Two SwRI Projects Win Research Awards

Pipe inspection system and geologic fault analysis program chosen for R&D 100      image of PDF button

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Dr. Hegeon Kwun, principal research scientist in SwRI's Nondestructive Evaluation Science and Technology Division, has been instrumental in the development of magnetostrictive sensor technology as a means of inspecting pipes and other structures for defects.

An innovative system for rapid pipe inspection and an advanced software tool to analyze tendencies of geologic faults and fractures to move, both developed at the Institute, were selected among the year's 100 most significant technical accomplishments, according to R&D Magazine. To date, SwRI has gained 20 such awards.

Winners, determined by the magazine in collaboration with a panel of experts, are selected from hundreds of entries submitted by companies, research organizations, national laboratories, and universities worldwide.

"Magnetostrictive sensor (MsS®) technology provides engineers with a fast, cost-effective means of inspecting steel pipes and tubes in processing and power generating plants for the oil, gas, and chemical industries," says Dr. Hegeon Kwun, pioneer developer of the technology. Kwun is a principal scientist in the Nondestructive Evaluation Science and Technology Division.

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Magnetostrictive sensor technology developed at SwRI provides engineers with a rapid, cost-effective means of inspecting the structural integrity of steel tubes and pipes. The technique generates elastic waves, at frequencies of up to several hundred kHz, and detects the signals reflected from corrosion, cracking, or other defects up to several hundred feet from a single sensor location.

3DStress™ was originally developed to analyze the behavior of faults and the resulting potential for earthquakes in the vicinity of Yucca Mountain, Nevada, says Dr. David Ferrill, a senior research scientist in the SwRI Center for Nuclear Waste Regulatory Analyses. "The program, however, has useful applications in oil and gas exploration and production as well as in hydrology," Ferrill said. "For example, geologists and petroleum engineers can use the software to determine the risk of leakage from a hydrocarbon trap or to evaluate potential flow pathways within an aquifer."

Software helps determine geologic movement tendencies

Using 3DStress™, a unique computer program developed at SwRI, geologists and seismologists can quickly and accurately determine the tendencies of faults and fractures to slip or dilate. The program applies computed stresses in three dimensions to fault traces on maps or three-dimensional surfaces of known or suspected faults, through a straightforward graphical user interface. The results, which can then be displayed in two or three dimensions, can be interactively adjusted by modifying the stresses to investigate slip tendency and direction for each surface.

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Structural geologists Dr. David A Ferrill, (left), senior research scientist in the Center for Nuclear Waste Regulatory Analyses at SwRI, and Dr. Alan P. Morris, a SwRI consultant, were co-developers of the 3DStress™ software program. Not shown is D. Brent Henderson, a former senior research analyst at SwRI who also contributed substantively to the program.


3DStress™ is a software tool that rapidly and cost effectively evaluates slip and dilation potential of underground faults and fractures. Originally developed with Nuclear Regulatory Commission funding at the Center for Nuclear Waste Regulatory Analyses at Southwest Research Institute, the program analyzes earthquake risk at Yucca Mountain, Nevada (shown above). 3DStress™ software has also proved useful in petroleum exploration and production and assessing pathways for groundwater flow.

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Previously, the complex calculations needed to evaluate potential fault problems were carried out manually for one fault orientation at a time, or else they were simply ignored. With 3DStress™, calculations are made for all fault and fracture orientations and displayed simultaneously using stereographic projections, fault maps, and three-dimensional models of faults. Commercial licensing of the program is being handled by Midland Valley Exploration of Glasgow, Scotland, the United Kingdom.

"3DStress™ was developed under the sponsorship of the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission and was very much a team effort," says Ferrill. An updated version of the program is currently being developed that incorporates a database of rock strengths and the ability to model fluid pressures within the earth's crust."

Co-developers of the original software include D. Brent Henderson, formerly of the CNWRA, and consultant Dr. Alan Morris, associate professor at the University of Texas at San Antonio. Important contributions were also made in algorithm development by Dr. Budhi Sagar, technical director of the CNWRA, and in rock mechanics by Senior Research Engineer Dr. Goodluck Ofoegbu. Student interns Robert T. Boenau, Joshua T. Buckner, Chad M. Fleming, and Scott G. Walnum provided valuable assistance by meticulously programming the algorithms and graphical user interfaces.

Pipeline inspection system combines sensitivity, time savings

MsS inspection technology launches elastic waves in frequencies up to several hundred kHz and detects the signals reflected from any defects, such as corrosion or cracking. The technique provides 100-percent volumetric inspection, can examine several hundred feet of pipe from a single sensor location, is non-contacting and thus needs no couplant, and does not require the removal of insulation before inspecting a pipe except for a few feet of insulation for sensor placement. Defects as small as one percent of the cross-section can be detected, as can localized wall thinning. "

At present, examination of these pipes often requires equipment shutdown and insulation removal, which is both time-consuming and expensive," says Dr. Glenn Light, director of the Nondestructive Evaluation Engineering Applications Department. "In 1996, the Institute organized an industrial consortium that now has 11 members, who are applying and evaluating MsS inspection in the field. We are also, with strong industrial encouragement, applying the technology to other forms of equipment."

Other Nondestructive Evaluation Engineering Applications Department members who contributed to the development of MsS technology include Senior Research Engineer Dr. Keith Bartels in the area of data analysis, Engineer Christopher P. Dynes for data acquisition, Principal Engineer Ronald H. Patterson for electronic hardware design, Senior Research Scientist Joseph W. Brophy and Research Assistant Robert L. Spinks for field applications, and Senior Technician Thomas H. Wall III for electronic hardware fabrication.

Published in the Fall 1998 issue of Technology Today®, published by Southwest Research Institute. For more information, contact Joe Fohn.

Technics Fall 1998 Technology Today
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