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Robotic Catalyst Removal 

WorleyParsons and its partners have developed the industry’s 1st commercial robot for catalyst unloading from refinery and petrochemical vessels. The robot will effectively help reduce risk with the placement of people inside reactors and increase efficiency in phasing out this manual process.

Customer Challenges

Catalyst unloading is a hazardous, costly and time consuming activity.

Until now, catalyst unloading has typically been performed by catalyst contractors who enter the vessel equipped with breathing apparatus because the nitrogen atmosphere does not support life, which has resulted in many fatalities and injuries from N2 asyphixation over the years


WorleyParsons as program manager has combined the robotics expertise of Canadian company, Mecfor, with the oldest catalyst handling company in the US, Reactor Services International, and together through the use of cutting edge technology, they have developed a device that improves safety and efficiency in what was previously a heavily labor intensive activity.

The amphirol (screw propelled vehicle) design allows the robot to move in all directions and to turn on a dime. The screws were manufactured using 3D printing, allowing for optimization of the ribs and the ellipsoidal ends, which in combination with the aluminum frame, was critical to keeping the weight of the device to less than 50 pounds. The result is a device that essentially floats on the catalyst, causes minimal damage to the catalyst and rarely gets stuck.

The device is controlled and powered by an external hydraulic power unit, meaning hazardous area requirements are relevant only to the video cameras, lighting and gas monitor (LEL, O2, H2S and CO). A specially designed jib can be fixed to all manway configurations, allowing for the lowering and raising of the device in and out of the vessel. The vacuum head moves up and down via a hydraulic cylinder, meaning catalyst.


“Man” versus machine trials indicate that the robot can achieve a removal rate exceeding that of the current human operation over the total catalyst unloading period. The screws can assist in breaking up slightly agglomerated material. The video monitoring and hydraulic controls were effective in achieving an entirely remote operation. WorleyParsons have challenged the status quo that catalyst unloading must rely entirely on personnel –the robot has the potential to radically undo what has been done the same way for almost 75 years!


Chris Jansen (Manager)

Robot Catalyst Removal Overview


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