New robotic imaging is tackling inspection of underground pipes in the European Union, with the launch of a system six years in development.
The new imaging technology could provide a critical key to expanding the use of glass-reinforced plastic (GRP), or fiberglass, throughout Europe’s transmission pipeline network.
Glass-reinforced plastic, or fiberglass, resists corrosion better than metal pipeline, but lack of inspection technology has slowed its use.
The system, which was launched in August, implements the results of the “Quality Assurance and Structural Evaluation of GRP Pipes” (Sure2grip) project, which began in 2005 and was summarized in a final report in 2011.
The project’s goal was to develop non-destructive testing (NDT) technology for glass-reinforced plastic (GRP) to ensure secure pipe connections.
The dozen project participants represented multiple countries and included Ameron B.V., Petroleo Brasileiro S.A., and University Politehnica of Bucharest.
Oil, gas and other hydrocarbon-containing hazardous fluids are currently transported throughout Europe via a network of more than 10 million kilometers of (about 6.2 million miles) of stainless steel piping.
Such metals are subject to internal and external corrosion, making those pipelines vulnerable to a variety of potentially catastrophic failures.
GRP, or fiberglass, can provide excellent corrosion resistance to a wide variety of fluids and gases at ambient or environmental temperatures and is much less expensive than stainless steel, according to the EU’s Community Research and Development Information Service (CORDIS), which oversaw the GRP research.
However, use of GRP in the underground network of European pipes has been limited. Increasing those applications requires the ability to inspect the integrity of pipe interconnections with confidence.
Commercialization of the new NDT inspection system “should facilitate use of corrosion-resistant materials for transport of hazardous chemicals,” CORDIS said in a release.
The Sure2grip project scientists developed numerous NDT technologies carried on, and controlled by, a robotic scanner. Thermographic NDT was used to produce a sort of thermal X-ray, a color-coded map based on infrared detection capable of detecting non-uniformities.
Phased array ultrasonic technology (PAUT) was also included. It uses a multi-element array of ultrasound transducers that enable focusing at a variety of angles and depths over a large area with very little water.
Radiographic systems were also integrated. Low-energy digital radiography enabled an X-ray using digital sensors rather than film. Dual-laser shearography was developed for the project to visualize two-dimensional strain.
“The Sure2grip GRP pipe inspection system thus filled a technology gap until now prohibiting the widespread use of GRP pipes,” CORDIS reported.
“Europe’s underground pipe network carrying hazardous materials could benefit directly due to the corrosion resistance of GRP,” which does not require “over engineering processes such as secondary containment 'over-wrap.’”
The Sure2grip-developed technologies could also expand the use of GRP as a corrosion-resistant material to other applications “that have traditionally been the domain of corrosion-prone metallics that have resulted in a series of catastrophes,” CORDIS said.