January 2013

Central Hudson Gas & Electric Corp has become one of the first utilities in the nation to deploy the Explorer, a pipeline inspection robot, as a versatile, cost-effect, highly accurate tool that can examine lines otherwise unreachable by conventional inspection devices. Designed to function like a model train using drive and monitoring modules, Explorer is inserted into live lines with the aid of a launch chamber to inspect for anomalies in pipe walls so that utilities can proactively gain information on pipeline conditions and address potential problems early on. Outfitted with fish-eye lens cameras, lights and an array of sensors, Explorer can identify, size, and pinpoint dents, metal loss and other anomalies.

Central Hudson, a natural gas and electric utility based in Poughkeepsie, N.Y, worked closely with NYSEARCH, the research and development sub-organization of the Northeast Gas Association, together with other natural gas utilities to design, develop and test a self propelled, wireless robot to inspect natural gas pipelines from the inside.

Central Hudson and Pipetel Technologies, a commercial service provider based in Toronto, Canada and Williamsville, N.Y., successfully performed ten launches of the Explorer 10/14 robotic platforms during the year, traveling through nearly 10,000 feet of the utility’s unpiggable natural gas transmission lines.

“Explorer offers operations personnel a better tool for maintaining the integrity of gas lines by providing a highly detailed inspection to help determine any required follow-up actions,” said Rod Lee of Pipetel.

As a key developer of the technology, Central Hudson is only the second utility in the nation to use this 10” – 14” size platform, which provides both visual images and magnetic flux leakage (MFL) measurements of the pipe wall to measure thickness and material characteristics. “Central Hudson is an early adopter of this innovative technology that dramatically improves our ability to inspect high pressure natural gas transmission lines,” said James P. Laurito, President of Central Hudson. “The data provided by Explorer helps guide our maintenance program to ensure the safety and reliability of our natural gas system.” During the inaugural launches, the robot inspected 92 welds and 11 cased carrier pipes along portions of the utility’s natural gas transmission system.

Development of the Explorer range of robotic platforms and supporting technologies began in 2001, with a total investment of more than $15 million to date through NYSEARCH member companies, Invodane Engineering Inc. – Pipetel, Operations Technology Development NFP and the U.S. Dept. of Transportation – Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration. The technology provides a tool to accurately inspect the pipelines, gaining information previously unattainable by existing methods used by gas utilities and pipeline owners.

“The Explorer features several advantages as an inspection device,” said Rod Lee of Pipetel. “Because the robot is not tethered to a line that requires an external power supply, it has a longer range and can be operated for extended periods of time. Explorer is also unique in that it can navigate 90-degree turns and inclines in pipes because of its articulated design. The device does not impact customers as gas flows are uninterrupted while Explorer performs its inspection; the device grips the pipe wall as it travels and is not affected by gas flow or pressure. The sensors, depending on the unit, are capable of detecting dime-sized anomalies.”

“The Explorer is able to inspect lines located inside cased carrier pipes and in areas with substantial development without extensive excavation or pipeline removal,” explained Laurito. “This allows cost effective inspection in sensitive areas, without sacrificing accuracy.”

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