How Corrosion Technicians and Forensic Materials Engineers Ensure Pipeline Integrity

How Corrosion Technicians and Forensic Materials Engineers Ensure Pipeline Integrity
12/27/2017 10:13:55 AM

Anybody who has worked in oil and gas knows one universal truth: all steel pipelines corrode.

We know what causes pipe corrosion and what to do to minimize it. Properly managing pipeline integrity means waging an ongoing battle against general and localized corrosion, biofouling, pitting and preferential weld corrosion. Losing the fight means risking catastrophic failure.

Pipeline integrity means ensuring a pipeline and its ancillary components are safe and running reliably and sustainably. This calls for specific methods and technologies during each stage of the pipeline’s life cycle.

For example, the pipe’s design phase has its own best practices. The pipe’s construction phase also has its own, but different, rules. Another set of protocols is for day-to-day and decade-to-decade operational management, and yet another series of standards is explicitly geared toward correctly decommissioning a pipeline.

Pipeline corrosion technicians and forensic materials engineers have the corrosion and materials expertise to work on preventative and issue-related projects in the oil and gas, aerospace, defense, construction, insurance and nuclear industries. Let’s look at each in turn.

A pipeline corrosion technician understands the deterioration patterns of liquid and gas pipeline systems. These techs perform integrity assessments, interpret integrity-related data, calculate and quantify risk, and make recommendations to company management. Generally, they are employed by first-tier oil and gas companies as part of their risk management team. To see pipeline corrosion technician salaries by state, click here.

Corrosion techs don’t always wear clean shirts and sit at a desk with the other "company men.” You’re just as likely to find them cleaning out the inside of a pipe using big, rotating wire brushes attached to a smart pig. Or you might see them using specialized underwater non-destructive testing equipment to assess an offshore pipeline’s integrity.

The "splash zone,” that area immediately above and below the mean water level, has long been of major concern to corrosion technicians and pipeline engineers responsible for offshore installations. The technologies that ensure pipeline integrity in these hostile environments include the application of specially-engineered pipe coating. These coatings are formulated to adhere to the steel and create a long-lasting barrier against corrosion.

Outside of the seawater tides in the splash zone, a common protective technology is cathodic protection. This process uses an electrostatic current applied to the pipes to fight corrosion. Mark Tool’s flagship pipe insulator, Splashtron, is typically used for splash zone applications. However, because it’s such a good electrical insulator, it can prevent loss of cathodic protection, and it will not contribute to galvanic corrosion. Therefore, it’s an excellent protection for pipes above the water line, as well.

Forensic materials engineers perform work similar to pipeline corrosion technicians, but they have to do some additional sleuthing. You have probably seen the crime-fighting forensic scientists in television shows like "CSI.” Forensic engineers also do some detective work, but for them, the work involves finding the causes behind industrial incidents. They do this by investigating materials, structures or components that fail or do not function as intended.

These engineers want to answer questions: Did the designers do their jobs properly? Were the materials used to fabricate the pipeline out of specification? Were the structures installed correctly? Was the water used for hydro-testing up to snuff? The answers to these questions and many others are used in legal proceedings and to help companies prevent future incidents from occurring.

Forensic materials engineers may find themselves giving high-level presentations to government officials one day, then performing non-destructive testing of a pipe surface the next.

An emergency situation might mean they have to drop everything and fly to a rig several miles offshore. Whereas the work of a Pipeline Corrosion Technician is mainly preventative, a forensic materials engineer typically works issue-based projects intended to improve a company’s internal training education, enhance safety and increase operational efficiency.

Like the pipeline corrosion technician, he may also play an active role during the design process, during pipe manufacturing and the implementation of an ongoing maintenance schedule. To see a nationwide estimation of a forensic materials engineer’s salary, click here.

Mark Tool & Rubber Co, Inc. is a family-owned and operated business dedicated to industrial anti-corrosive coating and products like molded rubber, rubber rollers, and cast urethane for the oil and gas industry. In 2008 we also opened our in-house machine shop where we specialize in elastomeric roller machining and grounding, mold and die fabricating, sawing, CNC plasma cutting and weld fabrication.

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