The Pipeliners Podcast is completing a series on inline inspection with Marc Lamontagne of the Lamontagne Pipeline Assessment Corporation. In this final episode of the series, host Russel Treat and Mr. Lamontagne discuss current and future technology used for ILI.
Mr. Lamontagne provides his perspective on the current tools available for ILI, how to use these tools effectively, and where the technology is going to enhance the reliability of inspection. You will also learn about the technology coming down the pipe in the next two decades that could drastically improve inspection.
New Technology 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.
- SmartBall provides accurate leak and gas pocket detection without interrupting service to make the inspection.
- Magnetometers are used to measure the gas level within a pipeline based on the direction, strength, or change of a magnetic field that has gone through the pipe.
- Hydraulic modeling outlines what pressures should be found running through the length of a pipeline and compares the model to the actual pressure that is measured.
- Ultrasonic inline inspection uses sound waves to send a signal into a steel pipe to detect the presence of corrosion or cracks within the pipe.
- The phased array technique is an advanced method using sound waves to detect cracks in a pipeline, measure wall thickness, and perform corrosion testing to evaluate the integrity of the pipe.
- EMAT (Electromagnetic Acoustic Transducer) is an ultrasonic tool that uses sound waves to perform non-contact inline pipeline inspection.
- The Caliper tool uses geometry for inspection. The tool runs sensors along the wall of a pipeline to continuously measures the diameter and report back the data.
New Technology for Inline Inspection: Full Episode Transcript
Russel Treat: Welcome to the Pipeliners Podcast, Episode 40.
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.
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This week on the Pipeliners Podcast, Marc Lamontagne is returning to talk to us about new technologies in inline inspection. Let’s welcome Marc Lamontagne.
Marc, welcome to the Pipeliners Podcast.
Marc Lamontagne: Thanks, Russel. Again, it’s fabulous to be here, so bright and early.
Russel: It’s very early. I don’t know how bright it is, but yes. I do appreciate you getting up early to have the conversation. Marc, I asked you back. I wanted to continue the conversation we’re having about inline inspection and talk about new technologies.
I know there’s a fair number of technologies that are relatively new on the market. I thought we would just dive in and talk about those. What is new in the world of inline inspection?
Marc: As you mentioned, these technologies are presently available. They look at leak detection, other methods of looking for metal loss or cracking in both gas and oil pipelines, as well as a new technique based on tried and true technology to look at deformations and geometry changes in the pipeline.
Russel: Why don’t we just run them down. One of the ones that I’ve heard about is commercially called SmartBall. Maybe we can start talking about what is the SmartBall, what’s the technology, and what’s it used for.
Marc: The SmartBall is based on acoustic emission to look for leaks in a pipeline. This acoustic emission actually can pick up quite small leaks. Their limit, as they mention, is approximately 0.028 gallons per minute.
Based on my experience with an operator who was using the SmartBall to check it, actually drilled a one-eighth inch diameter hole into their pipeline prior to the inspection, a very small leak.
It found it with no problems. Of course, that’s on a very small diameter pipeline, as well. It actually is a proven technology. It can also include on a single run a mapping of your pipeline and hydraulic pressure mapping as it goes down the pipe.
An interesting other option is a magnetometer to capture the gas level within the pipe based on the magnetics that have gone through the pipe.
Russel: Wow. That’s really interesting. I know a little bit about SmartBall because I’m familiar with some operators that have run it as a way to locate very small leaks, identify that they have them, and locate where they’re occurring.
I didn’t know you could actually get pressures along the pipe. That’s really fascinating.
Marc: It is. It’s a good double check for your hydraulic modeling.
Russel: Right. Wow, I hadn’t even thought about that. I could actually run a hydraulic model that’s telling me what the pressures ought to be throughout a length of pipe, or throughout a pipe segment, and then run this technology and compare the pressures I’m measuring to the pressures I’m modeling.
Marc: Yes, exactly.
Russel: Is anybody round-tripping that data back into their hydraulic models to tune their models?
Marc: I have not been part of that, but I would certainly hope so.
Russel: If nobody’s doing it, somebody, please do that. Call me, and let’s talk about it because that’s fascinating. You mentioned the other thing that it can do is pick up the level of magnetism in the pipe. I’ve not heard of any other tool that does that. That seems to me to be unique.
Marc: Myself, as well. That is unique as far as I’m concerned. If there is an issue with welding or such that you’ve actually talked about in the past, this would be a good tool to be utilized.
Russel: Just a few episodes ago, we had Jeremy Groover on. He has a company called Industrial Degauss that can demagnetize pipe for welding.
When we were talking about that, it was interesting. It sounds like in many cases, he’s called out when somebody’s having a problem.
The idea that I can run a tool before I get ready to do mitigation and understand whether or not I’m going to even need to deal with demagnetization, that’s kind of neat.
Marc: That’s a good step forward.
Russel: No doubt. How widely used is SmartBall? I’ve heard about it, but I haven’t heard a lot of operators using it yet.
Marc: Actually, it’s widely used, and it’s not only in the oil and gas industry. It’s used in water mains, etc. It’s becoming more and more prevalent in the industry, and certainly is a good tool if there’s concern of pitting corrosion, microbial corrosion, which creates very small wormholes through the pipe. It is a very good technology for that.
Russel: A lot of the CPM technologies — the computer-based technologies that are running off the SCADA data — they begin to lose their fidelity at one percent of the nominal flow. They’re very difficult to even tune down that level with a low level of false alarms.
Adding something like SmartBall to a program that can identify very small leaks, even well below that one percent of flow range, that can be really valuable to a program.
Marc: Yes, most definitely. It covers that with respect to operations, and also the limitations of other inline inspection tools.
Russel: Interesting. What are some of the other technologies that are new and improved?
Marc: Ultrasonic metal loss and ultrasonic crack inspections have been around since at least the early ’90s. One modification of the ultrasonic metal loss and cracking tools is using phased array to impart the ultrasound into the pipe wall.
Typically, it is being used for a singular threat such as metal loss or cracking during runs. Theoretically, it could have the capability of looking for both metal loss and cracking within the same run.
Russel: Interestingly enough, we talked in our last visit about visualization, and in particular, 3D visualization of the data capture. Just this last week on my LinkedIn feed, somebody put up a 3D colorized image that was phased array data. It was displaying the quality of a girth weld in three dimensions and using color. It was really fascinating. It was cool.
I expect we’re going to be seeing a lot more of this kind of technology, just because it makes doing the analysis so much easier if I have a good way to visualize it.
Marc: No doubt. A picture’s worth a thousand words.
Russel: Absolutely. How prevalent is phased array? It’s interesting to me because the first time I even saw anything about that was just this last week.
Marc: Like you say, it’s been around for a few years. It’s as far as I know not in high use. It does have runs with various operators, but the technology’s there. With further inspections and further work on the tool software as well, the capabilities could be enormous with that tool.
Russel: Interesting. I know there’s some others. What are some of the other new technologies that are out there?
Marc: Another ultrasonic tool used actually created primarily for gas lines. The typical ultrasonic tools run in liquid lines generally to enable transmission of the ultrasound into the pipe wall. Gas pipelines have had issues in that regard obviously.
A newer technology is that of EMAT, which is electromagnetic acoustic transducer type tools. It is based on magnetics which when set up and tune appropriately can actually create an ultrasound in the pipe wall, using the magnetics through the gas.
This type of tool will hopefully be used and enable crack inspections to be done on gas pipelines.
Russel: How new is that technology?
Marc: One of the earliest tools was put on the drawing boards in the late ’90s, and has actually come into service. Of course, this is a very difficult technology to work with in gas lines because of some mechanical type issues.
The tools have been in operation for a few years and are collecting information on cracks, as well as even coating disbondment.
Russel: Interesting. Basically, the ultrasound signal is indirect. It’s not like you’re using an instrument that’s generating ultrasound. You’re using instruments that’s generating a magnetic signal, but in the way that it’s being generated that becomes a ultrasound that can be picked up and analyzed.
Marc: That’s right, exactly.
Russel: Again, that’s just fascinating to me. I wonder what kind of beer the guy was drinking when he came up with that idea.
Marc: Yeah, that’s it. It’s definitely one of those out-there technologies.
Russel: Yeah, it’s one of those things. I have no idea how that particular idea came up, but I’ve been around when some other ideas were being noodled on.
It’s always interesting how you have these kinds of conversations. You connect some dots in a way and you go, “That might work, we should try that.” 20 years later, hey, new inline inspection tool. Fascinating.
How widely used is EMAT in gas at this point?
Marc: A number of operators have utilized it. Actually, there are three pipeline inspection companies that have EMAT tools presently. The technology’s out there. It’s being improved all the time. I believe there’s some good information coming from it.
Russel: One of my experiences, too, with any kind of new technology — I’ve been involved in bringing many new technologies to market — is that when you create a brand new capability that maybe an operator’s never seen before, or they’re not familiar with using, the adoption process can be difficult.
In this case, ultrasonics for cracking and liquids line is well understood and mature. Cracking and analyzing cracks in gas, not as well understood because there just hadn’t been a lot been a lot of tools for doing it.
Marc: Yes, that’s correct.
Russel: I would assume there’s a fairly steep learning curve that the industry has to get through on the gas side for this to be widely adopted and become part of standard practice across the industry.
Marc: That’s right. It’s good to have operators who realize the potential but also the work that will be required to get the tools to that potential.
Russel: Like I said, when we were talking about data integration, as I reflect on this, it’s clear that this just continues to be more and more complex. Of course, in the complexity, there’s a lot of opportunity for improving safety. Again, it’s a bit mind boggling, frankly.
Marc: That’s right.
Russel: What about any other new technologies that are available in the inline inspection domain?
Marc: One of the newer technologies is for deformation and geometry anomalies within pipelines and it’s using ultrasonics. It’s actually an ultrasonic geometry tool.
The technology ‘til now has been what’s known as caliper tools. They have quite a number of arms, calipers, that extend beyond the tool and right along the surface of the pipe, the inner surface, of course.
When these caliper arms come into contact with a deformation, of course, they deflect a certain amount. That amount of deflection is measured and recorded to give depth. Also, it will record its length and width based on those caliper arm deflections.
The new tool is ultrasonic. It will ride in the pipe, measuring with an ultrasonic beam the roundness of the pipe in very fine detail. This has the advantage of being quite a direct measurement based on the time of flight of ultrasound, and also has the added advantage of not having lift off of sensor arms to provide a potentially more accurate measure of the dent or deformation.
Russel: With calipers being a mechanical device, it’s easy to understand how quickly the arm moves, how much movement can be detected, and then how quickly the arm returns to the original position.
All of that can impact quality of the data collected, where with an ultrasonic tool, you don’t have those mechanical limitations.
Russel: With an ultrasonic geometry tool, would that conflict with the other kinds of…I don’t imagine I’d be able to run both an ultrasonic crack tool and an ultrasonic geometry tool on the same tool, or is that even a possibility.
Marc: I believe that would be a possibility. They would be two separate and distinct units of the same tool, sort of a train of units. I believe that would still be possible.
Russel: That’s fascinating. I could see in particular where I’m looking for smaller geometric anomalies. Picking that up with an ultrasonic tool would be much more feasible than with a mechanical tool.
Marc: Yes, that’s correct.
Russel: I would assume the signal fidelity is quite a lot more accurate. I think in mechanical tools, a tenth of a inch is a pretty good level of quality in the measurement. I would expect in an ultrasonic, I could do maybe on an order of magnitude better than that.
Marc: I would say so. I haven’t been privy to this information as yet, but I would assume so.
Russel: If we were going to be in the business another 20 years, what do you think we’d be seeing 20 years from now, new technology in this domain?
Marc: With pipe being steel and inline inspection tools running on the inside, my small mind has difficulty fathoming other technologies that would be viable to map the internal and external surfaces of the pipe with newer technologies and different technologies.
Russel: If I were going to speculate, I’d think a couple of things. We already have handheld devices so that when I’m doing a dig, I can do very direct and detailed inspection.
I wouldn’t be surprised if 20 years from now, somebody’s come up with a way to use some type of ground penetrating radar to do an inspection from the surface. Kind of a spot inspection but from the surface, giving me information about geometry and wall thickness.
I would expect that there’s technology used today for other purposes that with additional processing power and so forth, you might be able to get to a fairly accurate representation of the quality of the pipe without actually having to run a tool inside the pipe.
Marc: That would be fabulous and something to see.
Russel: If you think about that, the economics of that could be compelling. If I knew that I had a problem with a particular segment of pipe, and I wanted to locate it prior to digging, that might be a mechanism for doing that.
It’s way outside of my ability to figure out how to actually make that happen, but I know enough about what other people are doing with that kind of radar for locating things.
If you watch any of the Science Channel stuff, or the Discovery Channel stuff, or the treasure hunters, that’s the kind of stuff they’re using.
Marc: That would be very good if the resolution could get there with ground penetrating radar. That would be amazing.
Russel: I don’t know that you’d ever get it as good as what you could with running a tool. Certainly, there’s complexities and operational interruption with running a pig that I might be able to avoid if I had other ways of doing indirect inspection. That’s my what do I make up might be possible conversation.
Marc: That’s very good.
Russel: If I had unlimited beers and unlimited time, there’s no telling how much I could come up with, particularly if I don’t actually have to build it.
Marc: That’s right. Give somebody else some ideas.
Russel: That’s right, and all free. Ideas are free. I guess just to wrap this up, this is the fifth episode that you’ve joined us, and we have talked about a broad number of subjects. It’s kind of interesting. ILI, or inline inspection is one of those things.
I’ve been in and around pipelining for a quite a long time. I understood what it was and notionally how it worked, but I’m in a very different place now than I was before we started these series of conversations. For that, Marc, I want to say thanks. It’s been really educational.
I have some new buzzwords that I can use to sound intelligent. That’s always helpful.
Marc: A few new acronyms.
Russel: That’s right, a few new acronyms. I now know the difference between feature, an anomaly, and a defect, those kind of little details.
For those of you that are interested in what those are, if you hadn’t listened to Marc’s first episode, go back and we talk about those things in detail, when he was just beginning to get me started and educated in this subject.
I do the three key takeaway things around a lot of the episodes. I want to try to do that more around just this whole subject of inline inspection and see if I can summarize the whole five episodes up into three key takeaways.
I think the first thing is that overall, this is deep, it’s highly technical, and it’s highly complex just as a subject matter, more so than a lot of other things that I deal with. That would be the first thing.
I think the second thing is ultimately, how you do ILI is all about the program, what tools I’m running, when I’m running those tools, having an understanding of the physical construction and the environment around the pipe, as well as the results of multiple inspections over time. It’s all about the program.
Lastly, where the rubber hits the road in all this is doing the data integration to quantify risk and have a clear understanding and approach for identifying and mitigating these anomalies. It sounds easy if you say it fast, so I guess we’ll say it fast.
Marc: Great summary, Russel.
Russel: Thank you. I’m very serious, Marc. I feel like I actually have a bit of an understanding of what this technology is all about. I feel like I can have a semi-intelligent conversation now with somebody who’s a professional in this domain. I don’t know that I could have before we embarked on this particular conversation.
Hopefully, the listeners have learned, as well. I know I certainly have.
Marc: I appreciate being here and offering what little I know about the various technologies and hope it’s been helpful.
Russel: It certainly has been for me. As we move forward with this whole Pipeliners Podcast thing, I’m sure we’ll be asking you back.
Particularly, as new regulations or new technologies come out, it’d probably be good to get you back and talk about those things and their impacts.
Marc: Yes, sir, would love to.
Russel: Thanks again for joining us, Marc, not just for this episode, for the whole series. Get your coffee down and have a great day.
Marc: Thank you, Russel, same to you. Have a good day.
Russel: I hope you enjoyed this week’s episode of the Pipeliners Podcast and our conversation with Marc Lamontagne, as we’ve come to the conclusion of these series of episodes on inline inspection.
Hopefully, you have found this valuable. I certainly have. It’s been a good learning process for me. I feel more equipped to talk intelligently about inline inspection than I did before we started this journey.
Just a reminder before you, you should register to win our customized Pipeliners Podcast YETI tumbler. Simply visit PipelinersPodcast.com/win to enter yourself in the drawing.
Thanks again for listening. I’ll talk to you next week.
Transcription by CastingWords