Realising the benefits of automation

As remote monitoring technologies continue to advance, more and more operators are deploying remote monitoring units across their operations. This article was written by the CCE Engineering Team.

Remote monitoring technologies enable technicians to focus on more impactful tasks of troubleshooting and optimise cathodic protection (CP) systems while reducing emissions.

With advances in communications, this is economically possible, regardless of geographical locations.

Fit-for-purpose remote monitoring units (RMU) are serving as a catalyst for more strategic and challenging field applications, with improved data capture monitoring the ongoing virtual real time integrity of the CP systems.

Remote monitoring units are the go-to tools when it comes to sustainable solutions for corrosion prevention. Image: Eptec/CCE

Facing decarbonisation challenges

For years critical infrastructure operators and their supporting contractors have been aware of the need to effectively recruit new employees as more and more skilled field personnel approach retirement, while concurrently moving to upskill the existing workforce and begin leveraging new technologies to fill the resulting gap.

Recent employment studies confirm that nearly two-thirds of operators within a wide range of critical infrastructure sectors are approaching retirement age.

Operators managing the integrity and safety of critical infrastructure could find themselves dangerously understaffed and scrambling for solutions, while still focusing on an improved carbon footprint.

Online tools exist which allows the automation of CP data collection thereby reducing the operating costs operating costs, and in most cases, enables full recovery of the capital cost of the RMU devices in less than two budget cycles.

Operations also predict inflationary price pressure will significantly increase the costs associated with employment, travel, accommodation, and equipment for CP technicians in the future, which contributes to an even more favorable return on investment (ROI) for strategic CP automation through RMU.

The ongoing cost of data monitoring and analysis are nowadays relatively low, so once the devices have achieved their ROI, pipeline operators continue to benefit year after year from a significant reduction in asset management costs.

This is also alongside a more complete CP monitoring data set, which can dramatically increase productivity, personnel safety, and a reduced carbon footprint.

With advances in communications capabilities worldwide, this is now possible virtually irrespective of geographical locations, further reducing the requirement for regular travel to remote locations while still enabling the monitoring of these remote systems.

Fulfilling regulatory requirements

RMU plays a crucial role in helping cathodic protection systems meet regulatory requirements by providing real-time monitoring, efficient data collection, and analysis capabilities.

RMUs facilitate compliance with regulatory standards:

Continuous monitoring: RMU enables continuous monitoring of critical parameters, such as pipe-to-soil potential, current density, and corrosion rate, which are essential for assessing the effectiveness of the cathodic protection system. This continuous monitoring ensures that any deviations from regulatory thresholds are promptly detected and addressed. RMU can be configured to generate alerts and notifications in case of abnormal conditions or system malfunctions. By promptly alerting operators to potential issues, RMU facilitates timely interventions to prevent corrosion-related failures and maintain regulatory compliance with a reduction in site time and unnecessary travel to remote locations.

Data logging and reporting: RMU smart platforms collect and store data over time, allowing operators to generate comprehensive reports for regulatory agencies. These reports demonstrate compliance with regulatory requirements and provide evidence of the effectiveness of the cathodic protection system. RMU maintains a detailed audit trail of monitoring activities and system events, providing documentation for regulatory audits and inspections. This documentation demonstrates compliance with regulatory standards and helps address any inquiries or concerns raised by regulators.

Focus on automation and decarbonisation

The digital transformation and carbon reduction remains top-of-mind for critical infrastructure leaders and for many, plans have been accelerated.

Numerous organisations are investing in automation to drive efficiencies, followed by investment in artificial intelligence (AI). There is a clear shift in applying digital technologies from transactional to analytical workflows and taking a more proactive and preventative approach with the data.

And while many industries initially thought the digital transformation would result in further job losses, it has infact resulted in a shift in skills. Operations need data experts skilled at understanding data sources, analysing, extracting, and manipulating data to gain insights, and then working together with technical subject matter experts to understand the data and putting it to practical use in the field.

Expanding data analysis

The use of next-generation platform solutions with specialised, high-resolution RMU extends far beyond just the collection of data. The ability of the associated platform to not only store readings but also leverage AI and machine learning to automate the analysis of historical data is crucial for generating valuable prediction models, identifying trends, and optimising CP systems as a whole. Such data-driven strategies can consider variables like environmental conditions and seasonal changes.

Forecasting major expenditures

By applying predictive analytics to rectifier output data from RMU, operators can now accurately anticipate the degradation of groundbeds. This foresight is instrumental towards effective operating expenses or expenditure budget planning for significant system overhauls, but it also empowers operations to optimise strategic planning in order to maximize the value they can realise from expensive dig projects and improving emissions reductions.

System troubleshooting

Troubleshooting CP systems also benefit from RMU capabilities. Continuous monitoring of interference bonds plays a critical role in system integrity. The importance of RMU monitoring in preventing catastrophic failures due to external corrosion is well-known and understood. Strategically deployed RMU have also enabled detection of ‘rectifier-of-influence’ for an electrically continuous system.

Next generation’s fast-sampling RMU are increasingly being used on infrastructure within alternating current (AC) mitigation issues. They are instrumental in detecting AC fault currents and AC current density, a growing trend among system designers. This proactive approach utilising RMU for various aspects of CP systems underscores the evolving landscape of infrastructure maintenance and regulatory compliance.

Technological advancements in remote monitoring not only serve to ensure the functionality of the cathodic protection systems but have alleviated personnel from mundane and repetitive tasks.

As a result, this has paved the way for the reallocation of valuable cathodic protection expertise towards more analytical, complex, and value-creating endeavors, while reducing travel time and site visits.

This in turn improves safety and reductions in carbon emissions with data collection by RMU and the cloud-based software platforms required to interpret higher volumes of data reflects a shift towards a more predictive and preventative maintenance models, promising enhanced safety and efficiency for the cathodic protection industry.

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This article featured in the May edition of The Australian Pipeliner. 

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