Enhancing Asset Integrity With Technology

In the wake of some of the biggest natural disasters in history, it is becoming increasingly vital to maintain asset integrity and ensure that pipelines are not at risk of compromise.

One organisation which has recognised this growing demand is subsea specialist Flexlife, which has launched a new product that it claims will help maintain asset integrity and safeguard the environment.

The company was formed in 2007 and high levels of investment in its research and development programme have enabled it to develop a range of patented technology with the direct aim of preserving the environment by helping to reduce the risk of costly equipment failure – the latest being FlexGuard.

FlexGuard incorporates the company's ultrasonic scanning technology in the form of a collar permanently fitted to flexible risers, which the firm forecasts will generate additional revenue of £11.4million by 2014.

The subsea riser monitoring tool provides the operator with instant, continuous, remote access to the condition of any riser from any location in the world - ensuring a failsafe early warning system, providing both major cost and safety benefits.

It incorporates the latest ultrasonic and subsea communications technology and is able to wirelessly, either on command or at scheduled weekly inspection times, provide the status of the flexible pipe's annulus and underlying armour wires. It can be fitted either during installation or by retrofit to risers already in use in the field, offering permanent monitoring of corrosion or breaches.

Commenting on the launch, Flexlife chief executive Stuart Mitchell said FlexGuard is an "excellent addition" to its range of services to manage subsea integrity throughout the assets lifecycle.

He explained: "There are around 3,000 risers in service at present, with the number forecast to rise to 5,000 by 2015. Around 35 per cent of risers suffer some form of outer sheath damage, according to recent market surveys of operators. Once seawater breaches the outer sheath, corrosion rapidly follows leading to premature failures."

The company's ultrasonic scanning technology detects outer sheath breaches and corrosion in the armour wires surrounding flexible pipes with a 100 per cent success rate and without requiring production to be shut down during monitoring, which Mr Mitchell claims is a first in the 40-year history of flexibles.

He explained: "Our technology can give an accurate depiction of the condition of a flexible pipe or riser, from the first stages of corrosion or degradation, allowing operators to plan maintenance in advance and avoid unplanned shutdowns.

"It offers a cost-effective permanent solution to monitoring and peace of mind for operators increasingly aware of their role in preserving the environment."

The technology can detect specific locations of any flooding and scan the armour wires around flexibles to an accuracy of 0.1mm – an increasingly important feature considering many experts have attributed previous disasters to such breaches.

This technology has also been accepted by the UK HSE and the Norwegian equivalent as helping operators reduce risk of major leakage of hydrocarbons and associated impacts, and it is thought to extend the lifespan of flexible pipes and prevent unnecessary early replacement, manufacture and disposal of them.

For retrofit projects in existing pipelines and structures, it can be deployed either by ROV or diver onto a flexible riser asset, via a riser-friendly clamping system that also makes the tool close to neutral buoyancy for ease of deployment, Flexlife claims.

Such technology is likely to play an increasingly important role in the field of asset integrity in the months and years ahead and it is clear, considering the fallout from the BP oil spill, that several firms are already looking into ways of safeguarding their pipelines and their own company's integrity by preventing a repeat event.