Inside the smart pig – detecting potential pipeline problems before they happen (part 2)

Last week, in part one of this series, we showed you how a smart pig works. This week we’re going to learn more about the technology that helps pipeline companies  ‘look’ inside their pipelines and find anomalies.

We spoke with Daryl Ronsky, vice-president at ROSEN Canada, and asked him to explain a little more about smart pigs:

Q: Why is the smart pig an important technology for the transmission pipeline industry?

Daryl: Smart pigs allow operators to see inside the wall of their pipelines so they can diagnose any current issues and forecast potential problems.

Data gathered from smart pigs can be compared year-after-year to see where anomalies may be growing. It’s similar to going to the doctor for check ups, where we are tested to see if things are working properly, and if not, further investigation/action is taken. We can also get an idea of what may be in store for us as we age.

Pipeline in-line inspection tool

Q: Why is it called a smart pig?

Daryl: The term ‘pig’ came about in two different ways. The original pipeline pigs of straw wrapped in wire made a squealing noise as they moved down the pipeline. They sounded like a pig. The other is an acronym for Pipeline Inspection Gauge.

‘Smart’ pigs use intelligent technology such as sensors, transmitters, GPS, magnetic fields, eddy current, ultrasonic and acoustics to identify and diagnose potential problems.

Quick pipeline pig facts

Pigs are usually propelled through the pipeline using a launcher/receiver, but they can also be tethered.
Pigs move with the product in the pipeline, which means that a pipeline does not need to be shut down or taken out of commission to be inspected. So no one has to lose their heat in February while an inspection is taking place!
Smart pigs can even have intelligent onboard flow control. This allows the product in the pipeline to flow through the pig if it begins to move too quickly for optimal data gathering.

Q: Beyond detecting metal loss, can smart pigs be used to help pipeline operators with other types of inspection?

Daryl: Smart pigs can detect a very broad range of threats from geometric features like dents, buckles, gouging and wrinkles, right through to movement or shift caused by ground disturbance (mud slide, earthquake, etc.). Likewise, if humans or nature have mechanically damaged the pipe, or the protective coating is damaged, smart pigs can detect it.

Some of the other anomalies they can identify include corrosion; spots where the pipeline has been repaired in the past; changes in wall thickness; physical features like diameter changes, tees, traps, bends, etc.; manufacturing flaws; and weld anomalies on the seams or joints.

Q: What advances/changes do you see happening in the future, with respect to inline inspection tools?

Daryl: As smart pig technology evolves, they are able to identify smaller anomalies, more and more quickly. They are helping pipeline operators make decisions about pipeline safety with increasing efficiency – long before a threat causes safety or operational problems.

Much like MRI technology has allowed medical practitioners to see more precisely into the human body, so are super smart pigs evolving and allowing pipeline integrity practitioners to make better informed decisions about treatment options for pipeline defects.

15 minutes of fame for pipeline pigs

A pipeline pig has been used as a plot device in three James Bond films:

Diamonds Are Forever, where Bond disabled a pig to escape from a pipeline.
The Living Daylights, where a pig was modified to secretly transport a person through the Iron Curtain.
The World is Not Enough, where a pig was used to move a nuclear weapon through a pipeline.


You can learn more about pipeline pigs in this video by ROSEN, and remember to check out the Anatomy of a Smart Pig infographic, in last week’s post.









The Canadian Energy Pipeline Association represents Canada’s transmission pipeline companies who operate approximately 117,000 kilometres of pipelines in Canada. In 2014, these energy highways moved approximately 1.2 billion barrels of liquid petroleum products and 5.4 trillion cubic feet of natural gas. Our members transport 97 per cent of Canada’s daily natural gas and onshore crude oil from producing regions to markets throughout North America.