In 2010, the Pigging Products & Services Association (PPSA) celebrates its 20th anniversary. Based in the UK, PPSA was founded in 1990 to promote the knowledge of pigging and its related products and services by providing a channel of communication between the members themselves and with users and other interested parties. Its members are comprised of companies that manufacture or market pigging products or services, companies connected with the industry or individuals with an interest pigging products or services.
Pigging is essential since almost all of the bulk fluids used in the modern world are transported by pipeline. The fluids include crude oil, natural gas, refined products, water and countless others. To travel through a pipeline, fluids must be pumped. Pumping requires pressure to be exerted on the fluid and this pressure creates stress in the pipe wall. Stress can cause failure – and failure of a pipeline could be catastrophic. Clearly then, the integrity of any pipeline is of paramount importance.
Any vessel or structure subjected to stress must be regularly maintained and inspected. Aircraft, boilers, buildings – even regular servicing of an automobile are typical examples. But all of these are easily accessible – pipelines are not! Whether traversing land or sea, pipelines are buried, so the only way to ensure their integrity is from the inside. Obviously, maintenance engineers or inspectors cannot be sent through a pipeline, so it is necessary to devise some other means of doing this. The answer is to use tools, which are known as “pigs”. Pigs can be used for cleaning or for removing unwanted gases or liquids – or more sophisticated ones for detecting damage, corrosion, movement of the pipe and other potentially serious problems.
There is some debate about the origins of this name, but it almost certainly originated in the oil fields of Texas in the early 20th century. In those days, crude oil pipes were cleaned by stuffing barbed wire and straw into one end and pumping this bundle through to scrape off the wax deposits. This created a screeching sound which someone suggested was “like a pig’s squeal.” They have been referred to as “rabbits” or “moles” too, but attempts to change the name to something a little more technical like “scraper,” or even simply “tool” have generally failed. It seems that the pipeline industry is secretly quite proud of this rather strange appellation.
Pigs travel through a pipeline driven by the product flow – they are, in effect, free-moving pistons. They can be subdivided into two broad categories: “conventional” pigs which are used to perform maintenance tasks such as cleaning or drying, and “inline inspection” (ILI) tools which provide information about the pipeline’s condition. Conventional pigs are usually very simple devices fitted with brushes and seals and are used on a routine basis. ILI tools are very different. They carry sensors to detect and locate any problems as well as the battery power and computer equipment to enable them to analyze and store all the resulting data.
To get some idea of the degree of sophistication required for ILI tools, consider the inspection of a 36-inch (1,000 mm) diameter, 100-mile pipeline (i.e. a relatively short and not especially large pipeline). The ILI tool may travel at speeds of up to 10 mph (16 km per hour) which means it must inspect, analyze, then store the data for 140 square feet (13 square meters) of pipe wall – every second for some 10 hours!
Then there is the equipment needed to get pigs into and out of the pipeline without interrupting the flow and to track their progress, as well as the ancillary equipment which could be needed to locate and remove any obstructions that might be detected. In short, “pigging” is a very challenging, but essential part of the whole “fluid transfer” industry and it is because of its highly specialized nature that an organisation like PPSA became essential.
Pipeline pigging has been practiced for well over 100 years, but as pipelines became longer and strategically more important, pigging had to be taken more seriously. Various ILI tools were made, but the real breakthroughs began with the advances in computer technology in the 1980s. During this period, there was a proliferation of different pigs and services offered which made it difficult for pipeline owners and operators to know what was available and decide which, if any, was best for their particular circumstances.
It became apparent that although it was important for operators to be made aware of the pigging products and services available to them, it was equally important for the suppliers to be made aware of the needs of the operators. So, in July 1988 some 25 suppliers were sent a letter, asking them whether they would be interested in forming a trade association. This must rate as the most successful mail-shot of all time. A total of 18 responded, 15 in favor and only three against – and two of them eventually joined!
In February 1989, Scientific Surveys Limited and Gulf Publishing held the first Pipeline Pigging Technology Conference in Houston. It was a great success with operators and pigging companies worldwide attending – so successful that it became an annual event. It was realized that, as most prospective members would be there anyway, the Houston conference would be an ideal forum in which to discuss and finalize the formation of a trade association. The aims and objectives had to be established and prospective members had to be recruited. Being a worldwide organization, this was no easy task.
Nevertheless, the pigging industry was very keen to get together and before the second conference opened in Houston on Feb. 19, 1990, there were 19 provisional members. After the necessary legal formalities, the “Pigging Products & Services Association” or PPSA was finally incorporated on May 1, 1990 and the logo, representing the inside view of two pipelines linked together, was the final touch in giving PPSA its identity.
Since then, PPSA has been a remarkable success story. Membership has risen from 19 to 90 and includes virtually every organization in the world that is involved with this very specialized and important activity. And it is still growing. To learn more, visit www.ppsa-online.com.
3 P Services
A. Hak Industrial Services B.V.
Baker Hughes Pipeline Management Group
BJ Process and Pipeline Services Ltd
Brenntag Nederland BV
CDRiA Pipeline Services Ltd
Challenger Special Oil Services/Entrepose Contracting
China Petroleum Pipeline Inspection Technologies Co Ltd
Cottam Brush Ltd
Diascan Technical Diagnostics Center Open Joint Stock Company
FTL Technology Ltd
GE Oil & Gas, PII Pipeline Solutions
Greene’s Energy Group – Inland Pipeline Operations
Gulf Petrochemical Services & Trading LLC
iNPIPE PRODUCTS Ltd
Kleiss & Co. bv
Knapp Polly Pig
Lin Scan Advanced Pipeline & Tank Services
Macaw Engineering Limited
Narmada Offshore Constructions Pvt Ltd
NDT Systems & Services AG
Netherlocks Safety Systems BV
Online Electronics Ltd
P.S.E. International Ltd
Pigs Unlimited International Inc
Pipeline Pigging Products, Inc
Pipeline Services LLC (PLS)
Pipesurvey International C.V.
PipeWay International Inc.
PNS – Pipeline Nitrogen Services bv
PSI Pipeline Services International GmbH & Co. KG
Quest Integrity Group, LLC
Romstar Sdn Bhd
S.N.T.G.N. TRANSGAZ S.A.
Sahara Industrial Services (SAPESCO)
Shell UK Exploration & Production
Spetsneftegaz NPO JSC
Synergy Services Inc
T D Williamson
TDW Offshore Services AS
The Clock Spring Company
Tianjin Greentsing Pipeline Scin &Tech Development Co Ltd
Trans Asia Pipeline Services FZC
Vee Kay Vikram & Co
Weatherford Pipeline & Specialty Services
Jim Cordell began his career in pigging in 1967 when T D Williamson sent him to pig out obstructions from a crude pipeline in South Wales. He was later responsible for the introduction of TDW’s ‘Kaliper Pig’ into the UK. In 1985, he started his own company, On-Stream Systems Ltd, offering independent advice and consultancy to pipeline operators on all aspects of pipeline pigging. Later, with Hershel Vanzant, also an ex-TDW employee, he co-authored the manual “All About Pigging”, now known as the “Pipeline Pigging Handbook” published by Clarion Technical Publishers, Houston, and available through PPSA.