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					INNOVATION

The perfect fit
Award-winning laser devices are helping the oil industry to make sure that its pipelines measure up to the job. Heath Reidy reports

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ipes suck up precious oil from the seabed like soda through a straw, without missing a drop. To enable oil companies to do this successfully, the pipes must first have been measured, so that they all weld together perfectly. It sounds straightforward enough but, if it’s not done properly, the result could be ecological disaster. The last thing the industry wants to see is oil lapping against beaches instead of being pumped through offshore rigs. And, in a small office hidden away on an industrial estate in Bishop’s Stortford, Hertfordshire, is a thriving company that holds the key to the success of many a pipelaying project. Optical Metrology Services (OMS) is a leading supplier of pipe measurement devices. Its tools, which use laser technology to measure the dimensions of oil and gas pipes, have been used for projects all over the world. From Scotland to the Gulf of Mexico, the company’s staff have measured thousands of pipes using the tools. They have also developed devices for engineers to use when they are out doing pipelaying jobs. OMS’s achievements have won the company a whole wall of awards, including one for innovation in this year’s Queen’s Awards for Enterprise. Measuring pipes after they have been made might seem pointless. Surely, common sense would suggest that the manufacturers make them to the right size in the first place? But the measurements needed for oil pipes take time and

Radial reading: Automatic Pipe Checker takes accurate measurements on site that falls down, there will be an environmental disaster.” OMS has developed devices that don’t just prevent such problems from happening, but make measuring quicker and easier. Without touching a ruler or magnifying glass, the tools allow pipes to be measured in great detail, involve technology that the makers and in seconds. One of the company’s latest don’t have access to. OMS director Tim Clarke says: “They try to make devices, the award-winning them as accurate as they can, but Automatic Pipe Checker, uses lasers the tools they require for this to measure external and internal application are way in advance of dimensions. The device is placed normal applications. This is why inside the end of the pipe so that an attached arm is positioned around this kind of work is necessary.” The measurements are, in fact, so the outer wall. The arm encircles the pipe and, with a laser beam, crucial that just 0.5mm can mean the difference between success and records 2,000-plus points around the circumference in 10 seconds. ecological disaster. This information is sent to a Deep under the sea especially, pipes must be given extra attention, computer, which displays all the particularly the steel catenary risers, points of the circle in a line, as which are the ones that bend up though the pipe’s circumference has from the seabed and lead up to an been unwrapped. By comparing this oil rig. These pipes can be over a with data from another pipe, the computer can help to find the best mile long, and the flow pressures point at which the two pipes fit. can cause serious problems if they Clarke says: “Sometimes the are not welded properly. Clarke says: “If the pipes don’t pipes we get are way out. We have match any closer than 0.5mm it will to find pipes with the right radius cause a bad weld, which could lead and, once we have done that, find pipes that are the right shape. It can to the failure of the risers, and, if be an extraordinarily complex thing to do.” But, with this device, the company can record data on as many as 200 pipes in one day, which is three times quicker than using regular measuring tools. And, as some projects involve measuring more than 2,500 pipes, this time saving is valuable. Denise Smiles, head of business development, says: “The pipes may be late and be delivered by boat, which can take a while. We are in and out very quickly, and give them the data very quickly. They are getting detail they have never had before and, because of that, they are secure in the knowledge that they are not going to have any problems.” Now OMS is ready to take the next step in expanding its business to other areas of the oil industry. Having taken on board pipelaying projects from all over the world, the company hopes to help in the pipemaking process. Clarke says: “The next plan is, we want to make sure we are known by the whole of the industry. “We would like to produce tools for pipe manufacturers and get ourselves more involved in the complete process in pipe manufacturing and pipelaying.”

23 May 2007 G Professional Engineering G 31


				
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