Design Solutions

The modern oil industry has been in existence since 1859 but for a long time all oil exploration and production was onshore. When the oil industry moved offshore, the industry had to deal with a much more hostile and challenging environment than it had before. This brought with it many design and engineering challenges.

Deep-sea divers have been working in the oil industry since the 1960s.

Oil platforms and pipelines in the sea have to be regularly inspected and maintained. Divers do some of this work. The suits used by divers 100 years ago to inspect the harbour look very different to the ones used in the oil and gas industry today. The North Sea is very cold all year round. If you were to fall in you could die from the cold even if you could swim. Divers' suits are designed to keep them warm. The suit is flooded with hot water through a hose (or umbilical) from the diving support ship. Divers have to wear tanks of oxygen and helium on their backs. They can breathe the gas through a facemask and this means they can stay underwater for a long time. The diver also wears boots or flippers and weights that help to keep them on the bottom of the sea.

In deeper waters, divers not only have to carry gas and be protected against the cold, they also have to be protected from the pressure of the water above them. In other words they have to be protected from the weight of all the water that is above them. A diving suit called the newt suit was developed to protect divers from this weight of water so they could work in deeper water. The suit is made of very strong metal. It is a bit like a one-man submarine. The diver can work inside the suit and move underwater using small propellers on the backpack. An umbilical with gas and a telephone line connects the diver to the ship.

Diving is a dangerous job, and some underwater jobs are just not suitable for people to do at all. ROVs work in places that are too dangerous for divers and can stay underwater for a long time.

There are many 'remotely operated vehicles' (or ROV for short) in the North Sea. These are small robot submarines that are controlled by people onboard a ship. The museum has an ROV called Scorpio. It has two TV cameras, lights and a mechanical arm. Scorpio can move underwater in any direction its pilot wants. It can look at machinery and pipes on the seabed and even turn taps on and off. They have been used to look at shipwrecks including the famous Titanic.

Newt Suit Remotely Operated Vehicle RCV225 Scorpio ROV

Activities

Look for the Newt Suit in the Oil and Gas timeline. Imagine what it would be like to be in the suit and explore underwater. How much do you think you could see through mask? How easy do you think it would be to move about in it?

Look at the two remotely operated vehicles shown above. Design your own underwater vehicle. What kind of gadgets would you build into it to help explore underwater?

Look for the modern 1980s Divers Suit and the 1900s Divers Suit and Boots in the timelines. Compare them. What is different and what is the same?