The Pipeline Inspection Process

Things are getting better
By Debbie Felix
SAN FRANCISCO — Over the past few years, PG&E customers have been hearing about how the company uses high-tech inspection tools to assess the condition of natural gas pipelines from the inside. Often called “smart pigs,” these tools travel inside pipelines to identify dents, cracks and corrosion before they become a problem.
Now, PG&E is working with a new, cutting edge technology that will look for similar signs — like corrosion or dents — on the outside of gas pipelines.
First developed for the dental industry, the 3D Toolbox is as easy to use as a digital camera.  With a click, it captures an image and provides measurements, giving PG&E real-time information about the condition of pipeline surfaces.
And it’s fast.

The 3D Toolbox allows PG&E to get detailed images of pipelines very quickly. (Photo by James Green.)
Images are captured in seconds and multiple views can be stitched together in a matter of minutes.
“The benefits of the tool are that it provides traceable, repeatable measurements. It’s simple to use and it speeds up the pipe assessment process, which could take hours or days before,” said Gerry Bong, a PG&E R&D and Innovation gas engineer. “I think as far as PG&E is concerned, this is a great opportunity to bring in cutting-edge technology, such as the 3D Toolbox, to improve the efficiency of our process.”
The 3D camera is light-weight and easy to set up at construction sites. Able to capture the same 3D measurements every time from any angle, the device is simple to operate and gives PG&E a detailed, traceable record.
Images are viewed by engineers and corrosion experts on a laptop set up at the dig site. The collected data is automatically fed into calculation tools to generate an assessment within minutes, a process that normally would take hours or even days to complete. From there, PG&E engineers can to put together a corrective action plan immediately.
“R&D and Innovation is working with PRCI (the Pipeline Research Council International) and other collaborative R&D organizations to bring new solutions into Gas Operations. What we see today is a result of this work, which we are testing,” said Fran├žois Rongere, R&D and Innovation manager at PG&E.
The 3D Toolbox is just another example of the many ways PG&E is leveraging the latest technology to ensure the safety of its natural gas system for its customers.
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