Typically, air divers work from 10 to 120 minutes at 1 to 50m depth, then take some 40 minutes to gradually resurface to prevent decompression illness.
Besides ensuring life-preserving occupational safety for divers, the decompression technology delivers huge time - and cost-saving efficiencies for the operating industry and customers, by reducing or eliminating the need for decompression stops other than depressurisation at the end of the assignment.
Twenty-four hours of decompression for every 100ft of pressure is the rule of thumb. The time efficiency and direct cost relation make this a safe, controllable and effective method of work production.
So a typical decompression would take around three days to complete at the end of our month in the chamber.
Getting to work is as simple as passing through an airlock (or transferring under pressure) from my chamber to the closed diving bell, which lowers my team (for a total of two to three of us in the bell) to the pitch-dark seabed or the required depth.
One or two of us then deploy from the bottom hatch of the bell and into the water, while the second or third team-member remains for safety cover, and to operate the internal gas- and pressure valves inside the bell.
Once the operation is finished, the bell hoists us back to the vessel. The team then rotates prior to the next bell excursion.
Working on the ocean floor is like being in deep space – not surprisingly, astronauts use saturation diving to train for their missions.
In fact, NASA was close to nominating divers for training as space-walkers rather than pilots, because of their familiarity with zero gravity and strong ability to carry out engineering and repair tasks in harsh environments.
A range of technologies, equipment and practices is required to make work in this setting not only possible, but safer and more productive.
The oil and gas industry has to develop solutions to sustainably find and produce energy to meet growing demand without increasing risk to life or assets.
For operations closer to the surface, Saudi Aramco has developed a robotic technology that makes it possible to perform shallow-water asset assessments remotely from aboard the dive vessel.
This Shallow Water Inspection and Monitoring Robot, or SWIM-R, can carry out visual inspections, marine-life cleaning, ultrasonic thickness readings and cathodic protection measurements while circumventing the obstacle and access issues that can pose problems for divers. The technology has been adopted by other ROV companies for its design philosophy.