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Schilling Robotics

Schilling Robotics specializes in a variety of subsea ROVs and ROV components and control systems for subsea oil and gas exploration and production. Formed in 1985, Schilling is headquartered in Davis, California, and has satellite project and customer support offices in Houston, Texas and Aberdeen, Scotland. The company is a sponsor of the MATE Center’s national ROV competition. 
 
Control System Fuels Company Growth  
Schilling’s customers are loyal—and their ranks are expanding, says Norm Robertson, director of remote systems applications. According to Robertson, Schilling’s core competency is creating control systems for remotely operated equipment. The purpose of the control system is to provide operating instructions to the device being controlled. An ROV is only one example of such control system use, and Schilling’s strategy is to focus on developing other control system applications. Robertson says, “Schilling’s control system is very user-friendly and robust, and is flexible enough to be adapted for many different types of mechanical systems and subsea applications.”

"Schilling’s control system is very user-friendly and robust"

The company is working with other subsea platforms and objects that need to be remotely controlled, targeting areas such as oil and gas, homeland security, seismic applications, and underwater inspection. For example, they developed a subsea geophysical sample drilling control system for the University of Bremen in Germany. “We took our control system and an apparatus was built around it that drills into the seabed and collects samples down to about 150 feet,” says Robertson.  
 
According to Robertson, one of the biggest technological challenges in developing subsea control systems is increasing operator efficiency by improving the user interface. For example, Schilling’s software engineers are working on interfaces with simulation and visualization software that will allow the operator to see a three-dimensional image of the ROV’s locations. Currently, ROVs rely on vehicle-mounted cameras that produce only two-dimensional images.  
 
As it expands its market and customer base by focusing on new applications for its control systems, Schilling expects to increase beyond its 65 current employees. Robertson says that the company is gearing up for significant growth in 2006, and that engineers and manufacturing personnel will be at the top of the hiring list. Opportunities will be available for all levels of engineers.  
 
Expanding Its Engineering Staff  
Schilling will be hiring mechanical engineers who work on the structural, mechanical, and hydraulic design of subsea components, and manufacturing engineers who focus on production, including the integration and testing of subsea products and streamlining the manufacturing process. The company will also need software engineers to focus on control system design and development; technical publications assistants to develop manuals and other technical documentation; and project managers to coordinate jobs and work with the clients. 
 
In addition, Schilling’s customers need field service engineers and technicians to work in offshore locations. Field service personnel perform training, troubleshooting, and maintenance tasks, and can work offshore at any of Schilling’s customers’ global operation locations. These engineers and technicians usually live on boats or on rigs for one month at a time, and then spend a month on the mainland. 
 
But field service personnel have been in short supply over the last few years, says Robertson, primarily because many people who have the appropriate skills don’t like the offshore life or have moved on to management jobs. “In the field service area, there are lots of opportunities for someone with the right combination of education, skills, and a very hearty nature,” he adds. “You have to have the right attitude to live on a boat or an oil rig.” 
 
As underwater vehicles become increasingly sophisticated, offshore operators and maintenance workers need to have excellent technical training. Robertson says that the most important skill for such employees is to have a high level of comfort with computers and digital technology. “More and more, the computer is basically driving our remotely operated systems,” he adds. “Vocational-type college programs offer high-level training in electronics and computers, and the military is an excellent training ground for people who want to work with electronics.”  
 
Multitasking Employees are Critical for Success 
Most Schilling employees have a bachelor’s degree in their appropriate engineering disciplines. Many hold master’s degrees and professional engineering certifications, and field service personnel must often be certified to work offshore in different regions.  
 
Besides solid training and education, Schilling employees must be flexible and able to multi-task. For example, a mechanical engineer has structural and hydraulic knowledge but must also be able to work closely with and understand the needs of software engineers. “We don’t have any people who are talented in only a single area,” Robertson explains. “Our employees are—and must be—flexible enough to work in a multi-discipline team.”

"You have to be technologically fearless to be in this type of industry"

Schilling’s employees appreciate the constant exposure to new customer environments and product applications. “Many of our products are customized for specific client needs,” explains Robertson. “Every project has a little nuance to it, and that keeps our engineers on their toes.”  
 
Most of Schilling’s employees think that’s the most interesting thing about working for the company. “You have to be technologically fearless to be in this type of industry,” Robertson says. “We don’t build the same things today that we built yesterday.” 
 
“As the subsea industry moves forward in visualization, graphical user interfaces, and system operational efficiency, we are most effective when we can establish technology partnerships with our customers,” Robertson continues. “This is definitely an exciting time in an exciting industry.” 
 


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This project is supported, in part, by the NationalScience Foundation.  Opinions expressed are those of the authors and not necessarily the Foundation.
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