Metals & Mining

Ultrasonic sensor tool to identify long-distance pipeline abrasion

Key facts

3xcore integrated system components
130°C/266°Fmax operating temperature
100%non-destructive sensors
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Top business benefits

Streamlines abrasion monitoring over vast distances

Generates reliable wall-thickness data

Progresses digitisation objectives/ Net Zero targets

Accurately trends abrasion rate over time

Increases plant uptime

Lengthens asset life

Improves operational efficiency

Reduces OPEX

Enhances plant safety

Reduces risk of environmental damage 

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In more detail

Full description

Mines often rely on hundreds of kilometres of pipeline to transport their assets. These long-distance pipelines are highly susceptible to abrasion due to the nature of the slurry, tailings and other rock material they carry. Left untreated, abrasion can cause cracks and leaks that are costly to repair and can cause human health risks and environmental damage.

Typically, expensive Non-Destructive Testing inspections are carried out by contractors or trained staff who manually measure the pipe-wall thickness along the length of the pipelines to spot signs of abrasion and ascertain where sections of the pipe require repair or replacement. Where vast distances of pipeline need to be inspected, these surveys are carried out almost continuously. These systems are time consuming, costly and prone to human error. Alternatively, fully-automated solutions are installed at extensive cost and downtime, whilst networked, real-time solutions are often ill suited to extreme weather patterns and to the long distances covered by mining pipelines.

These battery-free, ultra-thin ultrasonic sensors are quickly and permanently installed along the pipeline, even under insulation where necessary, with no downtime. A data collector wand is used to acquire repeatable measurements from the sensor, the associated RFID tag logs the sensor location. No skill is required for this task, making it a cost-effective resource that can be used as frequently as required. Specialist software then analyses and interprets the measurements, generating the wall-loss data necessary to optimise predictive maintenance.

The challenge

Hundreds of kilometres of pipeline used by mining operators typically have highly abrasive materials travelling through them, often at high speed, high temperatures and/or high pressure. Conventional NDT inspection techniques and reactive maintenance is still the norm across the industry. Expensive specialist contractors or highly trained staff, work continuously to make manual measurements of pipe thickness using conventional ultrasonic measuring devices. Not only is this time-consuming and costly, it is also not 100% fail safe, as it can be difficult for inspectors to physically measure the exact same spot each time, making predictive maintenance extremely challenging for asset managers.

These outcomes result in inconsistent datasets being gathered and produced, which potentially skews asset-management decision-making logic. Over time the straying of asset condition understanding introduces real risk, which makes mining operations vulnerable to abrasion factors being misunderstood. Often mines, concerned about the risks of pipes cracking, resort to replacing large sections of pipelines long before it is required. This comes at great cost and is used to offset any potential risk. Through more consistent monitoring, mines can significantly lower these costs and achieve better asset performance.

If a pipeline does rupture, hundreds of tonnes of material can spill out damaging the landscape and polluting water for miles around. Not only is repairing damaged pipelines expensive, it can take years to rebuild your brand integrity and there are also huge fines to pay for the environmental damage caused. Brazil’s environmental agency fined one mine over $20 million when its iron ore pipeline ruptured in 2018.

Operators are now under pressure to meet Net Zero targets and source digital solutions. This creates a new set of challenges leading to significant upfront costs, network security risks and future obsolescence without the budget to upgrade. Over time, the poor visibility of asset condition leaves operators at risk of catastrophic failures.

Being able to understand which sections of a pipeline are wearing and what that rate of wear is, means that you can accurately target which sections of pipe need replacing. You no longer have to replace vast sections of pipeline, saving huge sums of money.

The approach

This robustly installed ultrasonic monitoring solution has already been successfully deployed by major oil and gas operators in the UK, Alaska, South America, the Middle East, China, and Australia and it's now being adopted by the metals and mining industries. It has been proven to provide an instant and accurate picture of each asset’s integrity story.

These battery-free, ultra-thin, ATEX-certified ultrasonic sensors, able to operate in extreme temperatures, are quickly and permanently fixed with no downtime at monitoring locations identified by the customer, including areas where inspectors struggle to take readings.

The sensors precisely measure pipe thickness and they lose no accuracy of measurement capability even when installed under composite repairs. For thick layers of insulation the measurement can be offset, to give an accurate reading without the need to remove the insulation.

A data collector wand is used to acquire repeatable measurements from the sensor and the associated RFID tag logs the sensor location. No skill is required for this task and a comprehensive installation training package is delivered remotely; making it a cost-effective resource that can be used as frequently as required.

The data from the data collection probe is instantly uploaded on site to the remote data-management software for reporting, location tracking, analysis, and integration with third-party software. It generates the abrasion-rate data necessary to optimise predictive maintenance.

This solution can be quickly deployed for a trial-phase period prior to embarking on a full roll out. Its robust data on abrasion rates can be accurately trended to aid informed asset-maintenance decisions and drastically reduce maintenance costs associated with lifecycle asset-integrity management of pipework.

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Tech specification

Battery-free, ATEX/IECEx approved for Zone 0, lifespan 10 years+
-45C up to 130C (-45F up to 266F), thin profile/embedded, 6.5g
Minimum pipe diameter 2" straight or 4" on an elbow
Handheld data collector
Max distance from the sensor 40mm
Remote data collector
5+ years battery life, up to 200m wireless range, up to 8 sensors
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