Underused strategies to keep pipelines running strong.

Author:Short, Steven

Compressor stations are the unsung heroes of the pipeline and gas industry. Given the media hype these days, the public's focus has been driven primarily to the extraction and refining components of the energy equation with little notice paid to the engines--literally--that transfer products from one end of the country to the other.

In the United States alone, there are thousands of miles of pipelines carrying crude oil, natural gas and petroleum products to destinations throughout the nation. Compressor stations act as the human heart attached to arteries in the human body that ensure nutrient-rich oxygenated blood is delivered to the muscles and organs.

Similarly, compressor stations adjust pipeline pressure, monitor flow and, when trouble occurs, dispatch teams to remedy pipeline issues or perform maintenance. To keep compressor station engines running at full capacity, plant managers need to regularly conduct two maintenance functions: electronic engine/ compressor analysis (ECA) and B-probe inspections.

ECA involves real-time, multi-channel analyzers and data collectors, along with sophisticated software, to provide condition assessment and fault detection while the engine is loaded and running.

There is no downtime when analyzing the key performance measures on reciprocating engines and compressors. ECA is excellent for identifying performance-based issues, such as bad valves and leaky rings, as well as gaining baseline measurements for pressure and vibration. The reciprocating analyzer is also an excellent tool for balancing the power cylinder firing pressures on two-cycle engines.

What's more, equipment hardware and preparation requirements for analysis are minimal, making ECA an excellent choice for early identification of potential equipment issues and ensuring compressor station engines are in exceptional shape.

B-probe inspections are undervalued and underused within the pipeline and gas industry. While a B-probe inspection requires equipment shutdown, it can provide a much more holistic assessment of machine condition. Scheduling inspections during regularly planned downtime can avoid significant costs down the road. Most plant managers look at three of the procedure's primary requirements and shy away from B-probe inspections in favor of less effective and less costly methodologies. Those detracting factors are:

* Inspections are semi-intrusive and require the engine to be shut down.

* The procedures are difficult to perform at scale.

* The...

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