Powered by cellular IoT connectivity, wireless sensor technology can provide the oil and gas processing industry and refineries to see the condition of the end of the pipeline. Preventing hidden corrosion under insulation (CUI) problems is costly to the hydrocarbon processing industry; however, the cost of not taking protective measures is even higher.

Nordic semiconductor company Lorenzo Amicucci

Cellular IoT sensor solves hidden pipeline corrosion problem for hydrocarbon processing industry

Powered by cellular IoT connectivity, wireless sensor technology can provide the oil and gas processing industry and refineries to see the condition of the end of the pipeline.

Preventing hidden corrosion under insulation (CUI) problems is costly to the hydrocarbon processing industry; however, the cost of not taking protective measures is even higher.

What is the CUI Challenge?

In a 2016 study, the global anti-corrosion management agency (NACE International) estimated the amount lost to rust globally at $2.5 trillion per year, equivalent to about 3.4% of global GDP (International Anti-corrosion Technology Prevention, Application and Economic Measures (IMPACT)).

In particular, the CUI problem is a serious and hidden problem. It can severely affect steel pipes, storage tanks, containers and other factory processing equipment subject to extreme temperature fluctuations. While insulation in the form of industry-standard materials, such as mineral or glass wool for pipes or vessels, rigid or flexible foam, polyethylene, calcium silicate, or fiberglass, can mitigate the effects of thermal cycling, the crisis Often lurking beneath the surface. There are seams or gaps in the insulation of pipes, which can make pipes vulnerable to penetration by outside moisture and even chemicals and gases used in industrial processes. The resulting corrosion is not detected until the insulation is removed for routine inspections, or worse, when the pipes are leaking.

For example, in a hydrocarbon pipeline in a carbon steel refinery, when the wall thickness is reduced to a level that cannot withstand the internal pressure, it can lead to pipeline failure, with consequences including forced shutdown, loss of production, and detrimental impact on the environment.

In extreme cases, the failure of a section of insulated process piping can result in an explosion or fire, putting personnel at risk, forcing on-site evacuation, and causing millions of dollars in damage to the facility.

“World’s First” Wireless CUI Sensor

While the severe consequences of CUI corrosion can be avoided, preventive efforts come at a price. CUI problems are almost always related to relative humidity and water in the cladding. When these kinds of problems arise, people have little choice but to remove the cladding for inspection and then reassemble kilometers of process piping.

Oil and gas companies spend billions of dollars each year inspecting and upgrading insulated pipelines due to a lack of effective and affordable testing methods. Trisense Technologies, based in Bergen, Norway, has a solution to this problem. The company developed the Fusion 310 CUI sensor, which they claim is the world’s first proven and certified wireless CUI sensor product using an Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) platform.

Users can install multiple Fusion 310 CUI sensor units at appropriate locations in critical sections of piping and fittings. Each unit measures relative humidity, temperature, and water content within the cladding pipe insulation. As a result, these sensors can detect anomalies and predict impending failures, as well as identify potential corrosion locations. Equally important, this technology can exclude from the equation areas where CUIs are unlikely to occur, eliminating the need to remove, inspect and reinstall kilometers of cladding and insulation in unaffected areas.

By implementing this technology, owners of production processes can shift from a reactive to a preventive and predictive maintenance approach, and significantly reduce the costs associated with insulated pipe inspections and upgrades. This solution changes the flow of CUI management practices. Trisense has established ongoing pilot projects for CUI sensors with multinational energy and petrochemical companies Equinor (formerly Statoil) and Shell Global.

Nordic technology enables cloud connectivity

Trisense’s CUI solution uses low-power cellular IoT. This sensor-based solution monitors the CUI and leverages existing NB-IoT/LTE-M (4G/5G) wireless networks to provide accurate information about lengthy pipeline segments directly to the cloud. By taking full advantage of mature cellular networks, users do not need to invest heavily in building additional infrastructure.

Trisense’s solution uses Nordic’s nRF9160 SiP to provide LTE-M/NB-IoT connectivity and GPS positioning. Using this SiP, the Fusion 310 CUI sensor platform is able to provide reliable, accurate and timely data.

This IP67 rated weatherproof sensor is certified for use in hazardous areas, and over existing cellular networks, users can use the nRF9160 to transmit CUI data to a cloud platform for remote monitoring and analysis.

The unique feature of the Trisense platform is that CUI sensors can transmit information directly to the IIoT cloud system via NB-IoT/LTE-M without using an internet gateway.

Ronny Karlsen, chief operating officer of Trisense, noted that the nRF9160’s versatility and simplicity enable sensor designs that include only a single SiP. Additionally, Karlsen said the company relied on using the new Nordic Connect SDK for firmware development. This software development kit includes application layer protocols, application examples and LTE modem firmware, which are available as pre-certified and pre-compiled downloads.

With cellular IoT connectivity, solving CUI issues will be easier and less expensive.

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