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LabVIEW flexibility meets I/O and control needs on ROV

National Instruments LabVIEW, PXI and Compact FieldPoint have to been used to develop a control system for a remotely operated vehicle for underwater oil and gas operations.

Remotely operated vehicles (ROVs) are used to perform work at depths where divers cannot go, but designing a control system that offers high performance and increased flexibility for online support and upgrades is something of a challenge. Kystdesign found a solution by seamlessly developing an off-board control system with NI PXI, LabVIEW, and Compact FieldPoint that resulted in a superior product and greater customer satisfaction.

Kystdesign is a global leader in producing ROVs which aid in tasks such as making maps of the seabed, repairing underwater oil and gas installations, and locating shipwrecks. The multidiscipline engineering teams at Kystdesign include specialists in mechanical design, hydraulic systems, electronics, and software development. The company's goal is to develop very reliable and easy-to-maintain solutions. 

When the company developed a new work class dubbed the Supporter ROV, it aimed to combine the flexibility and capabilities offered by much larger ROVs within a compact but accessible vehicle envelope. The Supporter vehicle contains numerous sensors, instrumentation, and cameras that provide input to the pilots operating the system on board. Kystdesign's  previous control system was based on programmable logic controllers (PLCs), PC systems, and tailor-made electronics. To shorten development, the company changed its control system architecture and selected National Instruments software and hardware as the platform.

In addition, the company's previous ROV designs had an onboard controller, making it difficult to improve the vehicles after development. Kystdesign removed the onboard controller and transferred all control top-side to PXI hardware. This allowed the company to improve performance and flexibility in future designs, and also provided more space in the atmospheric canister subsea. Fibre optic systems provide the communication link between the ROV and the top-side control system.

In removing the onboard controller, Kystdesign was challenged with ensuring software compatibility with older ROV designs; so the company selected LabVIEW graphical system design software for its ease of use and flexibility. The design team customised all software upgrades, new functions and improvements in LabVIEW, allowing software installment on any of our ROVs. Kystdesign also needed to interface with subsea electronics such as fibre optic gyroscopes, depth sensors, and inertia platforms capable of operating more than 3,000 m below sea level. LabVIEW proved to be a great tool for interfacing with these special subsea sensors, greatly reducing the complexity of software development. With this platform based on LabVIEW, Kystdesign developed a system that controlled the entire ROV.

The team chose NI PXI-6025E data acquisition modules to access all the I/O signals from the joysticks, buttons, and touch screens used by the pilots. A high-voltage system controlled by Compact FieldPoint provides power to the vehicle.

Kystdesign reports that its customers are very pleased with the new ROV control solution. Because the new platform is based on commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) technology instead of custom electronics, Kystdesign can provide existing Supporter customers with new software features that are compatible with their control system, supplying new versions in a single DVD that allows any operator to upgrade the system through a simple installation procedure. With the inherent flexibility of LabVIEW, operators can configure almost every I/O to meet their needs.

Moreover, Kystdesign can reuse and combine the instrumentation to form a much more powerful instrument, especially when the system is on autopilot. The company can easily perform online services to the ROVs anywhere in the world as long as the customer can provide remote access to the device. This has dramatically shortened the company's response times for service requests, resulting in higher customer satisfaction.
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