New Robotic Technology for 'Unpiggable' Pipelines

A new technology that will allow robotic inspection and help owners examine ‘unpiggable’ pipelines has been announced by The R&D arm of the Northeast Gas Association known as NYSEARCH (NGA/NYSEARCH) and InvoDane Engineering Ltd.

The first Pipetel platform is being released under license from NGA/NYSEARCH to InvoDane Engineering. Starting December 1, Pipetel Technologies Inc. will offer inspection services for small to medium pipe sizes using this platform. 2011 and beyond, Pipetel plans to offer additional robotic platforms arising from this R&D program, that will allow for the inspection of larger diameter pipelines.

Under live conditions, using minimal excavation, this robotic technology can help operators address some pipelines that are unpiggable due to difficult obstructions such as bends, plug valves, vertical sections and other constraints, as well as pipelines with pressure levels below what is needed to propel traditional smart pig technologies. Further, the robotic platform travels long distances from one excavation and does not require a tether for power or communication. Accuracy of the integrated sensor is equivalent to current sensing provided with traditional in-line inspection tools.

NGA represents the natural gas industry in the Northeast U.S., which comprises 10 million customers in eight Northeast states. NGA member companies transport and distribute natural gas to homes and businesses throughout the Northeast region. NYSEARCH is a sub-organization within NGA, which conducts cutting-edge research and technology development for its gas members to produce viable R & D products with benefits such as increased safety, greater efficiency & reduced costs.

InvoDane Engineering is a specialized engineering firm based in Toronto, Ontario, Canada connected with the development of specialized tools for the evaluation of pipelines. Its expertise lies in integrating multi-disciplinary engineering systems into field-ready inspection equipment.

Pipetel Technologies offers a unique service using NYSEARCH's proprietary robotic platforms that deliver relevant and reliable data inspecting unpiggable gas pipelines.

Basic research commenced in the early 2000s by members of NYSEARCH, which include natural gas companies from around North America, identified and then addressed the need for inspection of unpiggable pipelines. Following years of development and laboratory testing with experts in sensors and robotics, NGA/NYSEARCH transferred the state-of-the-art robotic platform and sensing technologies to InvoDane Engineering which has conducted several live field tests with gas companies prior to this commercialization.

"I have seen great strides made in the development of this and other NYSEARCH robotic technologies, not only providing live internal inspection for unpiggable pipelines but also complementing technologies that allow gas companies to be proactive and effective in operating, maintaining, and rehabilitating our gas mains," states Mark Andraka, Sr. Engineer at PECO Energy and current chairman of the NYSEARCH committee.

NYSEARCH has joined with several collaborators throughout this long-term RD & D program. The U.S. Department of Transportation's Pipeline Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) has been and is currently a major funder and supporter of the program. Other current and past collaborators include Operations Technology Development NFP, Department of Energy/NETL and the Pipeline Research Council International (PRCI). Technology providers to the evolution of this program have included SouthWest Research Institute, Carnegie Mellon University, Automatika Inc (dba QinetiQ N.A.), and InvoDane Engineering.

The gas industry's focus on enhancing safety measures was paramount in the effort to develop this technology. Members of NYSEARCH/NGA who supported this work include Central Hudson Gas and Electric, Consolidated Edison, Keyspan Energy Delivery (dba National Grid), National Fuel Gas, New York State Electric and Gas, Niagara Mohawk Power Corp (dba National Grid), Orange and Rockland Utilities, Pacific Gas and Electric Company, PECO Energy, Public Service Electric & Gas, Questar Gas, Rochester Gas & Electric, and The Southern California Gas Company.

One third of all pipelines worldwide are considered unpiggable because of access and valve restrictions, multi-diameter designs, impassable fittings and a myriad of other configuration issues.


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