How IoT Sensors Bring Smart Monitoring to Gas Pipelines
Internet of Things (IoT) sensors can give real-time information about valuable assets and processes. Many decision-makers are interested in adding them to critical infrastructure, such as gas pipelines. Whether they do so to monitor an essential component such as a gas pressure regulator or want to use the sensors as part of a holistic inspection process, the IoT can handle those needs and many others.
Developing an IoT-Based Gas Pressure Regulator
A gas pressure regulator is an important pipeline component that detects unusual changes. If the pressure drops below a preset threshold, the sensor allows gas to start flowing through the system. However, pressure drops can increase energy consumption and result in excessive strain on key components. They can also cause some pipeline parts to fail prematurely or not operate as expected. Conversely, high-pressure conditions elevate the risk of fires and explosions.
Some people have explored how the IoT could make a gas pressure regulator work more effectively or give operators more oversight. In one case, a researcher built an IoT sensor to gather data about a liquid petroleum gas cylinder. The sensor could take readings ranging from 0 to 700 kilopascals, and then display the output on a digital screen.
It also connected to a cloud-based system that allowed people to get real-time pressure readings on their smartphones and receive statistics about potential leaks. Additionally, an audible alert sounded if the pressure dropped below 0.5 bar. Besides giving more insights into whether the gas pressure regulator was working properly, this IoT setup used a color-coded system to indicate the amount of gas remaining in the cylinder.
Although the researchers built this IoT solution for residential gas cylinders, their proof of concept shows what’s possible for other use cases, including something to monitor the gas pressure regulator on a pipeline.
Preventing Corrosion-Related Damage
Many manufacturers use IoT sensors to improve their maintenance strategies. That strategy can help prevent most breakdowns that would otherwise cause major disruptions. The same approach is well suited for pipeline problems due to corrosion. The ongoing exposure to the elements makes corrosion one of the leading causes of structural failure pipelines.
One company conducted a six-site test of its ultrasonic IoT monitoring system. The solution attaches to any metal walls, including those associated with pipelines. It then examines the structure for wall thinness potentially caused by corrosion.
In another instance, researchers created an IoT-based remote monitoring system to indicate when a pipeline’s existing corrosion protection mechanisms need maintenance. It also had a virtual reality element that provided maintenance technicians with highly realistic and immersive environments. The team believed it would aid professionals who could not easily schedule physical visits. The details in the virtual reality environment also assisted those with little or no experience analyzing corrosion protection on pipelines.
Data analysis aspects also helped technicians gauge the likelihood of corrosion causing spills and other unwanted events. Another feature showed when the pipeline was currently well-protected but had a high risk of disbandment of the protective coating soon.
Tightening Cybersecurity Measures
When researchers profiled pipeline accidents across nine years, they found more than 5,500 incidents had happened, along with approximately 600 injuries and more than 125 deaths. Fortunately, IoT sensors can collect statistics that warn people of possible problems before any catastrophes occur.
Getting alerts about physical issues is undoubtedly important. However, people can and should also use IoT sensors to maintain high cybersecurity over pipelines. The 2021 Colonial Pipeline incident was a wake-up call about how a ransomware attack could cause costly disruptions for millions of barrels of oil.
Cybersecurity has not always been a top-of-mind concern for those developing IoT hardware and software. Instead, the goal is often to beat competitors, bringing products to the market more quickly than they can. Security is an afterthought in such cases, or not considered at all.
An engineering team from the University of Arizona wants to make cybersecurity for the IoT more straightforward. They developed a two-part system geared toward engineers without cybersecurity knowledge. It prevents sophisticated attacks with advanced protocols. Their vision is that IoT technology can be securely deployed anywhere, whether in a pipeline, a power grid or an industrial control system in a manufacturing plant.
In June 2023, the United States announced a cybersecurity and labeling program for popular IoT devices. A public comment period is underway, but this initiative should be in place by 2024. Many of the targeted products are consumer-oriented. However, once the plans are well-established, the requirements may also affect industrial devices. That’s particularly likely if manufacturers view the labels as competitive advantages.
Pipeline Sensors Increase Visibility
IoT sensors are essential additions to the world’s pipelines because they raise people’s awareness. When the responsible parties have reliable data showing everything’s functioning as expected or that there are potential problems to investigate, they can feel more confident about making decisions during challenging or time-sensitive situations.
However, if you want to use IoT sensors wisely, think carefully before proceeding. Choosing which statistics to monitor, how many sensors to install per pipeline and which baseline parameters to set will aid planning and help companies stick to manageable budgets.
About the Author
Editor in Chief
Emily Jade Newton is the Editor-in-Chief of Revolutionized a popular science publication that dives into the latest innovations in science, technology and industry.
Emily Newton is an industrial writer who enjoys showcasing innovation in her stories.
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