User Interface Design and Concept Demonstrator for a Virtual
Metering Research Facility Software Application, 07-R9716

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Principal Investigators
Eric C. Peterson
Eric Kelner
Terrence A. Grimley

Inclusive Dates:  06/04/07 – 10/04/07

Background - The Metering Research Facility is the only installation of its type in North America. As the operator of the MRF, SwRI is the principal gas measurement research contractor for the U.S. natural gas industry, advancing the state of the art by testing and calibrating metering equipment under real-world flow conditions. The information produced by the MRF research program is primarily used to develop and maintain written industry standards for natural gas measurement. The nature of industry standards development is such that a substantial period of time may pass before research findings are reflected in the written standards. Hence, there is a need for reducing the latest research findings to practice in a more timely way than through industry standards.

One way to more effectively convey the latest research findings to industry would be a software tool that reflects the 'best practices' in meter station design, operation, and maintenance. This software tool would take into account the latest research findings and provide guidance beyond what can be found in the industry standards – which are minimum standards – to facilitate both the training of metering station design and the simulation of metering station performance. This software could be updated as research findings dictate and deployed in a more timely manner than is possible with the industry standards. It would help produce natural gas meter stations that are more accurate and more cost-effective to build and to maintain.

To date, no organization has attempted the development of this type of software tool. Because there is little research involved in development of the VMRF software or in the technology and interface demonstrator, internal research was selected as the vehicle to fund the development of a demonstrator and marketing tool that could be presented to industry leaders in support of assembling a consortium to fund full-scale system development.

Approach - The effort first analyzed the software application requirements and developed an outline system specification. This included an overview set of requirements for plug-in support of a pipe flow processing code, various piping components in terms of both gas transfer functions and visual models, relevant design standards and experimental data, and varied multimedia archive information. A software architecture existing at SwRI, previously used in support of both commercial and government projects, was selected as the basis for the demo application. The basic architecture selected consists of three separate but intercommunicating modules: a C++ based graphics window based upon the SwRI-developed GraIL graphics engine, a C#-based main interface panel, and a browser-based (Internet Explorer™) documentation and multimedia window. Using this architecture as a template, the development team was able to rapidly assemble a running demo application that could ultimately evolve into a full-scale system.

Accomplishments - The functional technology and user interface demonstrator was installed on a dual-screen laptop computer system and was demonstrated to Southern Gas Association (SGA) conference attendees at two venues: during an Institute tour arranged for conference attendees, and at the conference in downtown San Antonio at the exhibit hall and during a session with metering experts. A number of specific technical capability feedback notes were collected and reconciled with planned functional requirements. Generally, feedback from industry representatives involved in pipeline metering was overwhelmingly positive, and comments mirrored the promotional team's expectations as to training and system simulation interests. A draft functional specification and detailed cost estimate were also prepared to support consortium funding model marketing efforts among pipeline industry development partners.

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