Getting Proactive with Utility Pipe Maintenance

written by: Niels van Hall, Key Account Manager – Enterprise Sector, Panasonic TOUGHBOOK

With energy and utilities resilience, and security a priority for European nations like never before, the task of ensuring the safe delivery of oil and gas to refineries across the continent starts with the detailed and granular inspection of thousands of miles of pipelines, using the latest technology.

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The delivery of energy into the millions of homes and businesses should not be underestimated. The complex web of pipelines carrying a combination of fuels across Europe are absolutely crucial to ensure a steady and reliable flow of energy into power generation plants, from which it is fed out across national grids. 

With Ukraine, the United Kingdom, France, Germany, Italy, Hungary, and Poland collectively operating approximately 200,000km of pipelines across Europe – roughly a quarter of the world’s total pipeline length – their maintenance and repair must be managed proactively to ensure they remain in an optimum condition. Any pipeline erosion, cracks, or general damage carries a significant financial and regulatory cost for operators and governments. 

Without these pipelines being properly maintained, there is a high risk of the lights being switched off.

Proactive pipe maintenance is key

With pipe inspections and maintenance coming at a high price, it’s imperative that operators get ahead of any potential problems or blockages before they cause real problems. The process of ‘pigging’, where vast pieces of machinery, nearly the width of each pipe, undertake pipe inspections and cleaning, whilst gathering data on the structural integrity of the pipeline, is commonplace. 

In some cases, the process has been complemented by ‘smart pigging’, whereby tasks such as ultrasounds, magnetic flux leakage, and mechanical caliper analysis can be undertaken. 

This is key for running predictive maintenance programs, which can save money and ensure safe and efficient energy delivery. We have already seen the implications of this not being implemented, with French regulators recently putting pressure on energy providers to further inspect over 200 welds in its network of nuclear power pipelines.

Seamless connectivity, reliability and storage essential for predictive maintenance

Regardless of the method used, the amount of data gathered across hundreds of thousands of miles of pipelines is significant, from the point of launching pigging devices to when they reach the receiving station.

It is therefore imperative that remote operators utilise high-performance mobile devices that can work seamlessly with any type of device, to instantly analyse data at the source. They must choose a device that can work seamlessly with both newer and older technologies, especially when it comes to connectivity – either wireless or wired – and one that can easily visualise a lot of data, demanding a high-performance mobile solution.

Naturally, the amount of data is usually too high to transmit across wireless networks remotely; therefore, any device needs to have market-leading levels of data storage and encryption. This will ensure that crucial data does not fall into the wrong hands should a device be compromised.

The aforementioned high costs of running pigging sensors also necessitates market-leading reliability in mobile solutions used to analyse the data, avoiding the need to re-run prohibitively expensive inspections in pipelines.

Harsh environments call for ruggedised technology

With pipelines overlapping terrain of every kind and based in remote environments, operators could be taking measurements in heavy rain or 50°C heat. This requires a notebook that can take these elements in their stride. At the same time, they need to be durable and compact enough to be effortlessly transported from one location to another.


TOUGHBOOK is the perfect partner for energy operators

Panasonic TOUGHBOOK has a long history of working with customers in the field service, energy, and utilities sectors, supporting them in their journey towards digitalisation.  

Our connected, intelligent notebooks, such as the TOUGHBOOK 40 and 55, are built to survive the challenges of any environment that the utilities sector presents. The long battery life enables devices to be used for longer, whilst the sophistication of our displays allows for critical information to be accessed regardless of the climate, whether it’s the glaring sun or pounding rain. Dust resistance, proven functionality in extreme temperatures, and the integration of 4G/5G modules allow users to stay operational and connected at all times.

Furthermore, TOUGHBOOK devices are engineered with the future in mind, going above and beyond the pace of digitisation in the energy and utilities industries to ensure our customers stay one step ahead of the competition.

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