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Five minutes with the inventor behind CAROL

Published by , Editorial Assistant
Hydrocarbon Engineering,

Following the news of Advisian Digital’s catalyst removal amphirol robot going commercial, we caught up with Chris Jansen, the Advisian Digital inventor who created CAROL™.

How did you become an inventor?

I started my career as a process engineer and was fascinated by the challenges of catalyst removal. People spend around 10 000 hours unloading catalyst per year and in 2016, there were 12 fatalities in one incident, so the potential to reduce risk to life was massive. You’re effectively putting people in enclosed spaces with an atmosphere that cannot support life. I knew there had to be a better way of doing this.

Joining heritage WorleyParsons in 2014, I was fortunate enough to attend a ‘lunch and learn’ on the company's innovation process and it was after this that I decided to put forward my idea for safer catalyst unloading, which fitted very well with the company’s incredibly high health and safety standards. After presenting my case to the Worley Innovation Council, I received US$10 000 seed funding to develop the idea.

What exactly have you invented?

I should point out I didn’t do this alone. After four years of hard work and collaboration with industry experts, including Mecfor who are specialists in custom-built, remote and robotic equipment, we have created CAROL (catalyst removal amphirol) – a robot that removes hazardous material from vessels in refineries to avoid having to send a person inside a dangerous environment.

What was the invention process like?

We had weekly meetings where we discussed and workshopped the various ideas that could be used to unload catalyst remotely. Amazingly, that first conceptual drawing is remarkably like the finished product we have today. However, in order to see this design come into fruition, we had to request more funding. It was incredibly nerve-racking but my belief in the product never wavered and I was able to secure what we needed.

How did the first prototype perform?

For the first trial we use corn as catalyst, but the robot was too heavy and sunk straight away. However, it still provided enough proof of concept for us to push forward with Prototype 2.0. This time we built the robot with aluminium instead of steel and we used 3D printing to develop the screws out of plastic, and shipped it to a test vessel in Chicago where we successfully unloaded the catalyst. It was an amazing moment to realise we’d created something that not only worked but was revolutionary as well. Next came demonstration after demonstration to Chevron, BP, Reliance and Phillips 66 where we took their feedback on board and continued to develop and improve CAROL.

Additional funding from the Worley Innovation Council allowed me to work on the project full time. Just as that was secured, I got a phone call out of the blue from a turnaround manager at an LNG Plant in Australia who had seen a flyer for CAROL and wanted to test the robot in the company’s dehydration vessels. We had our first client.

What was it like demonstrating CAROL to potential clients?

We’ve done 16 demonstrations for potential clients now and conducted three live in-plant pilots. The process never gets any less nerve-racking. However, each time, CAROL has proved that it can remove catalyst successfully without the need for someone in the vessel.

What’s the future for CAROL?

CAROL doesn’t just have a market in the oil and gas industry. We’ve got potential interest from the chemicals industry too, and from all over the world. The next adventure is the commercialisation phase for which our planning is in full swing. For me personally, I’d love for there to be 100 CAROLs in five years’ time, all successfully unloading catalyst and adsorbents.

What’s next for you as an inventor?

I’d like there to be CARL to keep CAROL company who would be there to reload the fresh catalyst afterwards. CAROL and CARL, Worley’s first catalyst robots.

For more information on CAROL, click here.

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