ABB’s ‘swimming’ robots inspecting underwater transformers in Australia


Australian-based company Simcoa Operations has selected ABB to perform an internal inspection for one of their power transformers that handle 50% of their facility’s production capacity.

Simcoa Operations’ main concern was traces of gas observed in the unit’s oil, indicating that something was wrong.

According to oil test results, the transformer had experienced discharges of high energy and electrical arcing. The initial hypothesis was that the issue is related to the tap-changer, a critical component in a transformer and that it might need immediate maintenance.

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Using ABB’s inspection robot service TXplore, Simcoa Operations has managed to save four days of production downtime and 50% inspection costs.

ABB’s inspection of the transformer was a critical activity for Simcoa Operations, both in terms of ensuring minimal shutdown of the transformer and enabling the issues to be identified quickly and safely. They had only one day shut down for this inspection as opposed to five or more days. They were happy that TXplore did not find any faults in their transformer but even happier to see that they avoided an extended and costly shutdown.

Simcoa Operations originally planned to have the inspection using the traditional method of personnel entering the confined space of the transformer,  that requires first the lengthy process of draining out the oil and then adding breathable air. It would also put an incredible amount of strain on the other transformer to handle the additional power load. This approach could take up to five days working around the clock and comes with safety concerns and limitations to which areas of the internals are visible to the human eye.

The TXplore is able to capture all internal areas and faults of the transformer using its onboard camera and LED lighting system. It was able to swim through tight areas and investigate and document all internal areas of the transformer.

The photos and videos taken during the inspection were streamed live and viewed together by ABB’s transformer engineers and Simcoa Operations. It provided the data and evidence needed to make decisions for the next steps. Their tap-changer was operating fine and determined not to be the issue. On the same day that the unit was disconnected from the network, ABB concluded that the transformer could be energized and put back into service.