diving track co-chairman. “Everything from the latest diving equipment to ROVs and underwater imaging systems.”
Those same technologies will be the focus of panel discussions, along with the current state-of-the-art technology in manned submersibles.
Regarding unmanned submersibles, ROVs are a good example of how underwater technology has evolved over the past 10 years. ROVs used to be an underwater tool designed primarily for “big industrial customers and the military,” and for a single inspection or engineering task, said Struble.
Those ROVs were “very, very customized,” said Peter Schubert with Poseidon Robotics, Chandler, Ariz. They were designed for a single project and very expensive. Now, with lower-cost manufacturing techniques — anodized aluminum, plastics, and even 3D printed parts instead of titanium, the cost is reduced. ROVs generally range in size from under a pound to eight to nine tons. Though it’s the “smaller and medium-size systems where the industry is really going,” said Schubert.
Poseidon Robotics has three systems, 30 lbs., 60 lbs. and 100 lbs. “We try taking what is tried and true on the bigger systems and put it into smaller systems,” Schubert said. The smaller ROVs are generally used for inspections: “anywhere you would put in a diver with a camera.” A good example is a vessel’s offshore mooring where the ROV checks to see that the anchor is set. Poseidon recently sold an ROV to Walt Disney Cruise Lines, which uses it when anchoring at smaller islands.
ROVs are often used in place of a diver “for checking hulls for drugs or damages,” said Schubert, “and inspecting anodes and propellers. They’ll stay down there for days working. A diver’s not needed.”
A diver also demands backup, a standby diver, dive supervisor and/or a dive medic on the boat. With an ROV, “there’s almost no insurance cost and no risk to life,” Schubert said. A Poseidon Robotic ROV, like the one shown on the back of the boat, is pretty easy to take with you, as it fits in a checked luggage size suit case. This ROV measures 22"x14" and 12" tall.
Despite the ROV’s versatility, there are plenty of underwater situations where a diver is the preferred choice, even though the commercial diving industry historically has come with a high level of risk and fatalities, though. Those numbers have gone down as sectors of the diving industry, such as oil and gas, have stepped in with safeguards to control diving companies.
DIVER SAFETY CODE
Diver safety will be the subject of a talk on Dec. 1 at 11 a.m. by Anthony Greenwood, CEO of Diving Safety Management Services, Kingwood, Texas. The focus is the revised IMO Diver Safety Code, which comes into effect Jan. 1, 2024.
Currently, the IMO commercial diving code is not an operational document, rather, it addresses the suitability of diving equipment that’s placed on vessels. Safety is the focus of the newly revised IMO Diver Safety Code, which mandates that commercial diving operations have Occupational Health & Safety management systems focusing on the risks of occupational diving. It’s not just diving equipment anymore, but safety management and operational practices.
The talk will be about “the expectation of aligning diving companies and vessel owners to the new safety management system requirements of the new IMO code,” Greenwood said. Currently, some diving contractors own and operate their vessels, while others charter vessels and contract diving service providers to come aboard. Thus part of the Dec. 1 discussion “will be about getting vessels to adhere to the code,” Greenwood said, allowing vessel owners and operators to “adequately adapt safety management systems to diving operations.”
That’s not just for on-deck operations and equipment. It includes additional equipment, such as setting up a vessel’s dynamic position system to accommodate divers in the water, as “certain systems are not suitable to be used when you have manned diving taking place,” Greenwood said.
Adhering to the code might also require dramatically altering a vessel’s emergency response plan for evacuating divers when you need to leave a vessel. For example, a diver in a decompression chamber can’t be removed from the chamber for a specific period of time.
The Diver Safety Code will also influence all classification societies that have rules for diving operations and diving equipment. “They will update and harmonize their rules with the new IMO code,” Greenwood said. Then there’s “the trickle-down effect” that will be discussed: how states adapt and how classification societies change their standards.
As an example of the underwater-imaging systems that Struble referred to, which will be needed for underwater salvage, construction and monitoring work, is Coda Octopus Products, Orlando, Fla. The company is bringling its Echoscope line of 3D sonars to Underwater Intervention this year.
The Echoscope sonar can display real-time 3D images of underwater scenes with high-resolution maps and bathymetry data. Another mode shows “imaging of moving objects underwater in full 3D,” said Coda Octopus Product's Blair Cunningham, division CEO and president of technology. “This is critical for all salvage, construction and monitoring and support applications.” Both modes can be operated simultaneously in real time.
Echoscope 3D sonars can be used as a single sensor solution for salvation work, from locating and identifying the target to monitoring the salvation operation to a final map of the bottom area post-salvage.