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How 3D scanners are replacing traditional methods to increase pipeline inspection efficiency, reliability, and safety

 

Challenges: Traditional pipeline assessment methods are cumbersome, time-consuming and limited

Without proper maintenance, the lifespan of pipelines can be greatly reduced, which subsequently can lead to people and the environment being exposed to potential hazards as well as costly infrastructure investments and network downtimes. In order to safeguard against pipeline defects, corrosions and failure, pipeline operators and owners as well as non-destructive evaluation (NDE) service providers must carry out preventative pipeline integrity assessments on both greenfield and brownfield projects. Traditionally, pipeline inspections were inherently complex and challenging, due to field conditions and safety considerations. Systematic monitoring requires skilled inspection technicians that were often difficult to find.

In addition, non-destructive testing (NDT) on pipelines traditionally entailes manual measurement techniques, such as paper rubbings, vernier depth gauges and single-line lasers. Such techniques were exceptionally time-consuming and cumbersome—and inevitably ramped up operational costs while limiting pipelines being able to operate at full capacity. What’s more: many issues arose regarding the accuracy, reliability and repeatability of manual inspections in harsh pipeline environments. Characterizing a pipeline’s material integrity means looking for signs of internal, external and atmospheric corrosion as well as mechanical damage, such as dents and gouges. The vast amounts of data collected could mislead technicians to either recommend overly conservative remedial actions, which impacted network availability, or assess that pipes were still fit for service when they were not.

Do pipeline assessments require experts with a lot of experience?

The need for inspectors is growing annually as pipeline operators and owners expand their networks. In today’s tight labor market, finding qualified pipeline inspectors with all the necessary training as well as the right know-how on a variety of different conventional measurement techniques and tools is extremely difficult. Training technicians to become certified pipeline inspectors can be a long and costly endeavour.

Even after they are trained, technicians are not immune to human error or capturing poor data. Due to the harsh working conditions, turnover is extremely high. Solutions are therefore required to address these inspection staff issues.

Are pipeline inspections extremely long?

Pipeline owners and operators follow specific protocols when conducting pipeline assessments. Using manual inspection techniques requires lengthy tool setups and measurement times that could span hours or even days, depending on the length of the pipe.

Once the data is collected, extra time is needed to evaluate the measurements on site and send them to off-site engineers or other specialists further assessments.

How accurate are pipeline assessements?

Pipelines are inherently complex—and so is inspecting them in the field for damage, such as corrosion, weld arc strikes, stress- and atmosphere-induced cracking, gouges and dents. Traditional techniques being manual meant that the accuracy, reliability and repeatability were dependent on a technician’s skill and often compromised by the surrounding environment on any given inspection day.

In addition, inspection teams may miss out on some important information or damage. If the pipe is buried back, it is too late for technicians to go back and make further assessments. This means that inspectors and integrity engineers may question the accuracy and availability of the data—and lack the confidence in providing their final recommendations.

Solutions: Handheld 3D scanners change the game for quality pipeline integrity assessments

With handheld 3D scanners, pipeline operators and owners as well as NDE service providers can benefit from an easy-to-use, fast and effective tool for all types of pipeline integrity inspections.

Handheld 3D scanners make convenient to acquire measurement data on pipes of up to 18 m (60 ft)—and directly at a pipeline’s specific inspection quadrant.

Easy to use, 3D scanners, along with their self-positioning and dynamic referencing capabilities means anyone can perform a pipeline inspection. No metrology experience or extensive training on a series of measurement techniques required!

Thanks to their optical technology, 3D scanners acquire measurement data fast, which reduces inspection times. Imagine being able to achieve up to 1,300,000 measurements per second!

3D scanners generate highly accurate, repeatable and reliable results with exceptional resolution, regardless of user ability, the complexity of the pipeline’s geometry, unstable excavation environment, and measurement setup quality. With an accuracy of 0.025 mm and ISO 17025 accreditation, 3D scanners can help integrity engineers and inspectors to confidently make the right decisions.

Benefits: Transforming pipeline assessments for the better!

After having conducted its field tests with Creaform’s HandySCAN 3D scanner and Pipecheck NDT software, pipeline owners and operators immediately notice the solutions’ undeniably positive impact on pipeline inspection workflows and results. 

  • Faster pipeline inspections: Thanks to HandySCAN 3D, technicians of all skill levels were able to get their inspection setups ready within minutes. Furthermore, with automatic the ‘’scan to mesh’’ capabilities, real-time analysis data can be sent directly to off-site engineers for faster decision-making.
     
  • More accurate inspection results: Inspectors are able to provide repeatable and accurate results on a variety of different pipe damage and corrosion occurrences. For example, accurate data can be obtained on complex geometries around transition sections for stabbing root analyses, on riverbed depth corrosions, at intersections of circumferential and longitudinal weld seams, etc.
     
  • Easier pipeline assessments: Due to its portability and ergonomic design, HandySCAN 3D makes it easier for technicians use—even in narrow and confined areas of excavation sites. This greatly improved the consistency of data capture. Pipecheck’s intuitive analysis interface also enables technicians to quickly identify critical pipeline integrity issues and report all damages at once.
     
  • Reduce OPEX and CAPEX costs: Due to more efficient and accurate pipeline inspections, National Grid was able to significantly reduce inspection costs as well as decrease unnecessary shell repairs and pipeline excavation times.  

 

National Grid, a UK-based energy company, carries out inspections and assessments of high-pressure steel pipelines.

In order to improve the efficiency and accuracy of pipeline assessments, National Grid has implemented a number of HandySCAN 3D scanners and Pipecheck pipeline management software across its network to facilitate on-going pipeline integrity inspections. National Grid deems that 3D measurement technologies are going to become a fundamental technology for their pipeline assessments.

“We are very pleased with the performance of HandySCAN 3D and Pipecheck,” explained James Gilliver at National Grid. “Our total examination times have been reduced thereby minimizing the time assessing damaged pipe.

James Gilliver added: “We were equally impressed with the accurate analysis data that the solutions could provide; technicians and engineers could easily capture data with portable equipment out in the field and readily transfer inspection information tour damage assessors for review. The use of 3D scanners for pipeline integrity assessments is becoming an important technology for National Grid as we continue to implement this within our business.”