ULC taps industry vet as U.K. robot ruler

Aye, robot: ULC Robotics gas pipe-inspecting and -repairing automatons are rolling out in the U.K.
By GREGORY ZELLER //

A high-tech Hauppauge manufacturer has found the perfect human to lead its European robotics revolution.

Graeme Cleeton has been named vice president of United Kingdom operations for ULC Robotics, an R&D firm providing robotic solutions for energy and utility concerns. Cleeton, who’s held executive positions with some of the U.K.’s leading utilities, will be based at the company’s U.K. headquarters in the southern English county of Kent, where he’ll play a vital role in the introduction of ULC’s next-generation CIRRIS automatons into regional natural-gas lines.

The Cast Iron Robotic Repair Inspection System – including the CIRRIS XI (for “inspection”) and CIRRIS XR (for “repair”) – was designed in collaboration with U.K. utility SGN, which maintains 74,000 kilometers of gas pipeline.

SGN recently wrapped up an extensive CIRRIS field test and stands to be ULC’s first commercial customer in the U.K. Exactly where in SGN’s system, and when, the robots will be deployed is yet to be determined, but ULC said this week that commercialization will begin this fall inside SGN pipelines in Scotland and southern England.

Graeme Cleeton: He knows British gas.

Graeme Cleeton: He knows British gas.

With CIRRIS ready to roll and Cleeton’s three decades of U.K. utility-industry experience in the fold, ULC is primed to pump its robotic revenues. President and CEO Gregory Penza said the addition of the industry veteran would benefit not only the Hauppauge manufacturer but European utilities that are “constantly searching for innovate solutions that will enhance their asset’s operations, increase safety and minimize impact to the public.”

“With Graeme in place, ULC’s U.K. business efforts will continue to address those needs,” Penza said, adding his company would continue to develop “beneficial, strategic partnerships that will allow our innovative solutions to be successfully deployed for our clients.”

ULC Robotics used data from the SGN field trials, which ended in December, to make some design modifications on the CIRRIS XI, which like the CIRRIS XR measures roughly 4 feet long by 1 foot tall by 1 foot wide and weighs around 140 pounds.

One of the most significant modifications to the CIRRIS XI changes how the inspection robot’s sensors are deployed against the pipe wall, providing better protection of the sensors and more accurate readings. A new extendable robotic arm, meanwhile, will allow the machine to work better inside pipes ranging from 18 inches to 30 inches in diameter, with additional sensor cameras giving remote operators a better view.

Other design upgrades minimize exposure to potential debris, protecting delicate hardware during launch, navigation and retrieval of the CIRRIS XI, which in most cases goes in first to test the thickness and stress tolerances of a pipeline wall, before the CIRRIS XR remotely rehabilitates joints and performs other remediation and prevention work.

Cleeton has held executive positions at Northern Gas Networks, one of eight gas-distribution networks in the U.K., and Balfour Beatty Utility Solutions, a subsidiary of British multinational infrastructure group Balfour Beatty plc focused on laying water and gas pipes.

The new director of U.K. operations said he was thrilled to bring his experience developing and implementing utility strategies to bear for ULC Robotics. According to Cleeton, the multiple award-winning firm – ranked in 2014 and 2016 by Robotics Business Review as a Top 50 Global Robotics Company – is sitting on industry-shifting technology.

“I am extremely excited to come to such a fantastic company with endless opportunities to change the way our sector operates,” Cleeton said in a statement. “My initial focus will be to ensure ULC Robotics’ products and services are deployed with the highest degree of success.”