Employing Ultrasonic Testing To Reduce Aging And Stress In Shutdown Oil And Gas Assets

Business Blog

The oil and gas industry depends on regular preventive and predictive maintenance to avoid costly shutdowns. Unfortunately, necessary maintenance is currently being delayed on upstream, midstream, and downstream assets across the globe. Because the shutdowns are due to low oil demand and not regular maintenance scheduling, the aging of assets is accelerating. 

The energy industry is starting to prepare for the restart of this equipment. Yet when aging systems come back online, they face a higher risk of cracking, leaking, and other damage. The maintenance lapse makes the use of ultrasonic testing especially useful to avoid costly breakdowns when refineries and pipelines come back into service. 

Preventive Maintenance 

The delayed maintenance inspections are an important part of the preventive maintenance operations of oil refineries and pipelines. Regularly scheduled maintenance ensures equipment is running optimally and improves longevity. Lamentably, though, this preventive maintenance is often limited to spot-checking for problems and welding them.

Refinery inspection managers have long griped over this patchwork approach to refinery maintenance. Since patch plates and sleeves are welded onto equipment in operation, the system pressure and thermal conditions can compromise the structural integrity of the work. Inevitably, another welder comes along and patches up the same place.

These patches are a good starting place for phased array ultrasonic examinations. Ultrasonic testing examines the integrity of the internal structure. Testing can be performed for welds, corrosion, and stress. This insight allows preventive, rather than patchwork, maintenance to be performed.

Predictive Maintenance 

When ready to bring your assets back online, ultrasonic testing can help predict and correct problems before they occur. From previous phased array ultrasonic testing of equipment, you will be able to deduce what the state of your equipment will be after, say, six months of downtime. In other words, you can simulate the aging process. Data already gathered provides a picture over a time period of:

  • changes in material composition
  • degradation of materials 
  • conditions under which cracks, leakages, and erosion could form

Corrective Maintenance 

If the shutdown took place right before your regular maintenance shutdown, you are facing more potential maintenance issues. The situation for many oil and gas operations will be starting up equipment that has not received maintenance inspection for up to a year. 

One approach is to go shotgun and start up the refinery and see what squeals, bangs, and clunks, or just outright stops working. This, of course, is a high-risk option. If there are problems, they could lead to spills and breakdowns.

Alternatively, you could employ a phased array ultrasonic equipment service to perform high-speed scanning of internal structures for:

  • corrosion
  • stresses 
  • cracking 

The actionable data collected will then be called on by your predictive maintenance program to prevent costly downtime and catastrophic events. 


16 June 2020

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