Fit for purpose through electromagnetic examinations

Piping Up For Technology Series (Part 6)

Innovation never stands still – there’s always a new advancement coming down the pipe. Enbridge is constantly testing commercially available technologies, and looking for opportunities to enhance existing technologies, in the areas of design, prevention, monitoring and leak detection, to keep our pipelines safe.

Our Piping Up For Technology Series, on the @enbridge blog, offers a glimpse of various research projects we’re engaged in, and the efforts we’re making to adapt and harness technology for safety’s sake. These proactive investments in innovation are intended to add another layer of safety and security to our pipeline network – and, ultimately, to the energy transportation industry as a whole.

Internal pipeline inspections may be moving from shear waves to the next wave.

Enbridge focuses heavily on prevention to keep our crude oil pipeline network safe. In-line inspection (ILI) tools, known in the industry as “smart pigs,” are highly complex pieces of machinery that use advanced imaging technology to inspect our pipes inch by inch – and are essential to our program of prevention.

Well, if the world can build a better mousetrap, perhaps it can build a better smart pig too.

Electromagnetic acoustic transducer (EMAT) technology is an ultrasonic testing technique that can be used to measure wall thickness, detect small cracks, and identify irregularities in pipeline coatings—and, potentially, be used to detect and measure cracks within deformations.

Up until recently, EMAT inspection tools – about nine meters (30.5 feet) long, compared to a typical four-to-seven-meter (13 to 23 feet) ILI tool used on a 30-inch-diameter line – have been used primarily for gas pipelines. Enbridge’s EMAT validation project is currently testing this technology for potential application along our crude oil network.

“The ultrasonic tools that we currently use are based on conventional shear wave technology—essentially, a signal is produced by the sensor and transmitted into the pipe wall and back through a liquid medium, with that same sensor detecting any reflections of the signal,” says Laura Seto, an engineer in our Pipeline Integrity group who’s leading this EMAT validation project.

“EMAT is different – it also generates sound waves, but it uses electromagnets to generate that sound wave within the pipe wall itself,” she adds. “Potentially, EMAT technology may be able to detect cracks within deformations, such as dents, that traditional ultrasound tools may not pick up.”

Enbridge’s EMAT validation project began in 2011. Following a feasibility study, lab testing, and further functionality analysis, we’re currently at the evaluation stage, testing the technology within our pipeline network.

One successful tool run was conducted in spring 2015. Further data collection will be based on the relative success of those results, while vendors continue to work with sensor design.

If EMAT technology proves itself capable in crude oil pipelines, Enbridge expects to apply and enhance EMAT for broader industry application.

“EMAT technology was developed to detect cracks alone,” says Seto. “As part of our validation project, we want to develop EMAT to detect cracks within dents . . . and expand its capabilities.”

Watch for upcoming posts from our Piping Up For Technology series on the @enbridge blog channel.