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Is your pipeline clean enough for in-line inspection?

By David Russell and Gordon Short, Pipeline Engineering, Catterick, UK Intelligent inspection plays a key role in the continuing monitoring of pipeline integrity. It is widely recognised that one of the main causes of the failure of such surveys is the unexpected presence of unacceptable quantities of debris in the line being surveyed, leading to a degradation of data quality. As a result, the design of a suitable pre-cleaning programme, and the reliable assessment of its results, plays an important role in the overall success of the inspection process. However, since techniques for assessing pipeline cleanliness have remained relatively primitive, it is generally required to design these pre-inspection cleaning programmes in a conservative way, for example by aiming to clean until satisfied with the volume of debris produced with a pigging tool. This extends the timescale for the operation, while nevertheless all too frequently failing to prevent surveys which deliver data compromised by the presence of large quantities of debris. Recent advances in intelligent calipering technology have resulted in improvements in the tools used to carry out these assessments, allowing for far greater accuracy when measuring the depth of debris present on the pipe wall. This paper looks at the techniques currently adopted for assessing the cleanliness of pipelines and in particular describes the use of Hall Effect based sensor technology, configured to detect proximity to the pipe wall. The paper considers how this has been used in a tool with a suitable arrangement of pig mounted sensors which has the capability to measure the circumferential profile of debris to an accuracy of +/-0.5mm.
Oil and gas pipelines represent a major national and international asset. Globally there are in excess of 2 million kilometres in production, and the UK Continental Shelf (UKCS) offshore network alone comprises some 14,000 km. The average age of the main export pipelines, representing 63 per cent of the entire network, is 17.2 years, compared with typical 25-year design lifetimes, with operators looking to extend beyond this. As a result proving the integrity and monitoring the condition of these assets is of vital importance if they are to stay in service. To do this, pipeline operators primarily use inspection tools (intelligent pigs) to provide data on the condition of the pipe material. However, for these to work effectively they require the lines to be clean to ensure good sensor contact with the metal surface. It typically costs $US400,000+ to survey a pipeline in this way, with some offshore lines costing over $US2 million to inspect. However, all too often these surveys are severely compromised because of the poor quality data that is captured caused by the pipeline being dirty. Pipeline operators contract specialist pipeline cleaning companies to prepare and clean their lines prior to running inspection tools. This typically involves running a variety of cleaning pigs to remove debris, such as waxes and sands. At present there are no measurement tools available to pipeline cleaning companies that enable them to measure how effective they have been and whether they have conditioned the line to the standard required. Those tools that do exist (data loggers and calipers) cannot measure the residual debris with a sufficient resolution to provide this information. As such judgement decisions are made regarding when a pipeline is deemed clean. These decisions are frequently wrong, resulting in very expensive failed inspection runs or more worryingly inaccurate data resulting in lines either being allowed to continue to operate when potentially unsafe to do so, or having to be down-rated when this isnt actually necessary. Pipeline Engineering (PE) recognised that there was a need for an inspection tool capable of measuring residual debris deposits. If this could be included within the companys existing cleaning service, it would be possible to measure the effectiveness of a cleaning job whilst in progress. To achieve this, PE proposed

Figure 1: Proof-of-concept sensor testing.

using intelligent calipers as the base technology for the product. These combine proximity sensors to directly measure sensor lift-off with a more traditional multi-channel caliper to measure residual pipe bore. It was this concept that has resulted in the PECAT the pipeline cleanliness assessment tool the development of which is discussed in this article.

The first step required in the design of a practical cleanlinessmeasuring pipeline inspection tool is the identification of suitable instrumentation to make the measurement. The outline conceptual design provided parameters that potential solutions would have to satisfy, namely that the pig should have the ability to measure the build-up of wax and scale on the inside of the pipeline. The obvious route to achieve this is with something that would have similar dynamics to existing in-line inspection detector fingers. It was felt to be neither necessary nor desirable for these to replicate the functionality of such mechanisms, as in order to keep the build cost of the system within targets, individual arms need to be relatively inexpensive.

Pipelines International digest | april 2010


Possible solutions that suggested themselves at this stage included: Some type of non-contacting measurement, possibly ultrasonic in nature; Magnetic proximity sensors (with various technologies possible here); and, High resolution calipering. The choice between these represents a choice between two competing philosophies on making the measurement. Firstly, using a proximity measurement (i.e. measuring the sensor lift-off from the metal of the pipe wall) is a local measurement, which should be relatively accurate. The drawback is that no information is then provided about dents and other out-ofroundness features. On the other hand, an adaptation of a callipering solution would measure only the internal diameter. Accuracy in this type of system is likely to be limited by the relatively loose tolerances on the internal diameter of API specified linepipe. As far as magnetic sensors are concerned, this technology has formed the basis of magnetic flux leakage (MFL) tools for many years, and its operation in pipelines is well understood. Ironically, the fact that MFL survey results are compromised by the presence of wax and other debris in the pipeline, was a good indication that the instrumentation is sensitive to the debris. The challenge was to find a configuration that would allow the amount to be accurately quantified. MFL systems generally use measurements of axial flux to detect defects; however, the radial flux can be

shown to be strongly dependent on the distance to magnetic pipe material. A set of proof-of-concept tests was performed, both to confirm that the Hall-effect sensor idea was sound, and to select the best combination of sensor and magnet. This work demonstrated that the proposed sensor concept was feasible, and that a system could be assembled from readily available components. The required performance was clearly demonstrated over the range of interest. Figure 1 shows the experimental set-up, and Figure 2 shows the sensitivity demonstrated over the required range. With the Hall element mounted on a dummy sensor sledge and a magnet separation of approximately 10 mm, clear sub-millimetre resolution over the first 20 mm of lift-off was readily obtained.

Tool specification
The first action in the full engineering programme of work was the preparation of a detailed specification for a prototype tool, intended to be suitable for both testing and field-trial purposes. The specification falls into four major areas, each of which was considered separately, before a final specification was prepared that was felt to be realistically achievable, while meeting the previously identified market needs.

Sensor system
The debris-measurement system was specified to have a maximum angular separation between sensor arms of 15, with an

Figure 2: Proof-of-concept results for Hall sensor.

Pipelines International digest | april 2010


was going to include wall-contacting arms, the extra engineering to include a measurement of the angle between the pig body and the arms was thought to be worthwhile, particularly as it can provide a confirmation of the profile of any debris on the interior of the pipe wall. The specification of measurement for the caliper system was prepared so as to be consistent with the debris measurement system. The decision having been taken to construct the initial demonstrator tool at 10 inch, the range of arm movement to be measured was specified as 75137 mm, with other values identical to the offset sensors. It has to be accepted that a practical system cannot currently be engineered that is capable of making an accurate measurement of the total volume of debris in a pipeline, as the integration of values that may be in error by even 0.5 mm over the length of a pipeline will lead to very wide error bands on any such estimate. Figure 3: Polyurethane spring under test at 70Celsius. accuracy of measurement of +/-0.5 mm over a range of 020 mm. Measurement resolution was specified to be 0.1 mm. Separation values were based on an understanding of the number of arms required to give a good picture of the circumferential profile of any debris in the pipeline, tempered against the practicalities of how many arms could physically fit around the circumference of the tool. The accuracy of measurement is a compromise between the desire to provide as accurate a measurement as possible, and the realistic expectations raised by the preliminary study. Readings are to be taken every 5 mm, which is in line with highspecification caliper pigs and other intelligent inspection systems. A fall-back time-based data acquisition system was specified in order to ensure that data was captured even if the odometer system suffered complete failure. After preliminary consideration of the likely nature of the mechanical design, the decision was taken to include caliper measurements in the system specification given that the tool

Mechanical system
The mechanical carrier system was required to be capable of passing through a 1.5D bend at maximum wall tolerance limit, and of passing an 80 per cent reduction in bore.

Range was to be a minimum of 100 km in distance-driven mode, and 24 hours in time-based mode, powered by a rechargeable battery. The system was to be capable of acquiring data at the specified 5 mm interval at speeds up to 7 m per second, equivalent to 1,400 Hz. Given the importance of this aspect of the design, it was also recognised that sufficient modularity to allow ranges to be extended should form part of the specification.

The initial specified environmental conditions were a maximum operating pressure of 150 bar, and a temperature range from 0 to

Figure 4: Polyurethane spring load characteristics.

Pipelines International digest | april 2010


Figure 5: 10 inch PECAT tool. 80Celsius. The tool was to be designed to operate in both liquid and gas, and to be able to resist the aggressive fluids to be found in hydrocarbon pipelines. As had been identified in the market study, the tool had to be designed to meet the requirements of Atmosphere Explosibles (ATEX). These requirements form a set of guidelines intended to provide a uniform set of safety standards for the operation of electronic equipment in explosive atmospheres across the European Union. New tools intended for operation in the offshore environment must meet these guidelines, both in design and manufacture. Originally introduced on an advisory basis in the mid-1990s, ATEX is now compulsory for new products in the European Union. Some ambiguity exists regarding whether the in-pipe environment is covered by the regulations, although it is

Figure 6: Test spool in line. clear that the area around the trap during launch and receive operations is. On the other hand, pipeline inspection tools are not designed to operate in this area. Given the differences of opinion that exist, it was considered prudent to engineer PECAT to meet ATEX requirements. While ATEX remains a purely European issue, International Electrotechnical Commission Explosive (IECEx) certification constitutes a direct equivalent with a growing global relevance. The expectation is that a global standard will emerge over the next few years. For a system of the type under consideration here, consisting of multiple powered sensors mounted external to a pressure vessel containing a power source, and logging electronics, the obvious design constraint introduced here is the necessity of avoiding the existence of any effective source of ignition. This needs to cover

Figure 7: Preliminary results from test spool.

Pipelines International digest | april 2010


Figure 8: Petrofac test loop. not only the obvious risks arising from failures of electronics or batteries, but also the avoidance of the possibility of mechanical striking of sparks, and electrostatic discharge. This causes some slight restriction in choices of materials. Achieving ATEX or equivalent consists of three activities: Design to avoid sources of ignition; Third-party testing to demonstrate compliance with applicable standards; and, Quality assurance to demonstrate that manufactured tools are complaint with the design. Following the achievement of being certified by an external body, the tool needs to carry appropriate markings. In the present case a route combining explosion proofing of the pressure vessel with intrinsic safety in the sensor design has been pursued. The PECAT system has been designed to be compliant with ATEX from the beginning, and formal certification is currently in progress.

Prototype build
Relatively few variations from this original specification were required in light of the design engineering process. A few minor changes were made, principally the following: Time above 50C limited to a few hours; and, Passage of tool through 80 per cent crash bore limited to be at a 3D (rather than 1.5D) bend. The suspension system for the arms was designed using polyurethane springs, rather than conventional springs. These springs in a range of different hardnesses were extensively tested in order to ensure that concerns regarding durability and performance at elevated temperatures were adequately addressed. In order to obtain reproducible results, a test jig was produced consisting of an aluminium channel, and angle sections, and was used to contain the prototype sensor assembly. The bottom of the sensor assembly was mounted on two rollers so that there was no restraint on horizontal movement as the parallelogram was compressed. The base of the jig was independently mounted to allow free movement with respect to the top. The whole jig could be mounted in a hot-water bath in order to perform testing at elevated temperatures. Both loading and unloading curves were generated. Figure 3 shows one of the springs under load at 70C, and Figure 4 shows the small variation in the load deflection characteristic compared to that at ambient conditions. The utility of the design lies in designing the arms system so that the spring lies on the flat part of its characteristic throughout its expected range of compression. Design and construction of the 10 inch tool uncovered relatively few unexpected issues. The requirement to pass 1.5D bends, and


m m

10 inch pipeline
0.0078 0.273

Unit volume

Length of pipeline


Total pipeline volume Table 1: Petrofac loop specification.

cubic metre

cubic metre/ metre

0.052 52.035




Pipelines International digest | april 2010


Figure 9: Typical sensor data at dent. 80 per cent restriction led to a dual module design being required. Figure 5 shows the demonstrator tool.

Figure 10: Typical sensor data in polyurethane inserts. 20 5D bends, and can be operated at pressures up to 7 bar, and a maximum flow rate of approximately 350 cubic metres per hour.

Pig testing
Test facility
In order to test the tool, a simple pipe spool was manufactured, replicating the type of feature the tool is designed to measure (Figure 6). A debris coating was simulated by bonding a series of polyurethane inserts into a pair of short flanged pipe sections. Each insert is approximately 50 mm in length, and a total of four such inserts were used, with thicknesses of 5, 10, 15 and 20 mm. A series of dents were created in a further short section of heavy wall pipe. These ranged in size from around 2 per cent of inner diameter (approximately 5 mm intrusion), up to 25 per cent (approximately 60 mm intrusion). This was intended to test both the ability of the tool to detect and size relatively small features, and to test its ability to transit relatively large features while still making useful measurements. This spool was initially used in small-scale pigging trials to confirm functionality of the tool. Figure 7 shows some preliminary (uncalibrated) results from these tests, which were intended only to demonstrate the basic functionality of the tool. Full testing was performed at a facility belonging to Petrofac at Montrose, UK, with the test spool described above inserted into a 10 inch, 1 km long test loop. Table 1 gives the overall test loop specification, while Figure 8 shows the layout. Performance of the PECAT tool was verified at speeds from 0.25 m per second up to 1.4 m per second. The loop contains a short elevated section, and

Test programme
The main objects of this testing were twofold. Firstly it was desired to prove the mechanical robustness of the tool, and particularly of the sensor system, in a relatively onerous service. The second objective was to generate sufficient data to demonstrate that the accuracy and repeatability of data generated by the tool met the required specification. In order to achieve this, tests were repeated for a range of velocities from 0.25 up to 1.5 m per second. Table 2 summarises the tests performed. Tests were repeated a number of times, in order to give a total of 15 km of data.

Test results
Initial results were considered to be promising. The tool arms coped well with both the general pigging duty through the pipe and round the 5D bends, and the more difficult transit past the larger features in the test spool. Over the course of the testing only minor wear was noted to the contacting parts of the sensor arms, and both the polyurethane springs and the fabric hinges used to retain the sensor heads showed no signs of damage. With the exception of a single run where user-error caused a minor issue, the logger unit was successful in recording data throughout the course of the test work. The raw data generated in the test spool shows good agreement throughout with the expected readings with the polyurethane inserts clearly visible in all data sets.

Speed (metres per second) 0.27 0.48

Flowrate (cubic metres per hour) 50 90

Volume (US bbl/d) 13593 21145 7552

Time to pig 1 km 62 min 27 secs 26 min 01 sec 34 min 41 secs











22 min 18 secs 11 min 39 secs


15 min 46 secs

Table 2: Pig loop test matrix.


Pipelines International digest | april 2010


Figure 11: Offset sensor data in test spool. Applying a preliminary calibration to the offset sensors allows the data to be presented in a more intuitive format. Figure 11 shows the readings for all 28 arms, while Figure 12 shows readings for all 28 arms combined into a single image, with the 5 mm steps clearly visible.

Having identified a requirement for a tool capable of quantifying the amount of debris left in pipeline prior to performing an intelligent inspection, PE has built and tested a tool designed to be capable of measuring up to 20 mm of wax, scale, or similar material on the inside of a pipe. Test work on a 10 inch prototype tool has demonstrated that the PECAT tool offers a realistic prospect of providing a genuine solution to the technical challenge. Engineered solutions have already been prepared for larger pig sizes, and the tool is currently undergoing field trials.

Figure 12: Integrated data for polyurethane insert spools. Figure 9 shows a typical raw data trace for one arm for the spool with dents, both offset and caliper data. It can be noted how the offset data shows a peak to either side of the dent, indicative of the sensing arm lifting up as it crosses the peak of this dent. The caliper reading indicates where the arm is pressed in, with the offset sensor showing a slight peak on either side where its sled is lifted off the pipe metal. By contrast in Figure 10, which shows the coated spools for both caliper and sensor, the data pattern is similar for the two sensors, as the arm is pressed in, and the polyurethane inserts lift the offset sensor in the arm away from the metal.

Pipeline Engineering acknowledges the assistance of Yorkshire Forward during the course of this project. This paper was presented at the 22nd International Pipeline Pigging & Integrity Management (PPIM) Conference organised by Tiratsoo Technical and Clarion Technical Conferences and held in Houston in February 2010. For more information on future PPIM conferences visit


Pipelines International digest | april 2010