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Structural safety gets boost from new technology



A prototype manual scanner of the ultrasound pipe crawler is tested on a metal pipe by researchers from the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory. This technology is designed to help users in the oil, gas and other industries determine the integrity of metal structures.

An acoustic inspection technology developed at Pacific Northwest National Laboratory may help users in the oil, gas and other industries decide if a metal structure can withstand normal operation. Using a newly developed ultrasonic measurement technology, PNNL researcher Paul Panetta and his team can rapidly locate and characterize suspected damage associated with strained metal, which current technologies cannot do.

"The immediate beneficiaries of the technology are oil and gas pipeline operators because our prototype is specifically configured for characterizing damage to pipelines from landslides, earth movement and dents," Panetta said.

"Its distinctive capabilities can enhance existing inspection technologies to help avoid pipeline failures--sometimes catastrophic ones."

A bend, bulge or dent in a pipeline or other metal structure is sometimes obvious, but the extent of the damage is not. This measurement technology uses ultrasound to determine the material properties of metal to determine the extent of damage caused by natural disasters, accidental run-ins with heavy equipment or normal wear and tear.

"Pipes are typically assessed with in-line inspection tools, commonly referred to as 'pigs' in the oil and gas industry," Panetta said. "Pigs typically only show wall thinning or detect the presence of dents, which may not indicate if the damage is detrimental."

The technology can be used for assessing the integrity of pipelines, bridges, railroad tracks and cars, steel girders, airplane landing gear or other metal structures. It was originally developed for the Department of Energy for use in natural gas pipelines and is currently available for licensing.

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