Project GRAID | National Grid

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Robotic innovation

A new age of robotic innovation is dawning right beneath our feet. And National Grid Gas Transmission (NGGT) is at the very heart of this exciting revolution.

After securing £5.7m of Ofgem funding, NGGT is driving forward with Project GRAID (Gas Robotic Agile Inspection Device). The three-year venture will see NGGT - along with three supporting SMEs - design and build a robotic inspection device which can determine the true asset condition of below-ground pipework at high-pressure gas installations.

It's groundbreaking work that will raise the bar in robotic technology and deliver huge cost and carbon-cutting benefits.

This microsite will provide all the information you need to stay in step with the progress of Project GRAID, with project updates and progress reports set to be regularly posted here.

So scroll down to discover everything you need to know about this cutting-edge robotic platform. And we'd love to hear what you think about it on our Twitter page and

Let us know your thoughts or feedback

Turning a pipe dream into tomorrow's reality

Visionary Project GRAID is set to bring the future closer - and make never-before-seen technology a reality for the first time. It will mark a move from predictive modelling into a brave new world of sending robots inside high-pressure gas pipelines to analyse the condition of critical assets.

This technological leap will allow NGGT to cut asset maintenance costs by eliminating unnecessary excavations and providing data to allow asset life extension. It will also generate carbon savings of more than 2,000 tonnes annually, equivalent to the emissions from almost 500 UK households. It is a critical benefit as we move towards a low-carbon economy.

Project GRAID's pioneering robotic platform will negotiate its way through complex pipework geometries, while withstanding extreme pressure of up to 100 Barg. That's five times the maximum pressure that would be experienced underwater by a submarine.

It will take visual and wall-thickness measurements that will then be translated into meaningful intelligence about these critical assets.

National Grid is collaborating with three SMEs to deliver the project: Synthotech Ltd, who specialise in robotic solutions; Premtech Ltd, who will map the sites, create a GPS system for the robot to follow while underground and design the launch and retrieval device and testing facility; and Pipeline Integrity Engineers, who will transform the measurements into relevant data by using complex calculations.

The quality of this new data will allow NGGT to better focus its excavation and pipe-replacement work, and reinstate assets that are found to be still in good condition. Read on to discover exactly how the project is set to unfold...


An introduction to Project GRAID


Solution development

Project GRAID is scheduled to last three years and will be broken down into eight clear milestones with pre-determined dates for delivery.

The first of these milestones is called solution development and the deadline for completion is October 30, 2015.

This phase will see NGGT produce a concept design study of the proposed robotic platform. Three-dimensional models will also be created for three specified trial sites that will accurately represent their pipework configurations.

A launch and retrieval device that will take the robot inside the high-pressure gas pipework will also be designed.

Conceptual designs, computer models and 3D prints of the robot will all be produced. These designs will need to demonstrate the robot’s potential to achieve the project’s objectives of travelling 100m around two bends, and taking visual readings and wall-thickness measurements in buried pipework with pressure of up to 100 Barg.


An animated simulation of GRAID in action

Oct 30, 2015

Development testing - Current stage

Phase two of the project requires NGGT to develop and validate access and inspection routes for the robots at all three trial sites, as well as formulating Formal Process Safety Assessments.

A really important part of the project will be the testing process and this milestone requires NGGT to commission a bespoke pipe configuration that will be used for offline testing.

An initial solution of the robotic platform will also be manufactured to test and develop the robot’s design. This will involve an initial test in a controlled environment of up to 6m with one bend.

The deadline for the completion of development testing is September 9, 2016.

Sept 9, 2016

Offline trials

Offline testing is one of the most essential aspects of the development programme and absolutely critical to the success of the project.

Milestone three will see offline testing completed to ensure the robot is able to operate effectively in conditions found in live gas installations.

First, the offline test rig commissioned in phase two will be manufactured and made ready for the offline trials. A functional robot will be tested on the bespoke rig, with a minimum of 10 tests taking place.

A Disaster Recovery Plan will be established for the live trial sites. Data will be collected and problems identified from the robotic platform’s tests.

The deadline for successful completion of phase three will be June 19, 2017.

Jun 19, 2017

Online trials

Online testing is the next critical stage for the project. Testing decreases the chances of the robot failing on a live installation, minimising the potential operational repercussions on UK gas consumers.

The online testing phase will see the successful insertion of the launch and retrieval device at all three live sites. NGGT will then undertake testing in order to refine and deliver a robot that can deliver the project’s objectives - to work up to pressure of 100 Barg, travel 100m, and collect visual inspection and wall-thickness measurements.

A minimum of three online tests on each of the three sites will take place, with successful trials completed by September 30, 2017.

Sep 30, 2017

Delta prototype

Milestone five will see NGGT complete testing of the robot in order to deliver a functional robotic platform that can work at pressure of 100 Barg, travel 100m, negotiate two bends and provide condition-assessment data (visual and wall-thickness measurements). There will be a minimum of 10 offline and three online tests.

The functional robotic platform, called the Delta prototype, will be completed by March 26, 2018.

Mar 26, 2018

Data analysis systems

Milestone six will focus on the project’s data analysis systems and see NGGT collaborating closely with project partners Pipeline Integrity Engineers (PIE) Ltd.

An analysis of the data collected by PIE will be delivered. A condition assessment of the algorithms the company has developed to turn the data into meaningful intelligence will also be carried out.

Condition assessment criteria for high-pressure installations will be established, with data analysis systems in place by July 6, 2018.

Jul 6, 2018

Conduct data analysis

All data analysis will be completed at milestone seven. This will include a review of all the proposed algorithms to determine any changes that need to be made to the inspection equipment.

A data analysis completion report will be submitted by September 3, 2018. A report will also be produced by NGGT to mark the successful delivery of condition assessment through robotic data collection and the use of algorithms.

Sep 3, 2018

Implement into business as usual

The final milestone of this exciting and ambitious project will see the technology implemented into 'business as usual'.

A pre-commercialised in-line inspection platform will have been designed, manufactured and delivered. Specifications of the robot will have been checked and approved to confirm they are suitable for company use by National Grid.

An agreed mobilisation strategy will be delivered, including a training package for all future operators. Operating procedures (including health and safety) will be written and published on this website. The robotic platform will be included as standard operating practice within NGGT’s asset management policy.

Implementation into business as usual will be completed by November 12, 2018.

Nov 12, 2018
Neil Pullen
Project Sponsor

Neil leads National Grid's Gas Transmission Asset operations in the UK. A chartered engineer and fellow of the Institution of Mechanical Engineers, Neil has more than 22 years experience in the energy industry. He's done a variety of operational and strategic roles across National Grid's gas distribution, gas transmission, electricity transmission and corporate business units. Neil is Project GRAID's sponsor.

Tony Jackson
Project Manager

Tony is National Grid's Engineering Manager for Pipeline and AGIs within Network Engineering. He's been with the company for over 30 years working primarily in Gas Transmission. Tony has been responsible for the maintenance and project management of all Gas Transmission Assets including the completion of in-line inspections and above-ground cathodic protection surveys of the pipeline network. Tony is project manager for GRAID.

Jonathan Lelliott
Project Lead

Jon has 10 years’ experience managing complex operations, equipment and logistics projects for the Ministry of Defence in Europe, North America, Africa and Central Asia. A former Army Officer, he has led diverse teams in a range of challenging environments. PRINCE2 and APMP qualified, Jon is GRAID's Project Lead.

Richard Waine
Project Supervisor

Richard is a Pipeline Engineer in the Gas Transmission Asset Engineering team. He’s been with the company for over five years and has experience in the Gas Transmission Design and LNG storage business areas. Richard will provide technical and project management support to Project GRAID.

Kirsty McDermott
Project Engineer

Kirsty has recently completed the Engineer Training Programme at National Grid having gained a Foundation Degree in Gas Transmission Engineering. She has worked in Gas Distribution trialing new innovative equipment and has a background in Welding and Fabrication. With experience working in several manufacturing environments, she has been involved in multiple aspects of project delivery. Kirsty will provide technical support as GRAID’s Project Engineer.

Wez Little
Innovations Director, Synthotech Ltd

Wez leads the innovations arm of Synthotech Ltd, a UK-based SME that specialises in developing cutting-edge technology for the gas market. He's a chartered electronics engineer with an impressive background in project, production and operations management. He's responsible for a portfolio of innovation projects at Synthotech Ltd and he and his team will design, develop and build Project GRAID's robotic platform.

Ian Butt
Director, Premtech Ltd

Ian has more than 25 years experience in the gas industry and is Director of Premtech Ltd, which provides engineering, consultancy and design management services to the energy sector. For Project GRAID, Ian and his team will map the high-pressure installations, creating a GPS system for the robotic platform, as well as designing and building the launch and retrieval device.

Gary Senior
Director and Principal Consultant, Pipeline Integrity Engineers

Gary is a chartered mechanical engineer with more than 25 years experience in pipeline engineering. Since 2001, Gary has been a Director and Principal Consultant with Pipeline Integrity Engineers (PIE), a UK-based SME which provides professional pipeline engineering consultancy. For Project GRAID, Gary and his team will turn data collected by the robot into meaningful intelligence about the condition of below-ground pipework.

"It's a great example of our continued commitment to innovation across Gas Transmission and we’re proud to be at the forefront of such exciting innovation."

Posted by Nicola Riggon

Raising the bar for robotics

A new generation of robot is set to revolutionise the way National Grid manages its assets. Project GRAID promises a world-first robot that will inspect the condition of previously inaccessible buried, high-pressure gas pipework – from the inside. Project lead Jon Lelliott shares the story so far.

Engineers are used to answering tough questions. And they don’t come much tougher than the ones we’re asking on Project GRAID. For example, how do you design a robot that can work inside high-pressure gas pipework without being blown to pieces by the 200kg force it faces at peak flow? Good aerodynamics are a must. Magnets too. And a whole lot more besides.

Project GRAID’s journey began in January 2015 and its objective is to create a robot that can inspect the condition of complex, buried pipework at our high-pressure gas installations.

It’s important because these assets are nearing the end of their design life. Up to now, the only way we could assess their condition was through above-ground surveys and asset life modelling. Occasionally inconsistent, these techniques have led to unnecessary excavations which are expensive and environmentally adverse.

Greener and leaner

GRAID will give us the inside story on the pipework’s condition, providing hard, reliable data that will allow us to target investment to manage, maintain and replace them more efficiently. At full operational capacity it is likely to save c.£60m over a 20 year period – and more than 2,000 tonnes of carbon annually. That’s equivalent to the emissions of around 500 UK households.

But there’s a lot of work still to do before we get there. We’re collaborating with three SMEs – Synthotech, Premtech and Pipeline Integrity Engineers – to make this world first in robotics reality.

The first stage of the project, called solution development, ended last October. As a result, three conceptual designs for the robot were produced and we selected a preferred design to take forward into stage two, where we’ll continue to test and develop its design.

Aerodynamic by nature

The design of our preferred robot is greatly influenced by the conditions it will face inside high-pressure gas pipework. Natural gas acts more like a liquid than a gas at high pressure as it becomes more dense. In these conditions, aerodynamics are critical. Another factor is that when gas flow peaks, an equivalent 200kg force will push against it. That’s like a big England rugby prop taking a run at you. So it needs to be strong.

To find the most aerodynamic shape for our robot, our engineers looked to nature for inspiration. And they found it in the dolphin. The dolphin’s shape – with quite a rounded, but wide front-end and then a slimmer body at the back – makes them incredible at cutting through liquid. Their shape minimises force against an opposing flow and our robot has been designed to do the same.

Magnetic quality

Along with its aerodynamic shape, the robot will use a magnetic system to keep it stuck to the pipe wall. Being magnetised means it will be able to drive around the full circumference of the pipe – rather than just staying at the bottom. So it can steer around any contaminants we might find in there.

Also, when we do see those peak flows, and it gets a bit tricky in there, the robot will be able to go firm, hunker down and wait it out. Once flow starts to drop again, it will come back to life and restart the inspection.

Another area where GRAID breaks new ground is that it will be operated by a human. Existing inspection systems are inserted at one end of the pipeline and they collect data as the flow of gas pushes them along and out the other end. This makes them unsuitable for use at high pressure installations due to the variable gas flows. GRAID has the extra flexibility of being user-operated. So an engineer will actually drive the robot through the pipework and they’ll be able to investigate specific areas they’re interested in. They can stop, reverse, turn around and zoom in on areas they feel need closer attention.

So that’s the concept for our robot. But there’s a long way to go before it carries out inspections. For the moment, it exists as a 3D-printed model, rather than a ready-to-go metallic robot. We’re in the process of developing all of its specific components, such as the drive, communication, vision and sensory systems.

Polishing the prototype

As testing progresses, we’ll start to manufacture the preferred design out of metallic components. This will then become the prototype that we take forward to physical trials in the next stage of the project.

Trials are essential, as they manage project risk by reducing the likelihood of the device failing in a live installation. So concurrent to our work on the robot, we’re exploring an offline test facility and also three trial sites in more detail.

For trials to be successful, we need to understand what the buried pipework looks like at these sites. So we’ve used laser scanning combined with existing design drawings to build up a computerised 3D model of what they look like. That’s important because we need to know what kind of features the robot is going to encounter as it drives underground.

This model also enables us to find the best access points and plan the best routes for the robot. To fulfil Ofgem’s success criteria, it will need to be able to travel a minimum of 100m and negotiate two bends, so we need to put it into a section of the pipe that will give us the distance and geometry we need to use the robot to its full potential.

Stakeholder engagement

We’re putting stakeholders at the heart of GRAID and have been busy sharing what we’re learning across the gas industry – and outside it. We want our work to inspire other stakeholders and stimulate further innovation.

We’ve sparked lots of interest and discussion at industry events including the LCNI (Low Carbon Networks and Innovation) conference, World Gas conference, United Kingdom Onshore Pipeline Operators’ Association (UKOPA) and Ageing Pipelines Conference. We also talked to the rail infrastructure industry at an event run by the University of Birmingham to show an alternative sector how robotics could benefit their asset management.

GRAID is also a great opportunity to inspire potential future engineers. We reached out to hundreds of them at the Big Bang Fair – an event which celebrates science and engineering for young people – and showed them our 3D prints to help them visualise the robot. We have an urgent skills gap to address in our industry and this kind of tailored engagement is one way of inspiring young minds.

Next steps

Next on the GRAID calendar is further research into the best access points for the robot at our trial sites. We’re also exploring whether there are additional sites that could benefit from having trials conducted.

The future of the robot, in the short term, will be the further development of its sub-systems. As we move to stage three at the end of this year, we’ll then step into field trials. We’re also going to start the construction of an offline test facility and our launch and receive vessel, which will be used to insert the robot into the pipe. We’re on schedule and within budget, so everything’s progressing well.

Groundbreaking work

We still have some significant engineering challenges to overcome, but through collaboration, innovative thinking and hard work, I’m confident we’ll succeed. Nothing like this has ever been attempted before and it’s exciting to be a part of such groundbreaking work.

Find out more about the project and how it’s progressing on our dedicated microsite here.

Visit our Twitter account to stay up to date.

BBC Radio Leicester interview

Ian Butt, Director at Premtech Ltd, who will design the robot’s launch and retrieval device