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PRACTICAL CONSIDERATIONS FOR USERS OF GUIDED WAVE ULTRASONIC TESTING

Joseph M. Galbraith and George C. Williamson


BP America Production Company
501 WestLake Park Boulevard
Houston. Texas 77079
ABSTRACT
Over the last decade, commercialization of Guided Wave Ultrasonic Testing (also
referred to as Long Range UT) has provided industry with a powerful new technique for
ascertaining the integrity of piping systems. The major advantage of the technique is it's
capability to screen inaccessible piping over long distances from a single exposed location.
The information developed allows the user to identify the locations in a pipe that have suffered
potentially injurious corrosion and gain an understanding of the significance of the damage.
Guided Wave Ultrasonic Testing (GWUT) provides this and other advantages when
compared to more conventional non-destructive testing (NDT) techniques. As with all NDT
techniques, though, GWUT has limitations that must be kept in mind by the user to properly
understand and utilize the results. This paper will discuss these advantages and limitations to
assist the user in utilizing this impottant inspection technology.
Keywords: Guided wave ultrasonic testing, long-range ultrasonic testing, inspection of
inaccessible pipe, cased pipe inspection, buried pipe inspection, pipe integrity
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07164
Paper No.
2007 by NACE International. Requests for permission to publish this manuscript in any form, in part or in whole must be in writing to NACE
International, Copyright Division, 1440 South creek Drive, Houston, Texas 777084. The material presented and the views expressed in this paper are
solely those of the author(s) and are not necessarily endorsed by the Association. Printed in the U.S.A.
Copyright
INTRODUCTION
Until the 1950s, detection of internal features in piping could only be accomplished with
radiography. At that time the ultrasonic method of non destructive testing (UT) was developed
and is now one of the most widely used methods to detect thickness of piping and define the
extent of corrosion, erosion or other forms of metal wastage. Ultrasonic waves are mechanical
waves, and in conventional testing normally have a frequency range from 1 MHz to 25 MHz.
For measurement of wall thickness the pulse-echo technique utilizing longitudinal
(compression) waves is generally employed. These waves are generated by an oscillating
crystal, travel through the material under test at a known velocity, and when reflected off the
far surface travel back through the material and are detected by a receiving probe I.
Although this method is widely used and well accepted, there are disadvantages with
compression wave ultrasonic wall thickness testing. A major limitation is only the thickness of
the material directly under the probe is determined. Although computerized automated
ultrasonic scanning systems are now available that are capable of measuring the thickness of
material in many thousands of locations in a given area (often referred to as corrosion
mapping), again, the wall thickness is determined only at spots that are directly under the
probe or transducer. Therefore, direct access to one surface of the pipe to be inspected is
required. Furthermore, the transducer must be coupled to the pipe to eliminate air gaps, and
the contacted surface of the material being tested must therefore be relatively smooth.
These limitations compromise the usefulness of compression wave ultrasonic testing to
determine the condition of long lengths of piping, particularly piping that is difficult to access
(insulated, in elevated pipe racks or drops down the sides of tall vessels, directly buried or
encased under road crossings, and so forth). This problem created the impetus to develop
other techniques that can provide a more cost effective solution for inspecting long lengths of
piping. In the 1990s work began at Southwest Research Institute on development of guided
wave inspection utilizing magnetostrictive sensors, while in the same period work was
conducted by The Welding Institute that focused on generating guided waves using arrays of
piezoelectric crystals. Both techniques are now commercially available, and provide the
capability to inspect long lengths of piping from a single access point, and detect and locate
both internal and external corrosion damage.
DISCUSSION
Due to the fact that guided waves travel through the bulk of the material, GWUT testing
of pipe can locate both internal and external corrosion damage. The results provide accurate
information regarding the location of any damage detected, and can provide a relative rank of
severity based on the strength and characteristics of the returned signal. Long distances of
pipe can be inspected from a single sensor location, which reduces the amount of pipe that
needs to be accessed. This can significantly reduce the cost of inspecting long lengths of pipe
that are elevated, buried, insulated or difficult to inspect with other non-destructive testing
techniques. Furthermore, this technique can be used on in-service piping without disrupting
the transported product.
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Guided wave ultrasonic testing can be used to rapidly establish the condition of piping
during a single survey. However, an even more powerful technique is use of the system for
monitoring of changes in the pipe. This is accomplished by permanently establishing the
sensor location and preferably leaving the sensor in-place. Sequential inspections with the
same equipment settings and sensor position allow the analyst to subtract the most recent
dataset from the older dataset(s), thereby establishing whether active corrosion or erosion is
occurring. The detection of changes over time can be much more sensitive than the
identification of metal loss in a single survey.
Guided wave ultrasonic testing utilizes mechanical waves; however, a much lower
frequency typically ranging from 30 to 75 KHz is used than in conventional ultrasonic testing.
These waves travel within the bounded surface of the test piece parallel to its surface, thus,
they are referred to as "guided" waves. The longer wave lengths result in much more complex
signals than are typical in compression wave ultrasonic testing. In pipe the guided waves
exist in three modes: longitudinal, torsional and flexural. More than one mode can exist in a
given pipe at a single frequency. These factors combine to create a response that is much
more difficult to analyze than are conventional UT results. Sophisticated computer-based
signal processing has provided a solution to this difficulty. However, to develop reliable
results operators require extensive training and experience in the setup and operation of the
equipment and the analysis of the results produced.
These complex signals travel through the full cross-sectional area of a pipe, and are
scattered by changes in the cross-sectional area. The location of the scattered signal is known
with a sub-foot accuracy, but the profile and depth of corrosion cannot be directly determined
from the results. This has a major implication relative to the use of the results. Since the
methods used to evaluate the remaining strength of corroded pipelines such as ASME B31G
require that both the maximum pit depth and the longitudinal length of corrosion be
determined, guided wave ultrasonic tests do not provide the data needed to directly evaluate
the effect of an area of corrosion on the integrity of the damaged pipe. Thus, guided wave
inspection is a screening tool that will identify the location of corrosion, but further inspection
with other non-destructive testing techniques is required to provide the information necessary
to determine the integrity of the pipe.
The providers of guided wave inspection generally use ten percent change in cross-
sectional area as the limit of detectability that will be identified as moderate corrosion in field
tests while stating that changes of as little as two percent change in cross-sectional area can
be detected in ideal situations. By using the monitoring technique, changes as small as one-
half percent of the cross-section can be seen. In a single survey, though, a two percent
change in cross-sectional area can actually be a complete perforation if the corrosion occurs
as shallow pitting. Using an example of a 34 inch (86.4 cm) standard walled pipe which has a
wall thickness of 0.375 inch (9.52 mm) and a cross-sectional area of 39.6 square inches (255.5
sq cm), one can see by reviewing Table 1 that corrosion that has a profile with a pit diameter to
depth ratio of 6, which is actually a shallow pit, can be a complete perforation of the pipe and
still be below the ideal detection limit of guided wave inspection. Using the ten percent cross-
sectional change, a wall loss of sixty-five percent with a diameter to depth ratio of 100, which is
general corrosion, is just at the detection limit. Certainly, corrosion that jeopardizes the
integrity of a piping system can escape detection by a guided wave ultrasonic test.
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Furthermore, there is no absolute method to calibrate the data. The signals are
calibrated using Dynamic Attenuation Curves (DAC) with the primary curve established based
on the symmetric responses from girth welds. Inconsistent weld profiles caused by lack of
penetration, improper alignment, high-low, and use of backing bars or a change in the root or
cap profile are not uncommon in pipelines. This can create errors in the assumed DAC shape.
as there is no way to adjust for these irregular reflectors without detailed knowledge of the girth
weld profiles up and down the pipe. In addition, the shape of the feature that scatters the
waves has a strong influence on the amount of energy that is reflected back and received by
the sensors. Also, the combination of two or more areas of damage in close proximity can
alter the response by constructive or destructive interference. All of these factors compromise
the ability to precisely size the reflectors and determine a specific percentage of cross-
sectional or volumetric loss from GWUT data.
It is possible to inspect hundreds of feet of piping from one sensor location. This is
commonly accomplished in situations where neither a dense product nor the environment in
contact with the outer surface of the pipe causes attenuation of the mechanical waves.
However, many conditions exist that do limit the distance that can be reliably interrogated and
can create artifacts in the data. These include:
various coating such as coal tar epoxies, asphalt-tar wraps, concrete, etc,
@ plastic sleeves, particularly those with internal mastics
wet insulation, particularly if ice is present
rough internal or external surfaces
0 direct buried pipe, particularly in situations where heavy or wet soil is encountered
dense product, internal buildup of solids, and situations with variable product flow
system noise created by factors such as turbulent product flow or pumps
0 temperature variations and gradients that can lead to changes in the wave velocity
In such cases, the amount of pipe inspected can be reduced to only tens of feet, and due to
the reduced inspection distance and I or the creation of data artifacts the usefulness of guided
wave ultrasonic testing can be compromised.
Finally, interpretable results are not produced for some distance on either side of
sensor, creating a dead zone of several feet centered on the sensor. In addition, since the
scattering occurs at changes in the cross-section of the pipe or changes in the acoustic
impedance that exist at cracks and so forth, corrosion that exists as grooves that pass under
the sensor location or that results in a gradual variation can exist without being detected.
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CONCLUSIONS
Guided Wave Ultrasonic Testing provides a powerful new tool to locate and estimate
the severity of corrosion in piping systems that are difficult to access.
With only a single
access point for the sensor, hundreds of feet of pipe in both directions can be inspected, even
around bends. However, due to a number of factors the results can be difficult to interpret and
significant damage can be overlooked. These facton include:
1. Complicated evaluation of data is required due to signal complexities
2. Dimensions of corrosion (wall loss, longitudinal length, profile) cannot be directly
determined
3. Significant corrosion can be missed
4. The reflected signal cannot be equated to a specific area or volume of loss due to a lack
of an absolute calibration standard
5. Many field conditions exist that limit the distances that can be effectively inspected and
that cause artifacts with can complicate analysis
Guided wave ultrasonics is an important screening tool that provides the capability of
quickly surveying long lengths of piping. It is particularly useful to screen pipe that is difficult to
access, locating both internal and external corrosion that can be evaluated further with other
more conventional NDT techniques. By keeping its capabilities and limitations in mind the
results can be effectively utilized to help assure the integrity of piping systems.
ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS
Many knowledgeable individuals and experts have provided guidance to us in this
subject matter. In particular we would like to acknowledge Mr. Joe Brophy of B 8 E Limited,
who has graciously provided a great deal of valuable knowledge and experience that he has
gained in developing and fielding the services he provides. We would also like to thank Mr.
Richard Cook and Mr. Kelly Smith of Petrochem Inspection Services, and Mr. Grady Ferguson
of ImPro for the information they have shared.
TABLE 1
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~b ~ e p t h D&&bh by GWT @wed nt parahe~ic stiap. with varyily ph d t p ~ ~ ~ am1 diamercq
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REFERENCES
1. ASM Committee on Ultrasonic Testing, ASM Metals Handbook, Volume 11 -
Nondestructive Inspection and Quality Control, 8Ih ~di ti on, Pages 161-198, American
Society for Metals,~etals Park, 0hi d 44073
-
2. J. Galbraith, J. McMillan, "Assessment of Piping Integrity by Automated Ultrasonics",
Proceedings of the First International Symposium on Process Industry Piping, 1993
3. H. Kwun, S. Kim, G. Light, "Long-Range Guided Wave Inspection of Structures Using
the Magnetostrictive Sensor", Southwest Research Institute, San Antonio, Texas 78238
USA
4. P. Mudge, J. Harrison. "TELETEST Guided Wave Technology - case histories",
Nondestructive Testing, I" Middle East Conference and Exhibition, Bahrain. 2001
5. Supplement to ASME Code for Pressure Piping, "Manual for Determining the
Remaining Strength of Corroded Pipelines. ASME B31G, The American Society of
Mechanical Engineers, New York, NY 10017
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