Release Date: December 04, 2007
|DOE-Funded Pipeline Robot Revolutionizes Inspection Process|
Explorer II Demonstrates Huge Potential for Hard-to-Reach Gas Line Inspections
MORGANTOWN, W. Va. – Testing of a new, robotic pipeline inspection tool, developed with funding from the U.S. Department of Energy, has shown that it could revolutionize the pipeline inspection process. The wireless, self-propelled Explorer II proved its worth in September when it was put through its paces in a live 8-inch distribution main pressurized at 100 pound per square inch. The robot was launched and retrieved multiple times as it inspected—with cameras and sensors—a section of the Northwest Fuels gas line in Brookfield, Pa., about 80 miles north of Pittsburgh.
The Explorer II improves upon the highly successful Explorer I robot, which won an R&D 100 Award in 2004 for being among the 100 most technologically significant products of the year. Innovations added to the Explorer II include—
Both the Explorer I and Explorer II robots feature enormous improvements over traditional “smart pigs"—the bulky pipeline inspection tools that are directly driven by gas flow and are not capable of navigation.
The 8-foot, 66-pound Explorer II resembles a large link of sausages. Its 11 modules with articulated linkage between them allow the robot to be maneuvered around turns of up to 90 degrees. Being self-propelled means the robot does not have to rely on the gas stream to move it along, as have previous pipeline inspection tools, and being semi-autonomous means its range is much greater than the typical tethered inspection device.
Until now, pipeline cleaning or inspection devices have been limited to fairly straight, large-diameter lines because they could not be navigated through difficult or narrow areas such as Y- and T-joints, 90-degree turns, and the small diameter pipes typically found in towns and cities. Pipeline sections like these are called “unpiggable," meaning that they have had to be dug up for either physical inspection or for employing short-range tethered inspection devices. Nearly 30 percent of the 1.3 million miles of gas transmission and distribution pipelines in the United States are unpiggable because of couplings and size restrictions. Because of this, and increasingly stringent regulatory requirements for pipeline inspection, Explorer II is expected to be a great boon to the industry.
The Explorer II can maneuver through most gas lines, including many
The Explorer II was developed by engineers at Carnegie Mellon University in a cooperative agreement with the U.S. Department of Energy's Office of Fossil Energy. The National Energy Technology Laboratory manages the ongoing project for the Office of Fossil Energy.
Preliminary testing of the maneuverability and inspection capabilities of Explorer II took place at Carnegie Mellon's unpressurized “pipe farm" laboratory in February, 2007, minus the new NDE inspection sensors. A second preliminary test at Carnegie Mellon, also in unpressurized pipe, tested the robot's abilities with the new sensors in place. Further development is planned to increase the robot's versatility and extend its range.