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Pipeline Inspection Gauge

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Title: Pipeline Inspection Gauge  
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Subject: Pipe (fluid conveyance), Tracerco
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Pipeline Inspection Gauge

Pigging in the context of pipelines refers to the practice of using pipeline inspection gauges or 'pigs' to perform various maintenance operations on a pipeline. This is done without stopping the flow of the product in the pipeline.

These operations include but are not limited to cleaning and inspecting the pipeline. This is accomplished by inserting the pig into a 'pig launcher' (or 'launching station') - a funnel shaped Y section in the pipeline. The launcher / launching station is then closed and the pressure-driven flow of the product in the pipeline is used to push it along down the pipe until it reaches the receiving trap – the 'pig catcher' (or 'receiving station').


Pigging has been used for many years to clean large diameter pipelines in the oil industry. Today, however, the use of smaller diameter pigging systems is now increasing in many continuous and batch process plants as plant operators search for increased efficiencies and reduced costs.

Pigging can be used for almost any section of the transfer process between, for example, blending, storage or filling systems. Pigging systems are already installed in industries handling products as diverse as lubricating oils, paints, chemicals, toiletries, cosmetics and foodstuffs.

Pigs are used in lube oil or paint blending to clean the pipes to avoid cross-contamination, and to empty the pipes into the product tanks (or sometimes to send a component back to its tank). Usually pigging is done at the beginning and at the end of each batch, but sometimes it is done in the midst of a batch, such as when producing a premix that will be used as an intermediate component.

Pigs are also used in oil and gas pipelines to clean the pipes. There are also 'smart pigs' used to inspect pipelines for the purpose of preventing leaks that can be explosive and dangerous to the environment. They usually do not interrupt production, though some product can be lost when the pig is extracted. They can also be used to separate different products in a multiproduct pipeline.

If the pipeline contains butterfly valves, or reduced port ball valves, the pipeline cannot be pigged. Full port (or full bore) ball valves cause no problems because the inside diameter of the ball is the same as that of the pipe.


The original pigs were made from straw wrapped in wire and used for cleaning. They made a squealing noise while traveling through the pipe, sounding to some like a pig squealing, which gave pigs their name.[1][2] 'PIG' is also used as an acronym or backronym derived from the initial letters of the term 'Pipeline Inspection Gauge' or 'Pipeline Intervention Gadget'.'.

In production environments

Product and time saving

A major advantage of piggable systems is the potential of product savings. At the end of each product transfer, it is possible to clear out the entire line contents with the pig, either forwards towards the receipt point, or backwards to the source tank. There is no requirement for extensive line flushing.

Without the need for line flushing, pigging offers the additional advantage of much more rapid and reliable product changeover. Product sampling at the receipt point is faster with pigs, because the interface between products is very clear; the old method of checking at intervals to determine where the product is on-specification takes considerably longer.

Pigging can also be operated totally by a programmable logic controller (PLC).

Environmental benefits

Pigging has a significant role to play in reducing the environmental impact of batch operations. Traditionally, the only way that an operator of a batch process could ensure a product was completely cleared from a line was to flush the line with a cleaning agent such as water or a solvent, or even with the next product. The cleaning agent then had to be subjected to effluent treatment or solvent recovery. If a product was used to clear the line, it was necessary to downgrade or dump the contaminated portion of the product. All of these problems can now be eliminated due to the very precise interface produced by modern pigging systems.

Safety considerations

Pigging systems are designed so that the pig is loaded into the launcher, which is pressured up to launch the pig into the pipeline through a kicker line. In some cases, the pig is removed from the pipeline via the receiver at the end of each run.[3] All systems must allow for the receipt of pigs at the launcher, as blockages in the pipeline may require the pigs to be pushed back to the launcher. Most of the time, systems are designed to pig the pipeline in either direction.

The pig is pushed either with an inert gas or a liquid; if pushed by gas, some systems[4] can be adapted in the gas inlet in order to ensure pig's constant speed, whatever the flow pressure is. The pigs must be removed, as many pigs are rented, pigs wear and must be replaced, and cleaning pigs push contaminants from the pipeline such as wax, foreign objects, hydrates, etc., which must be removed from the pipeline. There are inherent risks in opening the barrel to atmospheric pressure so care must be taken to ensure that the barrel is depressured prior to opening. If the barrel is not completely depressured, the pig can be ejected from the barrel and operators have been severely injured when standing in front of an open pig door. By accident, one pig was shot out of the end of a pipeline without a proper pig receiver and went through the side of a home 500 feet away.[5] When the product is sour, the barrel should be evacuated to a flare system where the sour gas is burnt. Operators should wear a self-contained breathing apparatus when working on sour systems.

A few pigging systems utilize a 'captive pig', and the pipeline is only opened occasionally to check the condition of the pig.[6] At all other times, the pig is shuttled up and down the pipeline at the end of each transfer, and the pipeline itself is never opened up during process operation. These systems are not common.

Intelligent pigging

Modern intelligent or 'smart' pigs are highly sophisticated instruments that include electronics and sensors that collects various forms of data during their trip through the pipeline. They vary in technology and complexity depending on the intended use and the manufacturer.

The electronics are sealed to prevent leakage of the pipeline product into the electronics since products can range from being highly basic to highly acidic and can be of extremely high temperature. Many pigs use specific materials according to the product in the pipeline. Power for the electronics is provided by onboard batteries which are also sealed. Data recording may be by various means ranging from analog tape, digital tape, or solid state memory in more modern digital units.

The technology used varies by the service required and the design of the pig, each pigging service provider may have unique and proprietary technologies to accomplish the service. Surface pitting and corrosion, as well as cracks and weld defects in steel/ferrous pipelines are often detected using magnetic flux leakage (MFL) pigs. Other 'smart' pigs use electromagnetic acoustic transducers to detect pipe defects. Caliper pigs can measure the roundness of the pipeline to determine areas of crushing or other deformations. Some smart pigs use a combination of technologies, such as providing MFL and caliper functiüns in a single tool. Trials of pigs using acoustic resonance technology have been reported.[7]

During the pigging run the pig is unable to directly communicate with the outside world due to the distance underground or underwater and/or the materials that the pipe is made of. For example, steel pipelines effectively prevent any reliable radio communications outside the pipe. It is therefore necessary that the pig use internal means to record its own movement during the trip. This may be done by gyroscope-assisted tilt sensors, odometers and other technologies.[8] The pig records this positional data so that the distance it moves along with any bends can be interpreted later to determine the exact path taken.

Location verification is often accomplished by surface instruments that record the pig’s passage by either audible, magnetic, or gravimetric (or other) means. The sensors record when they detect the passage of the pig (time-of-arrival); this is then compared to the internal record for verification or adjustment. The external sensors may have GPS capability[9] to assist in their location. A few pig passage indicators transmit the pig’s passage, time and location, via Orbcomm satellite uplink.[10] The pig itself cannot use GPS as the metal pipe blocks satellite signals.

After the pigging run has been completed, the positional data from the external sensors is combined with the pipeline evaluation data (corrosion, cracks, etc.) from the pig to provide a location-specific defect map and characterization. In other words, the combined data reveals to the operator the location, type and size of each pipe defect. This information is used to judge the severity of the defect and help repair crews locate and repair the defect quickly without having to dig up excessive amounts of pipeline. By evaluating the rate of change of a particular defect over several years, proactive plans can be made to repair the pipeline before any leakage or environmental damage occurs.

The inspection results are typically archived (perhaps in Pipeline Open Data Standard format) for comparison with the results of later pigging runs on the same pipeline.

Pipeline inspection gauge

A pipeline inspection gauge or "PIG" in the pipeline industry is a tool that is sent down a pipeline and propelled by the pressure of the product flow in the pipeline itself. There are four main uses for pigs:

  1. Physical separation between different liquids being transported in pipelines;
  2. Internal cleaning of pipelines;
  3. Inspection of the condition of pipeline walls (also known as an Inline Inspection (ILI) tool);
  4. Capturing and recording geometric information relating to pipelines (e.g., size, position).

One kind of pig is a soft, bullet shaped polyurethane foam plug that is forced through pipelines to separate products to reduce their mixing. There are several types of pigs for cleaning. Some have tungsten studs or abrasive wire mesh on the outside to cut rust, scale, or paraffin wax deposits off the inside of the pipe. Others are plain plastic covered polyurethane.

Inline inspection pigs use various methods for inspecting a pipeline. A sizing pig uses one (or more) notched round metal plates as gauges. The notches allow different parts of the plate to bend when a bore restriction is encountered. More complex systems exist for inspecting various aspects of the pipeline. Intelligent pigs are used to inspect the pipeline with sensors and record the data for later analysis. These pigs use technologies such as MFL and ultrasonics to inspect the pipeline. Intelligent pigs may also use calipers to measure the inside geometry of the pipeline.

In 1961, the first intelligent pig was run by Shell Development. It demonstrated that a self-contained electronic instrument could traverse a pipeline while measuring and recording wall thickness. The instrument used electromagnetic fields to sense wall integrity. In 1964 Tuboscope ran the first commercial instrument. It used MFL technology to inspect the bottom portion of the pipeline. The system used a black box similar to those used on aircraft to record the information; it was basically a highly customized analog tape recorder. Until recently, tape recording (although digital) was still the preferred recording medium. As the capacity and reliability of solid-state memory improved, most recording media moved away from tape to solid state.

Capacitive sensor probes are used to detect defects in polyethylene pipe gas pipeline. These probes are attached to the pig before it is sent through the polyethylene pipe to detect any defects in the outside of the pipe wall. This is done by using a triple plate capacitive sensor in which electrostatic waves are propagated outward through the pipe's wall. Any change in dielectric material results in a change in capacitance.[11] Testing was conducted by NETL DOE research lab at the Battelle West Jefferson’s Pipeline Simulation Facility (PSF) near Columbus, Ohio.[12]

In popular culture

A pig has been used as a plot device in three James Bond films: Diamonds Are Forever, where Bond disabled a pig to escape from a pipeline, The Living Daylights, where a pig was modified to secretly transport a person through the Iron Curtain, and The World Is Not Enough, where a pig was used to move a nuclear weapon through a pipeline.

A pig was also used as a plot device in the Tony Hillerman book The Sinister Pig where an abandoned pipeline from Mexico to the United States was used with a pig to transport illegal drugs.

See also


External links

  • Magnetic Flux Leakage information
  • Inline Inspection Association
  • Inline Inspection and Pipeline Pigging Resource
  • August 16, 2013 WSJ
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