Óscar Luis González Arias
Regional CEO
NDT Global

Ultrasonic Tools Improve Pipeline Inspection

Wed, 01/22/2014 - 16:41

“For the past 30 years, NDT Global has been investing in Mexican talent rather than solely relying on skilled workers from Europe or the US in order to continuously adapt to changes in technology and solutions. We made the decision to invest locally as it was the most sensible option for efficiently servicing our clients in the long-term,” says Oscar Luis González, Regional CEO of NDT Global. This resulted in a high staff retention rate and made Mexico one of the most experienced divisions within the company. Today, local employees are sharing their knowledge and expertise with their colleagues in Canada, the US, and even Germany, while the company has even started exporting Mexican talent abroad.

“We have just opened our Global Data Analysis Centre for ultrasonics in Mexico. We are rapidly developing new ultrasonics technology and machinery in Germany, and Mexico is growing on the analysis side. No less than 40 engineers are currently working on projects that are not related to Mexico, analyzing data from other countries, and we plan to add another 20 engineers to this team in 2014. This is a large and long-term investment for the company, since we have to provide lengthy and specialized training in our tools and software, but it is paying off.” Mexico’s competitive labor cost played an important role in the head office’s choice of Mexico as a strategic growth hub and internal processing center for the entire organization, but at the same time it cannot afford to lose its edge as leaders in ultrasonic technology. “Our ultrasonic tools are the newest and highest performers in the market. Our robust solutions are not mass produced. Rather, every tool is tailor-made and has to go through an exhaustive set of tests and processes before it is used on a pipeline,” says González.

The experience NDT has in magnetic flux leakage (MFL) has provided it with another robust solution. “Our people have been involved in MFL technology since 1965, and some of our people have been working with us since that time.” The company has very advanced software for data analysis, processing, and automation, which translates into fast processing times and the ability to provide clients with reports in a short time-frame. Mexico is the biggest user of MFL technology and it was therefore decided that the organization’s global center for MFL technology should be based in Mexico. “We prepare the equipment for projects in other regions; we recently dispatched MFL equipment for a project in Russia for example.”

NDT also has integrated management software at its disposal, which should go some way toward encouraging clients to adopt a preventive maintenance approach. The software helps clients monitor changes in the integrity of the pipelines and establish patterns over time. “Clients are provided with a thorough engineering assessment of factors that will affect the long-term integrity of the infrastructure, such as corrosion growth, circumference cracks, or strain caused by pipeline movement. With this type of service we can determine when the next inspection should take place, and little by little, we are able to persuade our clients to engage in preventive solutions.” Most NDT inspections are carried out on what are called high consequence areas, and its integrated software includes PEMEX regulatory compliance and safety requirements, which prioritizes the defects detected according to these.

“Even if the Energy Reform proposals are approved in their current form, the pipeline network will not expand overnight,” says González. “In the meantime, the current network will be pushed to maximum capacity, which means that NDT’s maintenance and inspection services will become more critical to our clients, as any downtime would have a devastating effect on end users. We are also looking into ways of carrying out inspections on operational pipelines that were traditionally impossible to inspect without taking them out of service. In offshore natural gas pipelines, especially upstream, the speed of the gas coming from the production well is such that it makes inspections very challenging, so we have worked on technology solutions and tools that can adjust to these difficult environments without requiring downtime to complete the inspection.”

So far, NDT’s magnetic illegal tap detection technology has been the most effective in helping PEMEX diminish the level of theft, based on processing software that allows engineers to pinpoint illegal taps fast and accurately. “The key to keeping theft levels low is constant monitoring, which will make life difficult for thieves and eventually deter them from returning.” Looking forward, NDT is currently developing new technology to detect corrosion in gas pipelines more accurately, which should be introduced into the Mexican market in three to four years. “The center of excellence for MFL technology should be fully operational in Mexico by 2014, and we also expect the global data center to be up and running by then. On the business side, we will be using Mexico as a platform to expand our operations in Guatemala, Colombia, Ecuador, and Peru.”