design a housing for an incredibly
expensive and delicate piece of
glass. As the team deconstructed
the detector and reassembled it
to work properly at subsea levels,
breakthroughs were bound to
occur. “The first [breakthrough]
was our proof of concept
research, which we literally did
in a plastic storage bin full of liquid in our
office," explains Venkatachalam. “We were
taking bets among ourselves as to whether
it would work. Once we passed this first
hurdle, we knew we had a viable idea.”
“The key challenge we had to solve was
how to take an extremely delicate techni-
cal instrument and design a housing and
delivery mechanism that could function at
extremely low temperatures and extreme-
ly high pressures,” Venkatachalam says.
“Optimizing image quality under these
difficult conditions was another major chal-
For the equipment to function at extreme
depths, the team needed a way to equal-
ize the pressure in the housing with the
extremely high subsea pressures, which
required a redesign of the detector. To
help the pressure equalization process, a
new housing was also developed, which
the team filled with liquid. “Identifying a
fluid with the right physical and chemical
properties that would not distort the radio-
graphic image was the major hurdle to
overcome,” says Venkatachalam.
“Our radiography devices are enabled by
a delicate piece of glass the thickness of a
quarter, and we’re operating at tempera-
tures close to zero degrees Celsius and at
pressures approaching 4,500 PSI,” explains
Shana Telesz, GE radiography product
manager. “Operations are per-
formed remotely from more than
a mile away while surrounded by
“We broke six X-ray detectors
during the product development
process. Every time we failed, we
would say, ‘Now we know how
to do it right,’ but it took multiple
attempts to finalize a functioning
design," Venkatachalam adds.
A Drop in the Ocean
Aside from the operation of the
radiological equipment itself, the team
also had to confront the challenge of
deploying the sensitive device. “Working
with Oceaneering we developed the
equipment and procedures to take the
equipment into the field for subsea operation with remote access,” Telesz explains.
The equipment is deployed with a diver,
and operated remotely from the surface.
Digital X-ray technology allows instant
transmission of images to the surface
so operators can make immediate decisions about their equipment. “That’s what
inspection technology is ultimately about
– helping industry make better decisions
about asset health,” Telesz adds.
On the surface, Oceaneering experts
control the ROV that operates
Subsea X-ray inspection equipment
thousands of feet below.
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