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Robotic In-line Inspection of Pipeline Girth Welds for Fitness for Service Assessments By Aaron Huber

Robotic In-line Inspection of Pipeline Girth Welds for Fitness for Service Assessments

of Pipeline Girth Welds for Fitness for Service Assessments By Aaron Huber and Mikhail Sokolov and

By Aaron Huber and Mikhail Sokolov and presented by Edward Petit de Mange Diakont, San Diego CA, USA

Pipeline Pigging and Integrity Management Conference

Marriott Westchase Hotel, Houston, TX, USA 12-13 February, 2014

More than half of the nation’s pipeline infrastructure was constructed before 1970 when minimum federal pipeline safety standards were first adopted. Prior to 1970, girth welds were generally of a lower toughness, and were often not inspected during construction using modern NDE methods. Despite these factors, operational failure rates of girth welds are low, usually only propagating to a critical size when in the presence of external loads being applied to a pipeline. These loads can be caused by ground movement resulting from landslides, mine subsidence, seismic events, or other geotechnical instability.

With girth weld failures leading to ruptures or leaks having the potential to create public safety disasters, some pipeline operators have begun to perform work to assess and mitigate the risk of weld failure. However, existing commercial technologies provide limited means for efficient, economical, high-resolution in-line inspection of pipeline girth welds. Existing methods for conducting in-service inspections of the integrity of girth welds include hydrotesting, external inspection, and internal (in-line) inspection.

A successful hydrotest confirms integrity at a given temperature and pressure. However, even a minor variance in pipeline temperature will modify the axial stresses applied to the weld, potentially compromising the validity of the test results. Also, hydrotesting requires that the line be taken out of service for some time, does not provide information on the locations or types of defects, and has the potential to weaken the integrity of already-degraded lines. And hydrotesting is inherently invasive, particularly for natural gas pipeline operators, due to the necessity of introducing and then disposing of the extremely large amount of test water.

External UT girth weld inspections provide very-accurate integrity data, and can be completed while the line is in service, but require that each girth weld be excavated to expose the pipe joint. Large-scope excavation and external coating removal greatly increase schedule duration and financial expense of an inspection project and increase the risk of potentially damaging a good-condition pipeline in the process. Lastly, pipeline excavation is often not feasible for long lengths, encased lines, or lines beneath road or river crossings.

In-line inspections using conventional UT or MFL technology can also provide integrity data of girth welds. For the highest resolution, crawler-deployed UT is used, but in this case a liquid couplant is required, which limits tool range and effectiveness for natural gas pipelines.

Radiography can also be used to conduct in-service inspection of girth welds, however this method typically requires access to both the ID and the OD, making it generally non-feasible.

This paper describes a new girth weld in-line inspection method that was developed in support of growing industry demand. The paper describes the theory and methodology of using arrays of Electromagnetic Acoustic Transducer (EMAT) ultrasonic sensors to assess the integrity of pipeline girth

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welds. The paper also reviews the validation process and pilot projects successfully completed to date using the method.

In-Line Girth Weld Scanner Solution

Diakont recently completed development and is in the final stages of commercialization of a robotic in- line tool system which performs high-resolution ultrasonic girth weld inspection using the dry, non- contact EMAT method. Deployed from a convenient access point on a purged out-of-service line, the robotic tractor-driven tool drives to each weld in the identified area of interest. The tool then performs an active scan of each weld for any construction or operational defects such as cracks and volumetric anomalies which could become critical in the presence of certain external forces. By using an in-line method, the girth weld scanning tool performs inspections without conducting expensive large-scale excavations, without the associated coating removal/replacement, and without the negatives of other inspection methods. It also supports inspection of pipelines not accessible with conventional flow- driven ILI tools.

In 2013 the California Energy Commission awarded a $1M grant to Diakont to perform commercial demonstrations of this newly-developed robotic in-line tool system on a pipeline in PG&E’s service territory.

Development Considerations

Prior to development, several functional design criteria were established for the in-line girth weld scanner. An imperative requirement was that the tool had to inspect the entire girth weld from the internal surface of the pipe. Another requirement was that the system had to employ high-resolution UT sensors for the scanning technology. EMAT was selected as the preferred sensor solution because it is a proven method that can easily be conducted remotely, without surface preparation or a couplant. However, since EMAT transducers operate without contacting the pipe surface, a consistent gap distance from the inspection surface must be maintained for acoustic coupling over the air gap. The need to manage the gap across irregularities in pipe wall surfaces, such as build-up and ovality, was another design consideration.

Environmental performance was another major consideration. The tool had to operate reliably in a wide range of temperature (-5°C to +50°C) and humidity (up to 100%) conditions to account for seasonal variations. The tool also was required to meet explosion-proof standards.

Most importantly, the tool was also specified to meet the requirements of “unpiggable” pipelines that are difficult to inspect using traditional flow-driven tools.

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Robotic Girth Weld Scanning Using EMAT UT

As mentioned above, EMAT UT was the sensor technology identified for the in-line girth weld scanning solution. The main operating principle of the EMAT UT method is the electromagnetic-acoustic transmitting and receiving of ultrasonic shear waves (SH), with linear polarization. These ultrasonic waves are generated in the surface layer of an inspected metal via the EMATs. A baseline magnetic field is applied to an inductor coil by a permanent magnet within the transducers, fabricated from a Neodymium-Iron-Boron (Nd-Fe-B) alloy. This generates ultrasonic waves within the inspected metal, which reflect off of defects and material changes, and are then registered by the transducer. The amplitude of the signal received is proportional to the size of the defect. The diagram in Figure 1 presents the operating principle of 0°-incidence EMAT.

1 presents the operating principle of 0°-incidence EMAT. Figure 1: Diagram of EMAT Operating Principles Girth

Figure 1: Diagram of EMAT Operating Principles

Girth welds are challenging to inspect with ultrasonic technology due to their coarse, anisotropic grain structure which attenuates the ultrasound and creates wave velocity variances. A large dataset, comprising various angles and frequencies, is required in order to capture all resulting reflections. However, for expeditious in-line robotic data collection, a scanning process was preferred that did not require axial and circumferential sweeps of a transducer. The development team solved this issue with a multi-channel frequency-time (FT) EMAT scanning technique. A set of nine FT scans are generated, with each frequency corresponding to a different input wave angle. Figure 2 presents a diagram of multi-channel FT EMAT scanning steps conducted from both sides of a girth weld. In real-time throughout the weld scan, the nine FT scans are fused into a single combined dataset by sequentially overlaying scans and using an algorithm to calculate values throughout the scan area.

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Figure 2: Multi-Channel EMAT Scanning Steps The in-line girth weld scanning tool is equipped with

Figure 2: Multi-Channel EMAT Scanning Steps

The in-line girth weld scanning tool is equipped with two manipulator arms that position transducers along the girth weld. Each arm has two transducers, with one oriented on each side of the weld, within the heat affected zone. The manipulator arms rotate the transducers circumferentially around the entire weld throughout the course of the scan. Figure 3 presents a rendering of the in-line girth weld scanner with the EMAT transducers positioned on the girth weld.

EMAT Transducers
EMAT Transducers

Figure 3: Rendering of the In-Line Girth Weld Scanner

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The new girth weld scanning system’s sensor suite is deployed on a base robotic ILI tool platform design which has been utilized for “unpiggable” pipeline inspection for several years. The crawler tool design uses three-point ruggedized tracks that provide stability and traction for traversing piping systems historically considered “unpiggable”, including crossings, compressor station manifolds, pump stations, storage facilities, and lines with difficult geometries or significant diameter changes. At the current time, the size of the girth weld in-line scanner hardware limits the tool’s navigation capability somewhat – in that it cannot travel through piping with diameters under 28” or through vertical sections. Due to the EMAT method’s dry-coupling, the pipe’s internal surface must also not be overly rough or dirty.

Verification Testing

To ensure that the system met the design specifications, and establish detection specifications, systematic verification runs were performed in 2013 and early 2014, once the development was complete. Statistical test runs were performed on a controlled loop containing artificial and operational defects in the girth welds and the surrounding heat affected zones. These defects consisted of drill holes and grooves oriented along the girth weld. There were also volumetric defects including lack of penetration.

Each of the girth welds within the test loop was examined with new girth weld scanning technology and the defects were mapped and characterized. The girth welds were then scanned using radiography and handheld manual UT to establish baseline values. The verification revealed that the girth weld scanner accurately detected and measured all of the defects that were within the technology’s specifications (as shown in Table 1), with a high confidence, and statistically low false positives and false negatives. These specifications are intended to meet the requirements of potential future fitness-for-service assessment procedures for in-service pipeline girth welds.

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Parameter

 

Value

Defects Detected

 

1. Cracks or crack-like defects along a girth weld with length (along the weld) ≥ 0.59” and depth ≥ 0.080” from pipe base surface (POD 90%) 2. Girth weld volumetric anomalies with reflecting ability equivalent or greater than that of a side-drilled hole with a diameter of 0.200” (POD 90%)

Measurement Accuracy

Region Width •± 0.4Region Length: not measured Region Depth: not measured

 

Circumferential Location Measurement Accuracy

 

± 1.2”

Productivity

1-2 welds/hour

 

Width of Weld Bead

 

≤ 1”

Thickness Difference / Misalignment Tolerance

≤ 0.120 in.

Thickness Difference / Misalignment Tolerance ≤ 0.120 in.

(When greater than specified value, area shown in red color is not scanned)

Surface Roughness of Adjacent Pipe

Not rougher than Ra 64

 

Thickness of ID Deposits on Adjacent Pipe Base Metal

0.015”

Diameter Range

28- 55

 

Table 1: Technical Specifications of In-Line Girth Weld Scanning Tool

Pilot Projects

In 2013, Diakont conducted multiple successful pilot inspection projects using the in-line girth weld scanning technology. These were performed on natural gas pipelines for Gazprom, and liquid pipelines owned by a major North American operator. Based on the successful inspections and corresponding favorable validation results, Diakont has already been contracted to perform inspections during 2014 of the girth welds on large-diameter piping at six natural gas compressor stations.

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Conclusion

Some pipeline operators have already incorporated girth weld assessment in their transmission integrity management programs; however the prior-state-of-the-art methods for inspection were not reasonable for to use for inspecting a large number of girth welds, or those which are encased or beneath crossings.

The new robotic in-line method developed by Diakont for performing in-service inspection of pipeline girth welds with EMAT was successfully tested on operational pipelines in 2013. This technology provides high-resolution data, and is a commercially-reasonable method that fits well an operator’s existing operational activities. By accessing the girth welds from the ID, and inspecting with EMAT, the in-line girth weld scanning solution removes the requirements for excavation, extensive surface preparation including removing external coatings, or the use of couplant. The automated in-line girth weld scanning solution takes just 20 minutes to scan a girth weld, and can be remotely navigated over long umbilical lengths to particular girth welds of interest. Table 2 presents a comparison of the in-line EMAT girth weld scanner verses conventional UT inspections. The in-line girth weld scanner solution has proven to be a faster, lower cost, and lower risk option when compared with alternate inspection methods.

No.

Parameter

In-Line girth weld scanning with EMAT

Manual UT inspection of girth welds from OD

In-line girth weld inspection with conventional UT

 

Type of

Conducted from inside of the pipeline

Conducted from outside of the pipeline

Conducted from inside of the pipeline

1

inspection

 

Access for

Pipeline temporarily taken

Pipeline remains in service

Pipeline temporarily taken out of service

2

out of service

inspection

Deploy tool from access point

Excavate pipe and remove coating

Deploy tool from access point

   

No preparation

External cleaning required on inspection surface

 

3

Preparation of

pipeline surface

required, as long as buildup is <0.020”

Varies cleaning likely required

4

UT method

EMAT

Piezoelectric

Piezoelectric

5

Acoustic contact

Not required

Couplant required

Couplant required

 

Typical required time for

     

6

inspection of one girth weld (28” diameter)

20 minutes

30 minutes

30+ minutes

Table 2: Comparison of In-Line Girth Weld Scanner Solution versus alternate UT methods

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REFERENCES

1. CFR Title 49 Part 192: Transportation of Natural and Other Gas by Pipeline

2. API 1163: In-Line Inspection Systems Qualification Standard

3. ASME B31G: Manual for Determining the Remaining Strength of Corroded Pipelines

4. M. G. Silk.(1984). "Electromagnetic Acoustic Transducers", Ultrasonic Transducers for Nondestructive Testing., pp. 111-119. Adam Hilger Ltd, Bristol.

5. E. Rolland Dobbs.(1973) "Electromagnetic Generation of Ultrasound", Research Techniques in Nondestructive Testing, Vol. 2, pp. 419-441. Academic Press London and New York.

6. H. Salzburger,. W. Mohr.(1979). "Electromagnetic-Acoustic Generation of Ultrasound", 2nd Seminar on Characterization of ultrasonic Equipment. October 9-12, 1979. I.Z.S.P, Saarbrücken, Germany.

7. R. Scrivner, B. Exley, C. Alexander. “Weld Failure in a Large Diameter Gas Transmission Pipeline.” (2010) 8th International Pipeline Conference. September 27 October 1, 2010, Calgary, Alberta, CanadaGirth. Houston, TX.

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