Our Diagnostic Services business, Tracerco, has created a new technology, Discovery, which can scan subsea pipelines effectively and without interrupting operations

Tracerco DiscoveryTM, which scans and diagnoses subsea pipelines without interrupting operation
Tracerco Discovery TM, which scans and diagnoses subsea pipelines without interrupting operation

Pipelines transporting oil or gas from the sea bed sometimes become blocked or corroded. Up until recently, it was necessary either to use an internal maintenance device, or to remove the protective coating of a pipe in order to diagnose the problem externally.

Johnson Matthey's Diagnostic Services business, Tracerco, has launched a new technology, Discovery™, which scans the pipe from the outside through any type of coating to identify the problem and where it lies.

“Like a CT scanner that is used in hospitals to diagnose issues in the human body, we can carry out a CT scan from the outside of a pipeline to diagnose what's happening within," says Tracerco's Kim Thye Lee, who explains how this multi award winning product was developed.

An interview with Kim Thye Lee, Specialist Measurement & Monitors Business Director

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What customer issues led to the invention of Discovery™?

The same question kept coming up: 'What if there was a better way?'

We regularly collaborate with our customers, who tell us about their challenges and ask for our help in solving them. One particular customer was experiencing the common issue of 'hydrate build up' in a pipeline, caused by low temperatures and high pressure. Crystals were forming on the inside, restricting the flow in the line. This meant less oil was produced, thus generating less revenue.

They asked us to help using existing technology, but the same question kept coming up: 'What if there was a better way?'

How was Discovery™ developed?

Customer collaboration was vital. Creating the technical specification is essential, but it was only from drawing on our customer's experience, technical skills and knowledge of operating conditions, and analysing their data that we were able to use our own R&D expertise to develop a solution – Discovery™.

What happens during a Discovery™ investigation?

A team of our highly skilled engineers operate Discovery™ remotely and interpret the data onsite so that results are available quickly. The scans show what is going on inside the pipe, if there is a blockage and what it consists of, and any pipe wall defects. After remedial action the area can be rescanned to verify the condition has been fixed.

How are customers benefiting?

Companies are often required to meet high output targets so it's crucial not to disrupt production

There has been a very positive response. Companies are often required to meet high output targets so it's crucial not to disrupt production. Discovery™ helps with this. As you don't have to remove the protective coating, there is also no risk of corrosion or damage to the pipe during the process. Finally, the information can highlight any potential to extend the operational life of the pipeline beyond its expected life cycle.

There is a real sustainability benefit here, as well as a financial one.

What's next for Discovery™?

We're developing the technology to work with much larger diameter pipes and are also working on a screening technology that will quickly identify potential hotspots over long lengths of pipeline prior to deploying Discovery™.

We have a strong history of collaborating with our customers: they bring their needs to us and push us to do more, so we're always thinking about what's next. That's what is great about working here.