As pipeline safety becomes increasingly important, a portable and quick method of measuring pipeline integrity without damage is moving toward validation. Pipeline leaks can increase emissions and lead to explosions. But monitoring the material properties of the metal in the pipeline can help operators track the health of their pipelines and act quickly if weaknesses in the metal are discovered during inspection, said Plastometrex CEO James Dean.

Onshore pipeline leaks have “leveled entire communities and led to multiple deaths,” Dean said, noting leaking pipelines and risers can cause other issues as well.

“Spills can also be devastating to the environment, and cleanup costs can run into the hundreds of millions of dollars,” he continued. “Technology that can better support the monitoring of the integrity of these assets is extremely important.”

Plastometrex Portable Separate
Portable Plastometer and the cradle attached to the pipeline. (Source: Plastometrex)

Plastometrex developed a mechanical testing system that uses small indentations on the pipeline’s surface to infer the tensile strength of the metal. Developed about four years ago, the technology has been used on five continents and in several industries.

The company has been adapting that technology for use on oil and gas pipelines, partly in anticipation of expected U.S. regulations that will make pipeline testing more rigorous. Plastometrex has been working in partnership with asset integrity specialists ROSEN; testing, inspection and certification provider Element Materials Technology; and the National Physical Laboratory, the U.K.’s measurement standards laboratory.

To date, Dean said, Plastometrex has lab-based portable pipeline-focused prototypes of its Indentation Plastometer and associated CORSICA software that have shown encouraging results on pipe tests. It uses profilometry-based indentation plastometry, a non-destructive technique developed more than a decade ago by scientists from the University of Cambridge, he said.

Plastometrex’ Portable Indentation Plastometer is modular and comes with a cradle that can be positioned on the pipe to perform the testing around the entire 360 degrees of the pipeline. In the future, it will be able to check the strength of manifolds, T-bends and junctions, he said.

James Dean Plastometrex
(Source: Plastometrex)

"Any metal asset we can access, we can attach the device and give meaningful strength information." – James Dean, Plastometrex

“Any metal asset we can access, we can attach the device and give meaningful strength information,” Dean said.

The cradle takes about a minute to attach to the line. The automated system takes about 10 minutes to do five indentations at the site. A second automated module measures the shape of the indentations, which takes an additional 10 minutes. In total, Dean said, a full quadrant of a pipeline can be tested in less than 30 minutes.

Dean compared the Indentation Plastometer to two other methods of pipeline testing. One scratches the surface of the pipe and calculates the strength of the pipeline, while another also uses indentations but has some limitations, he said.

For the Indentation Plastometer to work, the user will do minor prep to ensure 360-degree access to the pipeline. The pipeline surface is then cleaned and ground to prepare it for indentation testing. Then, the cradle and indenter modules are attached.

“After that, it’s hands off. You simply press a button,” Dean said.

The user can set the depth of the indentation, and once activated, the indenter module will carry out the run, he said. The profilometer measurement module is then attached, and it carries out an automated mapping of the indentations.

“If the system senses something is not right, say the curvature is too high, or there’s another issue, it tells you, so you are aware immediately,” he said. “You can use our system without specialized training.”

Validation tests are expected in the first quarter of 2023 in the U.S., and Dean expects the portable pipeline modules to be commercially available by summer of 2023.