1st Apr 2024

Oceanology 2024: 3 key insights that will play a pivotal role in shaping the future of subsea technology

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Taking place every two years in London (UK), Oceanology International is a place where knowledge across the marine science, offshore energy and technology markets is shared, cementing it as a central hub to showcase innovation and discuss new ideas.

As a global provider of mission critical sensor packaged solutions, enabled through in-house innovative and specialist services, our primary focus is to enable the acquisition of higher quality, critical marine data. With innovation at our core, Oceanology was our primary platform to showcase our cutting-edge products, including a member of our Smart Deployment System product range - The SeaTow 2000 electric winch, our SeaCount cable measurement system and our deepwater SeaSpyder drop camera system; all of which represent pioneering engineering. It was also the perfect opportunity to announce our latest advancement in New Product Development (NPD), such as our Fast Deployment System and ROV Multiplexer, both of which are being developed in-house by our Products & Technology (P&T) team.

Bringing specialists from core divisions of our business - operations, products and technology, senior leadership and sales - each team member discovered trends and insights that will help us unlock new opportunities and develop solutions for our customers. Here, we discuss our key takeaways and how we think these shape the future of the subsea industry.

Insight 1: Preference has shifted in favour of autonomous and remote operations

Driven by economic factors, health, safety and environmental concerns and of course, feasibility through advancements in technology, the move towards autonomous operations on uncrewed service vessels (USVs) is increasing, and therefore the demand for products with remote capabilities is significantly growing.

With this new way of working bringing a multitude of benefits such as increased safety by removing people from hazardous environments, unmanned operations resulting in a smaller carbon footprint and cost savings through reduced personnel as well as the unit cost of the asset (USV vs manned vessel), it’s no wonder that questions on remote capabilities were on the rise at this year’s Oceanology event.

Raymond Forsyth, Group Technical Director said: “With this shift comes the need for new innovation and changes in ways of working, coupled with robust, reliable technology. While remote operations come with many advantages, the quality of the product needs to be unparalleled to ensure high performance without manual input and offshore maintenance. It’s also important to consider that unmanned vessels tend to be much smaller than conventional manned vessels, therefore a compact product design that can be operated autonomously is often a required feature.

“Conversations around remote capabilities were often directed to our SeaTow 2000 electric winch which we had on display, as ultimately, our Smart Deployment System range (SeaTow) enables the entire survey project. Our SeaTow products have been designed to go much further than just ticking the box for remote operations, the winches not only correct any arising faults but also report on performance statistics to minimise any downtime.

“It’s still important to note that human experience and intervention is required to enhance project performance, and it’s vital that specialist knowledge and experience is used to ensure the correct technology is selected and working cohesively with other equipment as a complete sensor solutions package. Autonomous operations will be an important part of the future way subsea operations are managed. However, it will take time for the markets to adopt this new technology and success will be dependent on strong collaboration across the whole supply chain.”

Insight 2: The demand for single high-performance products has extended to innovative solution-led packages with a focus on equipment integration

Fundamentally, customers need subsea deployment systems and sensor products that are reliable and high-performing to complete their operations, but there’s been a shift from using equipment from various manufacturers to looking for multi-product packaged solutions from one service provider that can integrate all the technologies to solve a number of challenges at once, while maximising data capture.

There are many benefits to working with one service provider that uses the same engineering and operational methods - products will work in harmony, prompting enhanced operational efficiency, reduced costs, and less impact on the environment when considered as a full package offering. When selecting technology packages for projects, it’s vitally important we engage with our clients, forming an extended part of their operations team, to understand the specific user case, the subsea environment, vessel / USV and the desired data requirements - only then, can we provide the optimum results.

Steve Steele, CEO said: “Throughout the event, customers were keen to discuss technology that would enable smarter working, increased efficiency, reduce the impact on the environment and improve data quality, therefore being able to do more with less.

“At STR, we have a very strong heritage of innovation and we were proud to showcase some of our products at the event. We have been designing and developing in-house products for more than twenty years and are continually challenging ourselves on enhancing our product offering. At our Innovation and Technology Centre in Great Yarmouth, we are continuously investing in our team, infrastructure and expanding our in-house product catalogue - as evidenced by two new products that we’re bringing to market in 2024.

“Our mission critical products (we refer to them as “enablers”) form part of a more comprehensive product package offering, and it’s one of the reasons why our clients work with STR. Managing subsea projects is complex, no matter the market sector, and they are getting larger with greater demands on our client project teams. At STR, we work very closely with our clients to provide the right mission critical sensor package solution and after-market service care to de-risk our clients’ projects and maximise their results.”

Insight 3: The environment is rich for product development and cleaner technology remains a priority

As technology advances, we continue to push the boundaries of what’s possible within the subsea sector, and the buoyancy and positivity in the market strengthens the appetite for smarter engineering and paves the way towards the energy transition.

With environmental concerns remaining at the top of companies’ agendas, we made the decision years ago to engineer electric winches and raise awareness of the benefits over their hydraulic counterparts, but education is still key to encourage and support this approach being adopted on a global scale.

Rob Williamson, Group Research and Development Director said: “Throughout the event, we received a high volume of interest in our Smart Deployment Systems (SeaTow 2000 electric winch), with clients intrigued to see if its technical specification and capabilities can address their challenges.

“For example, adopting the use of our electric winches can solve deck space challenges as they eliminate the need for such an intensive power source while benefiting from higher motor efficiency. This, combined with a lower power generator and low standby power consumption, means operators can significantly reduce fuel expenses while reducing environmental concerns through excellent motor efficiency.

“In addition, a core focus for us was to announce our latest innovations, our Fast Deployment System - which will significantly support autonomous and remote operations - and our ROV Multiplexer - which takes data acquisition to an even more advanced level. Both these products are integral to complementing our subsea packages and increasing efficiency for our customers.

“Our aim remains simple, we’re not building products just to sell it, we’re engineering equipment to solve our customers' problems, helping them complete their surveys to an unrivalled standard while also enabling them to transition to more sustainable methods.”

In summary, this year’s event presented an extremely positive outlook for the subsea sector and the main trends support the transition to the global goal of reaching Net Zero. While there were concerns raised about the global supply chain and market demand, the show symbolised investment within the sector and emphasises the importance of collaboration between suppliers to overcome common challenges and achieve ambitious targets.

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