Digital Radiography: Advancements in Inspection Reliability in the Oil & Gas Industry

The adoption of x-ray inspection by the oil and gas industry brought with it the widespread use of non-destructive testing (NDT) techniques. X-ray inspection technology has made many contributions in determining the integrity and viability of welds and informational or profile shots. The innovation for field use of x-ray continues to be incubated by the oil and gas sector as the need for clear, accurate images of difficult to access or highly-sensitive areas in equipment continues to foster innovation applications to x-ray, particularly when it comes to accessing (imaging) and measuring damaged mechanisms.

The application development and utilization of Digital Detector Arrays (DDAs) in field radiography environments in upstream, midstream and downstream applications, previously limited to film and computed radiography (CR) techniques, has taken off in recent years. The use of DDAs for these applications show benefits of significantly reduced exposure times versus traditional film and CR techniques. These results are enabled by technology investments with a focus on image quality with respect to dose. Unlike cabinet-based radiography, where dose is less important as humans are shielded from the x-ray exposure, field and medical applications must take this into greater consideration. This was a major factor in DDA design and choices for photodiodes, scintillator and display electronics.

Application development efforts have included, and have been successfully implemented in, a wide range of field applications for the oil and gas and industry. The reduction in exposure time not only enables productivity through shorter shot times and the instant availability of images for review and analysis, but also improves overall safety for radiation workers and other employees. This is achieved by decreasing radiation source deployment, and in some cases allows for a decrease in energy or source strength (for review and analysis).

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New Possibilities for Inspection

Digital radiography provides new opportunities to inspect and test equipment for damaged mechanisms, particularly due to corrosion and erosion. Items that were not inspected due to time constraints or the removal of insulation may now be inspected quickly and accurately, including:

  • Small or large bore piping circuits for TML/CML and wall thickness surveys
  • Overhead crude lines
  • Choke and Block Lines
  • Pipe Supports, including external touch point inspections

The ability to detect corrosion under insulation (CUI) is a huge advantage when utilizing digital and computed radiography. Often digital radiography is used in conjunction with other NDT methods to detect CUI without needing to strip insulation.

Cost Savings

New digital methods can help control cost.  In production plant inspection the cost of stopping work, building scaffold, providing power and logistics can be reduced. In many cases the actual cost of the total process can be substantially reduced and performed in less time.

Image Quality

Operators and asset owners can now conduct inspections of structures that are thicker and more complex in less time and often with lower radiation sources. New technologies and improvements may be used for both in-process inspection as well as new construction. Enhanced image quality is associated with improved measurement capabilities and increased probability of damage detection.

Corrosion/erosion is a serious problem in the oil and gas industry, and early detection can be the difference between repairing equipment and needing to do a complete replacement. By means of digital radiography, and especially with DDAs, the inspection process can be much more efficient and safer than with traditional film radiography and helps operators and asset owners to optimize preventive maintenance activities and preserve the value of their infrastructure.

To read more about how digital x-ray solutions have advanced NDT techniques, read the full article in Inspectioneering here.

By Richard Mills, GE Radiography SME and ASNT Level III

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Advances in Eddy Current Inspection Technology

Eddy current testing (ET) is fundamentally the same now as it was when first introduced in 1879 by David Hughes, yet it remains among the best inspection techniques for use in many cases today. While the technology itself is unchanged, its applications have become much more sophisticated, particularly over the past 20 years. Inspection professionals across manufacturing, oil and gas, aerospace, power generation, and various other industries are able to perform inspections plus detect and size flaws with greater speed and accuracy than ever before.

How and when ET is used has changed remarkably, and the digital age has brought transformational change for inspection technology. Recent advancements in eddy current tools have simplified not only the inspection process, but also the training and collaboration processes involved across industries, increasing the scope of applications and usefulness of the technology. As inspection technologies become more advanced, the need to recruit, train, qualify, and retain skilled nondestructive examination (NDE) personnel becomes increasingly important, especially in an industry where the workforce is rapidly aging.

One notable trend is the recent emergence of powerful, networked portable devices. Previous generations of inspection technology often required the testing technician to carry cumbersome equipment, diagrams, maps, and numerous other paper documents with information on the testing process and the standard requirements for the test. Given the complex and often harsh industrial environments inspectors work in, this was far from ideal and introduced a number of variables that could affect the accuracy of test results. GE recently launched Mentor EM to help address this concern. With this portable device, the testing process is automated on-screen, including all relevant information on test metrics, procedures, and standards (eliminating the need for carrying additional materials on site).

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Where previous ET devices have been standalone units that perform a reading — essentially like a very advanced pocket compass — Mentor EM incorporates a comprehensive information system. Not only can technicians capture its readings onto a network database, but future versions of the system will be capable of finding and opening information on the network. The inspector can be relieved of carrying paper documents, which instead are directly viewed on the instrument’s tablet. Printed documents expire; online documentation can be managed to provide only current information. The new system also has the ability to create standardized inspection workflows. It can automate the test process, which again is a seemingly small advancement that could have tremendous implications. Large organizations with numerous inspectors at multiple facilities might find that their ET is performed differently, with slightly different results achieved by each individual. By developing a standard practice, the company can be confident that all of its weld inspections, for example, are being performed in exactly the same way, with results that can be duplicated by any one of its test technicians.

Eddy current inspection is one of today’s most useful and essential modalities for NDE. To read the full article about GE’s latest tools for eddy current inspection, visit Inspection Trends Magazine.

By Bob Ward, Senior Product Manager, Portables, GE Measurement & Control

Inspection in the Smartphone Era

With the introduction of advanced technologies, inspection and engineering fields have an opportunity to revolutionize how they train and bring on-board new inspectors. Major inspection users are identifying new solutions to lessen the impact of an aging workforce and growing skills gap. Whether it is by establishing new training programs, such as the Alabama Industrial Development Training program led by Airbus, or adopting advanced visual inspection tools, asset owners are embracing technology to improve productivity and reduce the shortage of qualified inspectors.

Inspectors entering the field today, raised with smartphones and handheld computers, expect their workplace tools to be equally intuitive and easy to operate. New visual inspection technology, such as Mentor Visual iQ from GE, will replace older borescopes with more sophisticated devices. Industrial organizations are selecting borescopes with built-in technology to help operators make smarter decisions faster. These advancements, including connectivity and intuitive touchscreen user-interfaces, improve probability of detection and extend uptime.

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The latest generation of visual inspection technologies provides some of the same benefits that smartphones have provided consumers: improved productivity, ease of use and instant connectivity.

  • Improved image quality and probability of detection: Advancements in visual inspection technology and image resolution speed up the inspection process and improve the probability of detection. These factors influence inspectors’ confidence in their categorization of the defect. Just as the camera on today’s smartphones has improved image resolution to the level of replacing digital cameras, visual borescope technology has evolved to provide high-quality images that easily distinguish a crack from a grease mark in tough inspection environments.
  • Remote collaboration capabilities: New inspection devices with remote collaboration capabilities connect field technicians with senior-level experts across the world allowing for real-time feedback and support. Senior inspectors can provide direction and feedback from their own desks, reducing travel time, costs and downtime.
  • Increased productivity and uptime: Advanced visual inspection technologies allow technicians to more quickly and accurately identify issues or rule out problems reducing costly downtime.

To learn more about these benefits, read the full article in Quality Manufacturing Today here: http://www.qmtmag.com/display_eds.cfm?edno=8004979.

By Tom Ward, RVI Senior Product Manager, GE Measurement & Control

What Questions Should Manufacturers Be Asking About 3D Computed Tomography?

While computed tomography (CT) scans are common and well-known as a critical evaluation tool in the medical field, they are becoming increasingly important in industrial settings. Three dimensional (3D) industrial CT for non-destructive testing (NDT) has long been confined to the research and development (R&D) environment and its application restricted to structure and defect analysis of high value, complex components and new materials. But imagine an automotive manufacturer being able to fully examine and measure a cylinder head, or an aerospace component manufacturer being able to inspect and measure highly complex turbine blades or parts made by additive manufacturing technologies.

Recent automation, speed, and accuracy developments are driving the migration of CT technology onto the production floor. There, it can be used as a powerful quality control and process optimization tool, providing fast inspection and accurate 3D measurement of components which are difficult to examine by conventional two dimensional (2D) radiography or coordinate measuring machines (CMMs). Because of technological advancements and speed enhancements, the same internal structure visibility provided to medical professionals by CT technology can now be invaluable for manufacturers and inspectors.

From shortening the prototype process, to reducing processing costs, to getting faster feedback during the production process, the benefits of CT technology are endless. In order to determine whether CT technology is right for their facility, manufacturers must ask the right questions.

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Asking the Right Questions

  • What type of parts am I inspecting? When dealing with critical machinery in the industrial sector, 2D radiography has its limitations. It is sometimes unable to detect, localize, or visualize the indications and internal geometries found in many of today’s complex engineering components. 3D CT can effectively inspect metals, composites, plastics, and additives manufactured or 3D printed parts with complex internal structures.
  • What percentage of parts do I want to inspect? Previous CT speeds once limited the number of parts that could be inspected to only a few per shift. Advances in scan time, part manipulation, workflow, and software now allow many more scans per hour – approaching full production inspection.
  • How can CT analysis improve my operations? CT analysis can be useful in assuring product quality, enabling real-time process optimization, and potentially consolidating inspection steps. High quality 3D CT scans and metrology allow manufacturers to compare completed parts to specifications and tolerances with a high degree of accuracy. Many parts are inspected multiple times with 2D radiography for casting defects and residual materials, in addition to ultrasonic measurement for wall thickness, and sometimes CMM for external measurements. Most of this could be replaced by a single, highly reliable 3D image.
  • How will I manage the large volumes of data? A single 3D CT scan can generate 20GB or larger volumes of data. Advanced data processing, storage, and archiving solutions are available to make it possible to manage, share, and evaluate these large data sets. Including data management as a part of the initial project scope is critical to ensuring a successful transition to production CT.

To find out all of the questions you should be asking, read the full article in Inspectioneering here: https://inspectioneering.com/journal/2015-10-28/4892/what-questions-should-manufact.

By Shana Telesz, Senior Product Manager, GE Measurement & Control