Making a ‘smart’ pipe

Elaine Maslin

May 1, 2015

Researchers at Norway’s SINTEF together with a consortium of industrial partners have developed technologies to enable real-time condition monitoring reports from within pipelines to be transmitted to shore.

SmartPipe launched in 2006, in collaboration with Bredero Shaw, Force Technology, Siemens Subsea and ebm-papst.Photo from SINTEF.

The Research Council of Norway-supported SmartPipe technology carries out condition monitoring in real time. This is achieved by installing belts around the pipelines packed with a multitude of sensors which measure pipewall thickness, tension, temperature and vibration.

The sensor belts are at 24m intervals along the length of the pipeline. A thick insulating layer of polypropylene covers the outside of the steel pipe construction, and this is where the electronics are concealed. It is also through this layer that wireless data transmissions can be sent either onshore or to the production platform.

The SmartPipe was launched in 2006 and is being conducted in collaboration with Bredero Shaw, Force Technology, Siemens Subsea and ebm-papst.

Last autumn, 200m of SmartPipe pipeline was laid in Orkanger harbor, Norway, for sea trials. The trials were a success and SINTEF has since performed “reeling tests,” to see if the electronics, within the pipeline, would survive the reeling process.

“Pipes are stretched and deformed during such tests, and because the electronics are vulnerable to bending, some of the sensors were destroyed,” says SINTEF Project Manager Ole Øystein Knudsen. “But now that we know what happened we can make some small modifications to better protect the electronics.”

The next step for SmartPipe is pilot phase. According to Knudsen, an American oil company is interested in using the technology in a trial. “The company contacted us following the Gulf of Mexico accident,” Knudsen says. “Initially, they started their own project because they anticipated the future introduction of stricter pipeline monitoring regulations. But when they discovered that SmartPipe had come further down the road, they contacted us. We think this could be a commercial winner.”

The researchers see a number of benefits of using SmartPipe. Since many pipelines also carry produced water from the reservoir, they are vulnerable to corrosion. This is counteracted by adding small concentrations of inhibitor substances. However, errors in concentrations may occur and it may be some time before they are discovered. This may mean that a pipeline has to be decommissioned earlier than planned. Current pipeline condition monitoring by means of inspections and checks is also expensive. The new system will make it possible to identify errors at an early stage and make adjustments.

Another important consideration is the monitoring of free-span sections of pipeline. In areas of undulating seabed, free-span sections may start to swing in response to marine currents. “The new pipes mean that we can measure fatigue development and thus get accurate estimates of pipeline lifetimes,” Knudsen says.