Pipeline tool detects pinhole leaks as it rolls along

It looks a bit like a brightly-coloured bowling ball, punctuated with small holes,  but the SmartBall platform is a far cry from a simple piece of granite. It’s a highly-sensitive, multi-sensor device that can detect pinhole leaks in pipelines 4-inches in diameter and larger with two-metre accuracy and can be used to access piggable or unpiggable pipelines.

Technology like the SmartBall is one example of how the transmission pipeline industry is investing in leak prevention.

Created about a decade ago by PureHM, the SmartBall tool has been used by the oil and gas industry, including CEPA members, since 2008. The tool provides multiple data sets such as leak detection, temperature and pressure profiles and mapping output.

The SmartBall is “used around the world to quickly and accurately identify leaks as part of an industry-leading pipeline integrity effort,” the company explains.

Cory Solyom, product manager for SmartBall Oil & Gas at Pure HM, describes it as an important complement to other leak detection systems, such as Computational Pipeline Monitoring.


Taking the heat


PureHM and its parent company are constantly reviewing their products and seeking new ways to improve their technology. Among the things they looked at was the temperature capabilities of the SmartBall platform.

“Many pipeline operators have lines that run at increased temperatures and there are no other tools that can handle those temperatures,” explained Solyom. “They were limited by electronics that could withstand 70-80 degrees Celsius and these (pipelines) can run as high as 150 degrees C”.

To help these operators inspect high temperature lines PureHM built a SmartBall with new components that could handle 150 degrees C and have deployed them already on high temperature lines.

Watch a video of the SmartBall:


Heightening the sensors


SmartBall uses a variety of sensors to collect the data required for pinhole leak detection, including acoustic and pressure sensors.

“With that array of sensors, we collect that data every single time we deploy the tool. We can identify things that aren’t supposed to be there when, for example, unauthorized people are tapping into a line. That’s not an issue in Canada, but in developing countries it’s a big problem.”

Tools like SmartBall mean CEPA members can operate their pipelines safer and with less environmental impact from leaks or spills.