Founded in 2001, ULC Technologies develops and deploys robotic systems, unmanned aerial systems, machine learning applications, and inspection technology for use in energy, utility, and industrial sectors through its Robotics division. ULC helps utility and energy industry companies repair and maintain their pipelines and infrastructure with innovative robotic solutions and inspection services.
ULC develops robots to perform specific services for clients, such as a modular snake-like, segmented inline robot designed to conduct inspections and repairs inside a live natural gas or hydrogen pipeline—for over half a mile in either direction. The cost savings and ease of use of this modular robot promotes more frequent preventative maintenance. Also, the robot can find and repair leaks in places where normal excavation is impossible. Examples of these might be under layers of city infrastructure or beneath a river, which causes less disruption to the public, reduces greenhouse gas emissions, and minimizes costs.
ULC had been using SOLIDWORKS® 3D CAD to design robots, but it needed additional capabilities to develop a robot to navigate the harsh environment of a lengthy, combustible, corrosive, pressurized natural gas pipeline with many irregular surfaces, including valves and miter joints, sharp-edged obstructions, and 90-degree turns. SOLIDWORKS Flow Simulation became the answer to address this challenge.
A Faster, Cheaper, Collaborative Solution
Using SOLIDWORKS design, PDM, and integrated structural simulation, motion simulation, flow simulation, and rendering tools, ULC cut months from the development cycle by collaborating and iterating more efficiently on its first snake-like robot capable of finding leaks as small as a pinhole and repairing leaks from inside a pipe.
Saving Time and Money with Simulated Testing
“We were faced with building a pipe farm for physical testing, buying or renting time at a wind tunnel, or using simulation tools to test and prototype the robot virtually,” explains ULC Mechanical Engineer Nicholas Efthimiades.
For a faster, more cost-effective, readily available solution, ULC created a treacherous virtual pipeline and used Motion Analysis, available in SOLIDWORKS Premium or SOLIDWORKS Simulation Standard, Professional and Premium, and SOLIDWORKS Flow Simulation for computational fluid dynamics (CFD) analysis to simulate the motion and performance of the robot among the many obstacles inside a pressurized pipe. Then, in concert with pipeline manufacturers, ULC conducted a final round of physical testing of the robot’s performance in the most difficult segments of pipe.
“Using SOLIDWORKS Flow Simulation and SOLIDWORKS motion analysis capabilities to simulate robot travel within the pipe—as well as coupled structural/flow simulations—saved us hundreds of hours in prototyping time as well as the potentially exorbitant costs associated with several rounds of physical prototyping,” Efthimiades said. “It helped us to dial in the robot’s holding force and the torque on its wheels—while reducing weight—by determining the drag forces and other disturbances on the robot. We were able to increase strength where it was required but reduce our material and weight in less critical areas and mechanisms, optimizing the design.”
Professional reports and rendered images
The modular inline robot was developed under contract with the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), which required written reports and monthly status updates. ULC often leveraged the automated report-generation capabilities of SOLIDWORKS simulation solutions to include renderings created in SOLIDWORKS Visualize to better illustrate design concepts in professional-quality reports to the DOE.
Efthimiades concludes, “From CAD and PDM to simulation and rendering applications, SOLIDWORKS provides the integrated tools that we needed to support collaboration and drive innovation on this project.”
If you’d like to learn more about what SOLIDWORKS can do for your company, contact your local reseller.