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New developments in the inspection

of gas distribution mains


by Dr Kiran Kothari1 and Philippe Rave2
1
2

Tuboscope Vetco Pipeline Services, USA


Gaz de France, France

Contents of this Paper:

Introduction

Inspection module design considerations

Delivery system

Entry technique

Data processing

Initial test results

Summary

Note: Graphics not available.

Copyright 2001 Scientific Surveys Ltd. All rights reserved.

Pipeline Pigging and Integrity Monitoring Conference: Kuala Lumpur, 1998

Gas distribution utilities in the United States currently maintain and operate some 857,000 miles of mains to
deliver approximately 20 trillion cubic feet of gas per year to residential, commercial and industrial customers.
Steel mains account for approximately 600,000 miles. It is estimated that approximately one billion dollars are
expended annually for replacement of damaged or deteriorating gas mains. The past results have indicated that
next to the third-party damage, the primary repair and replacement costs are associated with cast iron and
unprotected steel pipe. Statistics also show that significant costs of repairing or replacing mains are for pipes in
the 4- to 8-in diameter range.
In the absence of any quantitative technique for assessing the condition and remaining life of buried, in-service
gas mains, replacement and repair decisions are usually based on the past leakage history. Other factors
considered in the decision process include soil conditions, the proximity of highly utilized public facilities, plans
of other utility or roadway excavations, or instituted policies to replace certain kind of pipe material, etc. Hence,
the development of reliable and cost-effective in-line and in-service inspection using no-dig or less-dig
technologies will assist the industry in improving the repair and replacement decision, ultimately reducing the
costs for pipe repair and replacement.

Introduction
This paper details the results of the Gas Research Institute/Gaz de France sponsored project directed at the
development of an internal inspection method using magnetic flux leakage (MFL) technology for in-service
buried gas mains. The paper will highlight some of the design challenges faced and details of the final prototype
(Fig.1). A novel technology for insertion of the inspection system in mains will also be described. The paper will
also discuss results of initial field trials conducted in the U.S. and the planned trials in France.

Inspection module design considerations


The inspection system being developed was to be used in "in-service" gas mains. This presented some unique
challenges that had to be addressed during the design phase of the program.

Magnetic considerations
Magnetic Flux Leakage (MFL) was selected as the NDE technique for the inspection module. This technique is
well established, rugged, reliable, and well suited to this inspection application. MFL inspection requires that a
magnetic field be applied to the pipe wall under inspection. The magnetic field levels must be high enough to
saturate the pipe wall causing some of the field to leak from the pipe wall at the location where the wall thickness
has decreased. This leakage field can then be detected by sensors which scan the inside pipe wall.
Because distribution mains are small diameter (4- to 8-in typical), there is only a small volume available for the
magnets and associated equipment. In addition it is necessary to minimize distributing debris which might reside
on the pipe surface. The magnets therefore cannot contact the pipe wall directly. This "air gap" is very inefficient
and requires additional magnetic energy. Both of these challenges were overcome by using very powerful
Neodymium Iron Boron magnets and a unique magnet design.
Neodymium Iron Baron magnets are the most powerful magnets currently available. This high power allows them
to saturate the pipe under inspection with a limited volume of magnetic material. In addition, these magnets have
operating characteristics (hysterisis) that allow them to operate through an air gap with only a small decrease in
efficiency. The magnetic design therefore consists of a north magnetic pole and a south magnetic pole of
Neodymium magnets. These poles are axially separated by approximately 5in and connected by means of a
magnetic core. This core is made of special magnetic material that increases the efficiency of the magnetic circuit.

Copyright 2001 Scientific Surveys Ltd. All rights reserved.

New developments in the inspection of gas distribution mains

Sensor considerations
The inspection module requires sensors to detect the small magnetic leakage fields caused by defect. These
sensors are arranged circumferentially between the magnet poles. Hall elements were selected for this application
because they respond to the absolute value of the magnetic field. This becomes important when data analysis is
considered. Analysis techniques developed for "generic" magnetic data can be used if the data collected is a true
measure of magnetic field. The sensor density was carefully selected to maximize performance and the sensors
were designed for bi-directional operation. Sensor springs are used to provide flexibility and hold the sensor
lightly to the pipe wall.

Electronic considerations
The next design consideration is the electronics required to process the sensor data. Again there are several design
challenges. Power (voltage and current) must be minimized to allow certification for live gas main operation and
all electronics must be packaged in the very small volumes available on the module. This is accomplished by
designing multi-layer printed circuit boards and using surface mount components. Component count is minimized
by the use of analog multiplexers. Multiplexing the sensor channels on the module also reduced the conductor
count in the tube member that connects the inspection module to the ground surface. All power supplied to the
inspection module is provided through intrinsic barriers.
The member used to push the assembly through the pipe connects the inspection module to the ground surface.
This then provides a means of transmitting the data, real time, to a data acquisition computer. Processing consists
of amplifying each of the 32 sensor channels; feeding the output of all 32 channels to a 32 channel multiplexer;
buffing the multiplexer output and transmitting the data through a single conductor in the pushing member to the
top-side computer. An address generator that is triggered from a measuring wheel on the push member indexes
the multiplexer. Data is collected on a very high-resolution grid. Each time the inspection assembly moves
0.100in the measuring wheel triggers the address generator and all 32 channels of data are acquired. The topside
computer then de-multiplexes the data, displays it in real time and stores it for analysis.

Mechanical considerations
A mechanism to hold the inspection unit on the centerline of the pipe was developed. The solution chosen uses a
flexible urethane disc with circumferentially displaced wheels. The entire inspection module size is minimized to
allow the unit to negotiate bends and other pipeline features and to allow entry into the gas main. The flexible
disks allow the inspection module to negotiate welds and other protrusions into the pipe.
The mechanical design of the module had to consider by-pass area. Since the inspection module would be used in
an operating main it was necessary to provide by-pass to minimize disruption to manual flow. By-pass was
achieved by providing an air gap in the magnetic circuit, minimizing the size of the mounts used for the sensors
and sizing the support disks accordingly.

Delivery system
In order to inspect gas mains, a system was developed by which the inspection module could be inserted into,
moved through, and be withdrawn from the main (Fig.2). This system is capable of operating in gas mains with
pressures of up to 60 psi.
"Coiled" tubing is used to move the inspection module through the pipe. Coiled tube systems rely on the fact that
long lengths of tube have stiffness properties which allow them to push or pull end loads while at the same time
having flexibility to negotiate bends and be spooled for convenient storage. The system uses two different tube
members for different applications. Steel tube is used for a long, relatively straight pipe section and a spring steel
member for a shorter section containing bends. Each member is carried on a separate spool.

Copyright 2001 Scientific Surveys Ltd. All rights reserved.

Pipeline Pigging and Integrity Monitoring Conference: Kuala Lumpur, 1998

An injector assembly is used to move the tube member, and thus the inspection module, through the main. The
injector consists of friction rollers which are loaded to the outside of the tube. These rollers are driven by a
hydraulic motor and propel the tube member in both directions. The tube spools, injector and power systems are
trailer mounted for easy operation.

Entry technique
System operation requires gaining access to the main under operating conditions. A special fitting is attached to
the main that allows an access hole to be cut under no leak condition. A launch assembly is then installed which
allows the inspection module to be inserted into the pipeline for the inspection operation. This fitting has an offtake at 20 degrees to the main. This shallow angle off-take is required so that the inspection module can be
inserted into the main (Fig.5). All inspection operations can be carried out under live conditions.

Data processing
A custom designed computer that is located on the ground surface accomplishes data acquisition and display. As
stated previously the processing electronics on the inspection module strobes each sensor in turn and multiplex
the sensors to a single conductor for transmission to the ground surface. Each delivery tube therefore contains a
number of conductors to provide power to the electronics, strobe the address generator and relay sensor data to the
surface. Data acquisition rates are controlled by movement of the tube member and are typically taken in 0.1-in
increments. Sensor data is available for real time display in both color density or analog scans (Figs 3 and 4). Data
can be stored for archival purposes and analyzed using software designed for that purpose.

Initial test results


After initial feasibility studies the prototype inspection system was designed and built. The first field test was
conducted in Waco, Texas, in October, 1997. This test highlighted several areas that required further review. As a
result of this trial procedures were developed that would aid in inserting and withdrawing the inspection module
without damage. Procedures were developed to weld the entry fitting in place on the main and specification
developed to ensure that the fitting was manufactured to the necessary tolerance.
A second test in the same section of pipe was conducted in December, 1977. This test was very successful. The
main was operating at 20 psi and entry was achieved without leakage. The injector was used to propel a video
camera 900ft into the main. The video camera had been added to the development program to allow assessment of
the internal condition of the main.
The MFL inspection module was propelled 770ft into the main. The inspection data was excellent. Two tee's and
a single patch of external corrosion were observed. Subsequent investigation showed the corrosion to be 50% of
the wall. This corrosion patch had been predicted to be 49% of wall by the analysis software. This corrosion was
repaired with a full encirclement sleeve. The tee's were detailed and added to the as-built drawings.
The third trial was conducted in San Antonio, Texas. The video camera revealed a protruding tap that would
restrict passage of the magnetic inspection head. This tap was removed. The magnetic inspection revealed several
locations containing external corrosion. These locations will be investigated at a later date.
A fourth trial was conducted in New York. Again the system performed well and located taps and corrosion.
The final field trials will be conducted in France in the Gaz de France system. The system will then be reviewed
and commercialization plans developed.

Copyright 2001 Scientific Surveys Ltd. All rights reserved.

New developments in the inspection of gas distribution mains

Summary
The inspection system developed under this program performs as originally specified and provides useful
information on the condition of the main. Gas mains can be inspected for corrosion or other wall thickness
variation under live conditions. Inspection data is available in real time and defects can be located and repaired in
a timely fashion. The system is flexible and can be used for other inspection applications. The system can be used
to inspect transmission pipeline river crossings, water lines, risers and plant piping. The system is now available
for commercial application.

Copyright 2001 Scientific Surveys Ltd. All rights reserved.

Pipeline Pigging and Integrity Monitoring Conference: Kuala Lumpur, 1998

Copyright 2001 Scientific Surveys Ltd. All rights reserved.