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AWI – developing autonomous mobile robots to inspect weld lines on ships

Researchers at the London South Bank Innovation Centre are developing autonomous robots that  climb vertical and curved surfaces to inspect the weld lines on the hulls of ships

Welding is a critical operation in ship construction. Weld failure can lead to environmental damage, damage or loss of the ship and cargo, as well as operational losses for the owner.

Marine Class rules require an integrity survey every 5 years involving dry-docking the ship and safety societies demand that 100% ultrasonic testing should be performed on these welds. This translates into the welding and inspection of 0.5 km of weld line between the hull sections on the external surface of the hull.

It takes an enormous amount of time for human operators to perform these inspections, resulting in high labour costs, a high incidence of fatigue-induced mistakes and safety risks for personnel performing the inspections.
An automated process reduces costs to the shipbuilder, reduces the need for hazardous working at height and improves consistency, reliability and availability of inspection data.

Researchers at London South Bank Innovation Centre (LSBIC) are currently working on the AWI project, developing autonomous mobile robots to complete automated inspections. Their work has attracted grants worth £360,621.

Project Objectives

The objectives of AWI are to:

  • Develop autonomous mobile robots that can climb vertical and curved hull surfaces to deploy inspection tools to inspect long weld lines
  • Reduce the cost of inspection by eliminating scaffolding access costs


The container ship building and maintenance industry is fiercely competitive and would benefit from automation of required inspection tasks. AWI will:

  • Offer customers - shipyard operators and non-destructive testing service providers - a fully autonomous climbing robot that will replace the conventional slow, costly and unsafe approach of using several operators and gantries
  • Allow the shipyard to make savings in time and man power, and facilitate safe working
  • Be suitable for the inspection of welds in other large structures

AWI will provide the project lead, NDT Consultants Ltd, with a tool to provide new inspection services that they will use to expand their business in the global NDT inspection industry. InnotecUK, a robotics systems SME manufacturer, will bring new robotic solutions to market. LSBIC will transfer knowledge of its wall-climbing robot technology to its partners.

Total Grant: £360,621
The Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) Grant to London South Bank University: £116,312

Project Partners:
Innovative Technology and Science Limited, London South Bank University, together with NDT Consultants Ltd (“the Lead Participant”).