Pipeliners Podcast


The Pipeliners Podcast is continuing a series on inline inspection (ILI) with Marc Lamontagne of the Lamontagne Pipeline Assessment Corporation. In this episode, host Russel Treat and Mr. Lamontagne discuss the important roles of geometry and mapping for inline inspection.

You will learn about the caliper and geometry tools used for inline inspection, why it’s important to have accurate maps to track the movement of a pipeline due to changes in the environment, why highly-trained people are critical to process the data produced by these tools, and more.

Stay tuned for more episodes in this inline inspection series covering corrosion, cracks, deformation, and the data that is used in inline inspection.

Geometry & Mapping Tools for Inline Inspection: Show Notes, Links, and Insider Terms

  • Marc Lamontagne is the president of the Lamontagne Pipeline Assessment Corporation. Find and connect with Marc on LinkedIn.
  • Caliper and geometry tools measure the out-of-roundness or potential out-of-roundness of a pipeline caused by dents, pipeline movement, and other normal activity.
    • A gauging tool is a type of basic caliber tool run in a pipeline to perform a preliminary evaluation before using a smart inline inspection device.
  • A pipe’s out-of-roundness refers to the amount of ovality detected in a pipe. According to the American Society of Mechanical Engineers, “the difference between maximum and minimum diameters shall not exceed 8 percent of average measured outside diameter of the pipe before bending.”
  • Pressure cycling is the routine actions taken in a pipeline — such as starting and stopping or moving fluid through the pipeline — that can affect the integrity of the pipeline.
  • Inertial navigation is a navigational system (INS) that uses multiple sensors to determine the position, orientation, direction, and velocity of an object in motion.
  • GIS (Geographic Information System) is a method of capturing the earth’s geographical profile to produce maps, capture data, and analyze geographical shifts that occur over time.
  • Finite element analysis is a mathematical method of mapping together all of the pieces of a pipeline to analyze the composition, evaluate the integrity of the pipe, and detect the presence of defects or cracking.
  • MOP (Maximum Operating Pressure) captures the strength of the walls in a pipeline or storage unit to understand the amount of pressure a wall can tolerate.
  • Root Cause Analysis is a problem-solving method that asks multiple “why” questions to get to the root issue that needs to be addressed.
  • The Pipeline, Pigging, and Integrity Management conference (PPIM) is a gathering of pipeline professionals from transmission and distribution companies to discuss pipeline maintenance, inspection, and integrity management.

Geometry & Mapping Tools for Inline Inspection: Full Episode Transcript

Russel Treat:  Welcome to the Pipeliners Podcast, episode 35.

[background music]

Announcer:  The Pipeliners Podcast, where professionals, Bubba geeks, and industry insiders share their knowledge and experience about technology, projects, and pipeline operations.

Now your host, Russel Treat.

Russel:  Thanks for listening to the Pipeliners Podcast. We appreciate you taking the time. To show that appreciation, we’re giving away a customized YETI tumbler to one listener each episode. This week our winner is John VanVolkinburg. Congratulations, John. Your YETI is on its way.

To learn how you can win this signature prize pack, stick around to the end of the episode.

This week we are continuing our series on inline inspection with Marc Lamontagne. This week we’re going to be talking to Marc about geometry and mapping and how that works in inline inspection. Marc, welcome back to the Pipeliners Podcast.

Marc Lamontagne:  Good morning, Russel. It’s great to be back again. How are things?

Russel:  Things are wonderful. I’m sitting here. Hopefully the listeners won’t hear the yard crew outside cutting the grass or the dog barking at the yard crew. Adventures in podcasting today, that’s what we’ve got going on.

Marc:  Perfect.

Russel:  I understand that you’re in a nice location right now.

Marc:  Yes, actually. Overlooking a small lake in northern Ontario, sitting in a log cabin and doing this by cell phone.

Russel:  See? I’ve got to tell you, ain’t technology great?

Marc:  It is fabulous. [laughs]

Russel:  Let’s dive in. We brought you back to continue our series here on inline inspection. Our topic of the day is tools for caliper and geometry for inline inspection. Maybe you could tell us, for those that don’t know, what is a caliper and geometry tool? How does it work?

Marc:  Caliper and geometry, they’re basically one and the same. What it is is a caliper on an inline inspection tool that measures the out-of-roundness or potential out-of-roundness of a pipeline. That could be either caused by dents or pipeline movement, etc.

Russel:  Why is that important in pipelining?

Marc:  Of course, you’re generally looking for your pipeline not to have any anomalies and typically running straight through unless, of course, there are bends that have been required during construction to redirect the line.

When a geometry issue happens, such as certain out-of-roundness, buckling, or denting then you’re putting in a secondary strain into the pipe, which may cause issues because the pipe is not designed to handle those greater strains. This could create cracking or a failure potential.

Russel:  Maybe a way to think about this for trying to explain this for the listeners that maybe don’t know this kind of thing. When you’re designing a pipeline, the design presumes a perfectly round pipe with a perfectly consistent wall thickness of a consistent type of metal. From that, we do math and calculate what load, what pressure that pipe will hold.

When I take that pipe and it’s no longer round, the way those pressures propagate change. In a perfectly round pipe the pressure is the same at any point along the wall but if I take that pipe and make it oval, now the pressure where the pipe is overbent at the end of the ovals is getting combined with the strain of compressing that circle into an oval.

That’s why that’s important. I’m trying to process this. Obviously, Marc, you know way more about this than I do. I know enough about strength of materials that that little dialog makes sense. Maybe you can correct me if I’ve got it wrong.

Marc:  A simple ovality where the pipeline has been slightly compressed without a material property change may not be an issue. It is where material properties may have changed because of, say, cold working or working of the metal, or where there may be sharp changes in geometry — pressure cycling affects that — to cause a fatigue situation.

Russel:  I guess the other thing that looking for that type of thing could find for you, it might give you an indication there could be something else going on, like there’s settlement, or erosion, or something else that might require looking at the bed that the pipeline’s placed in to make sure that it’s not causing issues.

Marc:  Yes, that’s correct. Definitely when finding pipeline movement, there may be wrinkles associated to it. Certainly a deflection in its direction may occur as opposed to potential dents where either construction issues…

During construction something hit the pipeline, or the pipeline may be sitting on rocks or a rock in the ditch causing a dent, or even third party issues where people external to the pipeline companies have come in and actually excavated above the pipeline and have accidentally struck the pipeline.

There could be any number of issues that have caused a geometric problem.

Russel:  I guess the first question I have, is caliper and geometry something that I would put on a tool with MFL and ultrasonic, or is it…? To me, that sounds like something that’s more mechanical than signal generating. Is that right?

Marc:  That’s exactly right. It is a mechanical tool that is very readily combined with other technologies. The tools themselves are typically made up of caliper arms which follow the contours of the inner portion of the pipe as the tool travels through.

Russel:  For all of my orifice measurement friends, this is taking what they carry around in their truck, the caliper, the orifice plate, and putting it on a tool, and making it run down a pipe.

Marc:  They are very sensitive, down to tenths of an inch. The tools themselves, of course, over the years…When they initially began running geometry or caliper tools it would have been, certainly back in the ’60s, early ’70s and they had a few caliper arms so therefore low resolution, whereas today you can get some very high-resolution caliper tools.

Russel:  Right, because they’ve got caliper arms, basically, all the way around the pipe.

Marc:  Yes, and even in sensors such as MFL sensors or other sensors that are running along the pipe wall. They can put caliper measurements within those sensor plates, sensor pods, as well then measure deflection as the tool goes through the pipe, too.

Russel:  It’s interesting, right? I’ve seen a lot of smart pigs, just in walking around various tradeshows and such. I know enough to know conceptually what they do. Now, as I’m thinking about what they look like, now it’s starting to make a lot of sense what I’m looking at.

The other thing I think that’s interesting about this is that just as with these other advanced technologies like ultrasonic where I’m getting more signal, I’m doing the same thing with a mechanical tool. I’m getting more signal because of what I can do with the actual electronics and computer package that runs on the tool. It can process more data and capture more data.

Marc:  That’s right. Also, one portion that we haven’t mentioned yet that can be combined in the tools is a mapping potion of the tool where they put in an inertial navigation unit, which are typically found in, say, cruise missiles…

Russel:  Spacecraft.

Marc:  …and spacecraft that very accurately identify the pipe’s location as the tool travels through the pipe. This enables operators to map in three dimensions the pipe along their surface.

Russel:  Not only do I know where the pipe center line is located, I also know where the wall is located.

Marc:  Yes.

Russel:  Around that center line.

Marc:  Right.

Russel:  That’s interesting. We ought to dig into that a little bit, because this starts getting into a whole ‘nother subject matter in pipelining and the need for very accurate maps. It’s not uncommon that you’ve got more than one pipeline in a right of way. It’s not uncommon that you’ve got more than one pipeline operator in a right of way.

It can be very important to know exactly whose line I’m talking about. By mapping it highly accurately that can be very valuable. The other thing, and people probably don’t realize this, but it’s not uncommon for a pipeline to move. You’ve got all kinds of mechanical forces. You’ve got the forces of temperature, heating and cooling, and things getting longer and shorter. That causes a pipeline to move.

You’ve also got the issue of soil movement and erosion and all these other things that cause pipelines to move. Being able to run a tool and know exactly where your pipeline is, over successive runs you can know if your pipeline’s moving and if it’s moving more than you would want it to.

That’s really interesting. It’s the same technology they use for missile guidance and space station guidance.

Marc:  Yes, it is.

Russel:  Once again, the space program provides something useful to industry.

Marc:  Exactly. There was a time when it was…The inertial navigation units were first being introduced into the inline inspection tools, that it was difficult to get these tools across borders, simply because they were military hardware that were in these units.

Russel:  That’s also true in GIS, when GIS first came out they could locate things plus or minus 10 or 20 feet. That was just because they detuned the system, because the military didn’t want the publicly available system to have the same accuracy as they were able to get.

It’s interesting how this technology proliferates and it finds lots of other uses, fascinating. I have asked the question again. I would assume that the same standards that govern the other tools also govern these caliper and geometry. Is there a name for these tools that are doing the GIS location?

Marc:  Mapping tool would be the most common name.

Russel:  I would assume that it’s the same standards that govern the other kinds of inline inspection tools also govern all this stuff.

Marc:  Exactly. The standards are more a compendium for inline inspection as opposed to based on separate technologies, although within the standards they may break down into each technology.

Russel:  What are the strengths and limitations of this caliper geometry and mapping technology?

Marc:  As I mentioned, they are very sensitive to pipe out-of-roundness. Not only can they describe in detail simple ovalities but the higher resolution tools can map out dents and/or wrinkles to an extent that allows for detailed analysis to be done, such as finite element analysis, to examine the integrity of a particular location.

Russel:  I have to stop you. I’ll have to ask you to define…I know what finite element analysis is only because I did it in college.


Russel:  I bet a lot of our listeners don’t. Why don’t you tell us what finite element analysis is?

Marc:  Simply put, finite element analysis breaks down a defect into small bits, allowing for the analysis of these small bits to be combined into a larger overall trend and to determine its acceptability within the integrity parameters. It looks at very detailed metallurgy or stress components to allow for a very thorough analysis of a particular anomaly.

Russel:  I’m going to try it in layman’s terms. I’m going to ask you to confirm or deny…We’re talking about military technology. Confirm or deny my explanation.

Basically, finite element analysis is a mathematical approach where I look at multiple factors and I use this approach to look at those factors and combine the outputs.

For example, if I’ve got a pipe and it’s got an ovality and a dent and it’s got a wrinkle and some cracks I can look at each of these things distinctly and then put them together and come up with an analysis of what is the stress or the pressure I can put in that pipe and still be safe.

Marc:  Yes, exactly. That’s much better said.

Russel:  Ultimately, what we’re trying to get to is, what is the MOP on that pipe given that feature or set of features?

Marc:  What is the integrity, yes, definitely.

Russel:  What are the limitations of this, if anything? I tend to think visually. What I’m getting is a picture of the shape of the pipe but I’m not getting anything about cracks, or corrosion, or anything else. It’s just shape.

Marc:  That’s right. In that regard, it ultimately requires combining other inspections to determine whether there is cracking, or corrosion, or metal loss interacting with the geometric anomaly.

Russel:  Right. I guess the other thing about this kind of analysis is it’s really…conceptually it’s pretty simple, but the idea that I can find dents and I can understand how big the dent is, how deep the dent is. That’s pretty powerful.

Marc:  Yes, it is. As I say, mapping out each of these anomalies has been quite an advantage to pipeline integrity itself. Not to mention the mapping units, when combined with crack inspection or metal loss corrosion inspection, allows for potential patterns to be seen with respect to elevation changes or even environmental changes.

There’s a multitude of things that can be examined when combining the various technologies.

Russel:  That starts to make a lot of sense to me because if I know I have cracks and an ovality and I know where those cracks are with respect to the ovality I begin to understand what’s causing the cracking. That allows me to more effectively plan my mitigation and understand my risks associated with that.

Marc:  Similarly, say corrosion near high voltage electrical lines. It provides another level of knowledge.

Russel:  That’s actually kind of fascinating. The thing that’s interesting about this, as I began to think about it, is what’s more powerful than any of the tools, per se, is the combination of the data and the analysis you can apply to the combination.

There’s more value in that than in any tool in particular, which says that if I’m going to have an inline inspection program I need to have a program using multiple tool types.

Marc:  It provides for a root cause analysis. What is causing these threats? How can we mitigate the root cause to minimize these threats existing?

Russel:  We’ve already talked about this, about what’s the output and how is the analysis performed. We could probably ask this question. That is, I’m new to ILI. What would you want me to know about these geometry and mapping?

Marc:  If we step back a little bit, there are presently still gauging tools, which are very low res, not smart, caliper tools. These are simply plates of varying diameters that are on a tool that will be run prior to using a smart inline inspection device in a line that has not been run before, just looking for potential areas where damage could occur to an expensive smart inline inspection tool.

Those are a certain type of caliper tool called gauging tools. Then, to be more detailed, a caliper tool can be run through the pipe prior to the use of an MFL or ultrasonic tool.

Sorry, I forgot the question. [laughs]

Russel:  You were talking about gauging tools and what they do as opposed…The question I was asking is, if I’m new to ILI what would you want me to know? I guess the point you’re making here is that if I’m running one of these smart tools I need to run something else before to make sure I’m not going to damage the tool and to make sure I’m going to get good data collection.

I think that makes a really good point. There’s a couple of parts to this that are, with any of these tools, that are important. One is these tools are expensive. You don’t run them very often. They’re expensive to run. They can be an upset to operations. I may have to control the speed at which I’m running the tool in order to get good signal pick up and that type of thing.

You need to do it in a very planned way. Part of the preparation is to run a gauging tool in advance to make sure you can run the tool and get the results you’re looking for.

Marc:  That’s correct.

Russel:  That’s something, if you hadn’t told me that I would have never known it. That’s a very important thing to know.

I think the other thing that’s coming up as walk through the series for me, Marc, is this is a lot of data. It’s a lot of data, the idea of, how do I pull all of this together and make sense of it? That’s a bit daunting to me.

Marc:  That’s right. Not only…

Russel:  What does it take to get to the point that you have enough education and experience to do something meaningful with all this stuff?

Marc:  I think that’s in every evolving part of this industry. Of course, software is getting better. The inspection technologies are continually improving.

As artificial intelligence comes in, that could only help to improve the response and the analysis for these inline inspections.

We certainly do see that the combination of inline inspections and the availability to do that is foremost with many operators presently, because you do get so much more information and knowledge of your pipeline system and the issues surrounding it when all of these platforms can be combined into a single product.

Russel:  It’s interesting. I went to the Pipeline, Pigging, and Integrity Conference earlier this year. It was the first time I’d ever gone to that conference. I was walking around and trying to learn the business. I was, in particular, looking for software companies that provided tools for management and analysis of all this stuff.

There weren’t very many. I think I found one or two. They were pretty small. I think there’s certainly an opportunity in the market that’s going to be presented to provide tools to manage and analyze all this stuff.

I guess the other thing that comes up for me as we’re walking through this series is, like a lot of other things, we tend to think of ILI as a domain and it’s really not. It’s a whole set of domains. Each of these tools has its own unique technical expertise required to optimize their use. There’s the integration of all the data.

There’s applying that to my particular operation and understanding what that means from a risk standpoint.

This is really pretty daunting.

Marc:  It is a heck of a lot of information. What you mentioned is a one-time look at it. Then you do multiple inspections. You want to compare to what your line looked like previously. It is quite daunting and a lot of information that requires a lot of processing and some people power.

Russel:  No doubt. I think if I were a pipeline operator this is the thing that would keep me up at night or cause me concern. “What is the thing that I should know about that’s in my data that, for whatever reason, I’m not seeing?”

Marc:  Even with inline inspection it’s finding that needle in the haystack, that one excursion area that might be present. That’s what it’s about.

Russel:  That’s exactly what you’re trying to do, is to find the needle in the haystack, because the truth of it is issues and incidents in pipelining are pretty rare, particularly if you measure that as a factor of the amount of product moved. They’re much more rarer than you would find in trucking, or rail, or shipping.

However, that being said, they always have, or often have, very significant consequences. It’s very important to find that needle in the haystack and, as a pipeline operator, have confidence in your team, and your tools, and your approach that it’s going to find the needle.

Marc:  Exactly. That’s well put.

Russel:  This is awesome. We’ve got a couple of more episodes that we’re going to talk about. We’ve got two more that Marc and I have discussed, one around new technology in ILI. What’s the new stuff that’s coming, then, we want to talk in particular about ILI data analysis. What is that? What are the tools? How is it done and so forth?

Please come back and listen to the rest of this stuff, and Marc, as always, thank you very much for participating and offering your expertise.

Marc:  Anytime, Russel. It’s been fun.

Russel:  It’s been fun for me, too. I’m learning a bunch. This is awesome.

I hope you enjoyed this week’s episode of The Pipeliners Podcast. I hope that, like me, you’re continuing to learn about inline inspection as we talk to Marc Lamontagne. Certainly, it’s a steep learning curve for me. I hope that, like myself, you’re learning, as well. I hope you find this of value as a listener.

Just a reminder before you go, you should register to win our customized Pipeliners Podcast YETI tumbler. Simply visit pipelinerspodcast.com/win and register yourself in the drawing.

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Russel:  If you have ideas, questions, or topics that you’d be interested in hearing us talk about on the Pipeliners Podcast, reach out to us on the Contact Us page at pipelinerspodcast.com or you can reach out to me directly on LinkedIn. Thanks again for listening. I’ll talk to you next week.

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