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National Grid Rolls Out Pipeline Innovations

Nicholas Newman Pipeline and Gas Journal December 2017

Britain’s National Grid, operator of the country’s 4,722 miles of high-pressure gas pipeline network, is testing the use of a miniature gas robotic agile inspection device.

This important innovation is the product of an $8.27 million (£6.3 million) research project and is designed for inspection of the oldest and “bendy” parts of the network, unable to be reached by traditional inline inspection devices such as pigs that travel through pipelines checking for anomalies. This meant that significant sections of pipeline could only be checked by expensive, aboveground surveys and asset life-modeling to ensure the integrity of the network.

n development since January 2015, the robot is the product of the combined effort of National Grid’s transmission subsidiary and three small British-based engineering and design consultancy enterprises, Synthotech Limited, Premtech Limited and Pipeline Integrity Engineers (PIE). Synthotech is responsible for the physical robotic platform. Premtech is developing a navigation system for the robot while underground and has also designed a launch-and-retrieval device and testing facility. PIE is responsible for developing a technical strategy for the project and interpreting the inspection data.

This miniature robot is designed to work inside a high-pressure gas pipeline with up to 440 pounds (200 kg) of force at peak flow. It is both agile and strong and is said, “to be able to withstand the full force of a rugby tackle.”

While the aged and complex geometry of pipelines are a peculiar feature of Britain’s gas pipeline network, a universal problem of pipeline operations worldwide is the risk of pig trapdoor failures. With 208 pig traps at the risk of seal failure and nine failures occurring over a five-year period, National Grid inaugurated a new training and inspection regime that  has reduced failure rates of pipeline inspection trap doors to zero.

Inspection Device

Traditional pipeline inspection systems, in which a device is inserted at one end of the pipeline to collect data as the flow of gas pushes it through to the other end, are unsuitable for  the UK’s high-pressure installations, some of which are over 50 years old. Project GRAID, National Grid’s miniature robot project, designed to inspect buried high-pressure pipelines with variable gas flows and complex pipework geometry, won initial funding from Britain’s energy regulator Ofgem’s 2014 Gas Network Innovation Competition. Read More

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