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BP Uses RFID Sensors to Track Pipe Corrosion
The system, provided by Permasense, enables the oil company to monitor pipe thickness at its refineries worldwide.
Jan 31, 2011—Oil company BP is installing a corrosion-monitoring system for steel pipes at its 11 refineries around the world, following several years of testing the RFID sensor system at two refineries to track the corrosion of the metal walls of its oil-bearing pipes. The solution, provided by Permasense—a firm launched by researchers at Imperial College London—allows the oil company to attach the battery-powered wireless sensors to the pipes' exterior, thereby enabling it to remotely measure the thickness of each pipe's walls.
BP first approached Imperial College London for a system that would allow the company to track the condition of its refineries' infrastructure. The research team developed and tested battery-powered waveguide-mounted sensors—for which there are several patents pending—that employ ultrasonic technology to gauge the exact thickness of pipe walls, and then utilize the sensor's built-in radio chip and antenna to transmit that sensor data, along with a unique ID number, via an active 2.4 GHz transmission with a proprietary air-interface protocol.
The process is costly, however, because a refinery's operating units must be turned off in order to accomplish the work. What's more, since manual testing is conducted only once every few years, it does not provide as much data as many companies would like. In addition, Collins says, such testing is prone to error, since it can be hard to identify the exact section of pipe on which a test is being carried out, making it difficult to compare the results of tests previously conducted on that particular pipe. And errors can be made when manually recording data as well.
In 2006, BP approached Imperial College London for potential solutions. Researchers at the university began developing a wireless system to measure pipe walls while the refinery remains in operation, and then wirelessly transmit that information to a gateway, via a mesh network of RFID sensors. The research team tested the system, and built software to capture the measurement data and display it for end users. The solution was first trialed at BP's refineries in Cherry Point, Wash., and Gelsenkirchen, Germany.
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