Pipeline Services Enter New EraBy Pedro Alcalá | Thu, 10/15/2020 - 11:07
Q: How have the crises in the industry changed the landscape for pipeline services in terms of demand?
A: The main impact is the financial conditions of the companies involved. There might be many crises happening in Mexico but companies participating in the industry have already planned ahead by delaying and refocusing their investments and financial priorities. Preventative maintenance have become less of a priority, while urgent services have become a larger part of the contracts being offered. These conditions have demanded an understanding of the present reality and the creative solutions and methods to adapt to the new reality. As service providers, we need to learn to work under tighter deadlines and shorter time frames.
Overall, we have to be part of a reconfiguration of the service economy to adapt to this historic moment. We achieve this by making sure that maintenance discipline does not alter. This is our priority. Companies are still working on the three categories of corrective, preventative and predictive maintenance. Corrective maintenance cannot be avoided any longer but does not necessarily have to respond to an emergency. For many companies, corrective maintenance is scheduled ahead of time. Although preventative maintenance is what is usually considered ideal, we stress the importance of predictive maintenance as well, which is accomplished through the availability of certain technological tools and historical data that covers metrics, such as the total working hours of a piece of infrastructure. This can apply to both static equipment, such as pipelines, and dynamic equipment, like a compression station within networks of pipelines. Predictive maintenance can allow you to see ahead of time when the other two types of maintenance will become necessary. However, this third category is discarded in these times of crises by operators. Even preventative maintenance is only applied when its applications are too obvious to miss or ignore.
Q: How are pipeline technologies being pushed toward digitalization and automation as a result of these crises?
A: Unlike other companies in the services market, we have over 100 years of experience in this discipline at an international level. In Mexico, we have grown together with this country’s natural gas transportation industry. We manufacture our own equipment and technologies, and can intervene in pipeline networks through our own service portfolio. This gives us an advantage when it comes to adapting to crises. However, another category of technologies that is also being pushed is pipeline inspection. Inspection used to be an analog process that involved manned routes of surveillance of visible issues in physical infrastructure. Now, a larger array of tools exists in this category of inspection, which have the capability to perform digital scans inside the pipelines in an automatic way. Automation of inspection processes is now expected when it comes to detecting problem areas where pipeline interventions and repairs are needed.
Q: Are Mexican pipeline operators willing to try new technologies?
A: Pipeline operators in Mexico are quite aware that new technologies are an essential part of the industry’s future. In Mexico, we have public and private owners and managers of pipeline infrastructure. Public operators have to work within their budgets and are less likely to adopt new technologies. They do not do this because they are reluctant but simply because they have to be traditional-minded while following industry trends. For them, the benefits of a technology should outweigh the increase in cost that its adoption might represent. This does not mean that they fail to see the benefits of new technologies. This is why our service area explains to them need to use new technologies.
We also explain the need to take safety conditions into account. An essential part of our service portfolio is offering isolation services to intervene pipelines safely. New technologies in a category like this can make it safer for operators to work in extremely volatile gas pipeline environments. In Mexico, we have ongoing projects with PEMEX and CENAGAS that illustrate this process of technological adoption in pipeline maintenance. In terms of private operators, now that prominent pipeline operators in Mexico, have reestablished their agendas, they are also expressing their interest in exploring new technological venues in the maintenance programs of their infrastructure.
Some of the new technologies in which they have expressed interest are, for example, in the area of in-line inspection (ILI), the Multiple Datasets (MDS) platform, which has the ability to detect, characterize, and size interacting threats to pipeline integrity in only one pass. Because it integrates multiple in-line inspection technologies on a single platform, MDS overcomes the threat detection gaps of single magnetic flux leakage (MFL) based tools, reduces risk, increases the accuracy of results and provides comprehensive information about features previously undetected by other types of tools. In the area of intervention tools, they also have shown their interest in the ProStopp™ isolation tool, which is the first and only low-pressure double block and bleed technology specifically designed for the gas distribution industry, that allows for total leak protection so repairs and maintenance can be safely performed on in-service pipelines. And the POLYSTOPP®, which makes easy to safely perform tapping, plugging and branching applications on polyethylene pipelines, faster and easier than with any other isolation technology. These isolation systems are lightweight and easy to use. Only one technician is required to complete an isolation.
T.D. Williamson is a global solutions provider for pipeline operators, delivering integrity services for onshore and offshore applications, including advanced isolation and repair, integrated pigging and integrity assessment solutions.