NDT Global, Enbridge take a ‘big leap ahead’ on next-generation pipeline inspection tool

Multi-year, $20M project advancing crack assessment will enhance Canada’s industry leadership

It’s about safety, it’s about reliability—and, ultimately, it’s about clarity.

“Think of this as investing in the creation of the 4K television, when 1080p high-definition isn’t good enough anymore,” says Trevor Grams.

Today, Enbridge and NDT Global, a leading ultrasonic pipeline inspection firm, announced a multi-year project to develop a next-generation inspection tool—one that will advance crack assessment capabilities in crude oil and liquids pipelines.

Unveiled during this week’s Banff 2017 Pipeline Workshop, an international industry conference of operators and innovators, this research-based partnership between NDT Global and Enbridge is expected to further entrench Canada as a leader in advancing pipeline inspection and pipeline fitness technologies.

Enbridge is contributing C$7.1 million to the $20-million project—which will focus on multiple inspection technologies, and aim to bring a next-generation crack inspection tool to commercial readiness by 2019.

(APRIL 6 UPDATE: Watch BNN's coverage of Tuesday's partnership announcement by NDT Global and Enbridge.)

“We’re working to create the next generation of inspection tools that make even the tiniest imperfections in a pipeline, most of which are benign, more understandable,” says Grams, Enbridge’s Director of Research and Development.

“The more clarity we have on those features within a pipe—the better information the tool gives us, and the more reliable that information is—the better we can manage our infrastructure.”

Over the past five years, Enbridge has invested more than $4.9 billion in the fitness of our energy infrastructure, with a heavy focus on prevention.

In-line inspection (ILI) tools—or “smart pigs,” to use industry jargon—are highly complex pieces of equipment that move through our pipes and use advanced sensor technology to inspect pipe walls millimeter by millimeter, searching for dents, imperfections, metal loss and corrosion.

While rare, cracking can also occur in pipelines through a variety of factors, including incremental slope movement, weld quality and fatigue due to pressure cycling.

“We’ve made a lot of progress in pipeline crack assessment through sensors, resolution and data analysis. But with this project, we’re talking about a step change—a big leap ahead in technology,” says NDT Global’s chief sales officer John Fallon. “We want to get to a point where we can eliminate the possibility of undetected cracking in a pipeline.”

Enbridge and NDT Global have a productive 15-year history of advancing pipeline inspection technology together. This includes:

  • Collaborating on a specialized ultrasonic tool for dual-diameter pipelines, christened the Hippo, which was unveiled for commercial use in 2012;
  • More than 10,000 kilometres of Enbridge pipe inspected by NDT Global, through more than 100 ILI tool runs, in the past five years; and
  • Enbridge’s extensive verification dig programs, which allow field results to be compared with inspection data and validate new technologies.

“Many of the latest inspection improvements from NDT Global have been first validated with Enbridge in Canada,” notes Fallon.

Enbridge regularly shares with NDT Global the results of its verification digs, which are used to validate tool performance and drive improvements in data analysis algorithms. Based on the large number of inspections, NDT Global moved to a new and much larger Canadian facility last year in Leduc, Alberta—which includes a 22,000-square-foot warehouse offering a safe working environment and optimized tool testing capabilities.

“Generally speaking, Enbridge has the biggest and most complete integrity program of any pipeline operator worldwide, with a long-term perspective of driving technology forward. It’s very influential in the industry,” remarks Fallon.

“With more regulation and community attention, North America is setting those safety standards internationally—and within North America, it’s Canada that is showing significant leadership.”

(TOP PHOTO: Representatives of Enbridge's Pipeline Integrity division and NDT Global pore over inspection data at NDT Global's new facility in Leduc, Alberta.)