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Is Corrosion Eating into Your Profit?

[Cross Post from Authors Blog] 

Digital transformation (DX) has an important role helping to avoid loss of containment and subsequent pollution, fires, and explosions due to corrosion. This is particularly helpful during #COVID-19 when there is reduced workforce and no contractors in the plant for manual inspection. DX helps by changing from infrequent manual inspection with portable testers, or using Weight Loss Coupons (WLC), to continuous monitoring with permanent sensors and analytics enabling corrosion and integrity engineers to work from home #wfh and become more predictive. The same is true for vibration and leak detection. With that, the plant I&C department is no longer only in the narrow “process control” domain, they are now reconceptualizing and transforming into larger “operational automation” – a much broader scope including integrity, reliability, and maintenance. April 24th is the Corrosion Awareness Day by the World Corrosion Organization so like in the past, let’s review how DX is transforming the work of corrosion and integrity engineers and the expanded role of I&C engineers for both short and long-term. Anybody can tell you advanced sensors and analytics can help. But how-to exactly? Let’s take a more detailed look. Here are my personal thoughts:

Manual Inspection

Even during normal operation it is hard to keep up inspection for corrosion as well as for vibration and leaks, but it is important for safety, availability, and energy efficiency. For instance, retracting/retrieving corrosion coupons, bringing them to the lab, cleaning, weighting, interpreting the data, and returning them to the field and reinstalling them is labor intensive and there are long delays to get lab results. Using portable UT tester has its challenges such as difficulty to put it in the same spot every time to get correct result. These positions may be hard to reach, at height, near hot surfaces, and are pressurized. Manual inspection is even more challenging with reduced staffing during a pandemic when half of the plant’s operations personnel may be working from home on a rotational scheme to reduce risk, and if external contractors cannot visit. Yet, it is critical to keep up inspection and maintenance activities in the plant even during a crisis.

Digital Transformation / 4th Industrial Revolution (4IR)

Digital transformation means changing from manual and paper-based procedures to new automatic, digital, software-based and data-driven ways of working. Digitization helps by first automating inspection using permanent sensors instead of coupons and portable testers enabling a reduced workforce to cope. Secondly, digitalization helps by enabling the data to be transmitted across the Internet and displayed anywhere so it can be analyzed by corrosion and integrity engineers working from home. Corrosion is just one of many solutions for supporting the plant from home. Most plants have already started digital transformation including automating data collection with permanent sensors. The COVID-19 crisis will accelerate digital transformation of plants for them to be better prepared for such emergencies in the . But even as operations return to normal, plants will benefit greatly from digital transformation as inspection becomes more predictive and more productive using readymade software apps and advanced sensors.

Digitalization will pay dividends long after COVID-19 and long before the next crisis

Digital Operational (DOI)

Multiple instrumentation solutions are available to meet the needs of corrosion management and integrity management. These fit into the “second layer of automation” DOI part of the NAMUR Open Architecture. If you haven’t already started digital transformation, you can start by only digitally transforming corrosion and integrity monitoring. You don’t have to transform all tasks at the same time. It is easier to start small and then scale out.

Electrical Resistance (ER) and Linear Polarization Resistance (LPR)

Insertion corrosion coupons are replaced with inline Electrical Resistance (ER) probe or Linear Polarization Resistance (LPR) probe that fit in the position where the corrosion coupon used to sit. This makes installation easy and low cost; no additional process penetration required when an existing position is used. The inline probe is ideal for fluid corrosivity measurement with high sensitivity and fast response to optimize corrosion inhibitor injection. The probe is connected to a wireless transmitter which sends the data to the corrosion analytics software through a wireless gateway. This again makes installation easy and low cost as cables and signal wires, and associated junction boxes, cable trays, and system input cards are not required. Probes can be replaced without shutting down the process.

Reuse existing WLC positions

The most interesting fact is that the corrosion analytics app is web based, standard HTML5, so it can be viewed from anywhere: in the plant, the admin office, or from home. The entry page has a dashboard with an at-a-glance overview of the current fluid corrosivity throughout the plant. It also includes a “heatmap” that shows the magnitude of fluid corrosivity based on the NACE SP0775 standard as color (hue) as a visual cue to how the fluid corrosivity is clustered throughout the plant and varies over time. This tells corrosion/integrity engineers where they need to focus their attention; software-based and data-driven ways of working.

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To learn more, zoom into the next level of detail where you get a summary of all the corrosion monitoring positions by tag including location in the plant, corrosivity, magnitude per NACE SP0775, duration, and status of the corrosion probe and transmitter itself. The data is collected by the permanently installed sensors throughout the plant. You can add notes and flag locations of interest for further investigation.

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You can zoom-in even further to the details of a corrosion monitoring position. The information includes; location details, probe details, picture of the probe, installation details, instrument details, corrosivity trend, alarm log, and notes. Status of transmitter and probe is also included so you know if you need to replace the probe.

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The readymade corrosion analytics app is easy to configure and use. It can be done by corrosion and integrity engineers. No large data sets are required for training. There is no need to be a data scientist or programmer.

Ultrasonic Thickness (UT)

Portable Ultrasonic Thickness (UT) testers are replaced with permanently installed waveguide-based UT on short cycle drawn arc welded studs or snap on Electro-Magnetic Acoustic Transducer (EMAT) -based UT sensors that sit on the outside of the pipe where you used to measure with portable UT tester. This makes installation easy and low cost; no cutting, drilling, or welding. These non-intrusive sensors are ideal for wall thickness measurement to optimize pipe section replacement, but also to optimize crude mix in a refinery. This may be in elbows or at low points. Your corrosion and integrity engineers know where. The wireless transmitter sends the data to the analytics software through a wireless gateway. This again makes installation easy and low cost as power cables and signal wires, and associated junction boxes, cable trays, and system input cards are not required. The software analyses for wall thinning due to corrosion or erosion, also computing rate, and allows you to estimate retirement age for the pipe. That is, you can tell if the pipe section needs to be replaced at the next turnaround, or maybe earlier.

Determine Remaining Useful Life (RUL) of pipe section

Industrie 4.0 Deployment

The wireless network which is used for corrosion transmitters is the same as used for erosion, vibration, position, level, discrete, DP flow, pressure, temperature, acoustic noise, H2S and CO gas, oxygen depletion used in other applications like maintenance, reliability, safety, and production. That is, the plant only needs a single wireless sensor network. That is the beauty of industry standards. Sensors are they key to predictive analytics. The wireless sensor network and the analytics app framework is deployed and maintained by the I&C department as a key piece of the Industry 4.0 infrastructure. In most plants on-premises (edge), but possibly in the cloud. The sensors and individual analytics apps are installed and maintained jointly with the respective operational department; corrosion/integrity, reliability, maintenance, and energy management. The plant’s I&C department must grow and take on this expanded role, beyond the P&I diagram, but it is not difficult as sensors, industrial networking, process equipment, FMEA, and first principles is their domain expertise. Already in many plants the I&C engineers and technicians keep these systems running; software such as dashboards, analytics, and the data management platform (historian), as well as such as the networks in the plant area including both the wireless sensor network and industrial Wi-Fi, and all the devices like sensors for corrosion, vibration, and acoustic noise etc. Similarly, I&C vendors are also no longer only in the narrow “process control” domain, they too are now reconceptualizing into broader “operational automation” including maintenance, reliability, integrity, energy, HS&E, and quality management.

Industrie 4.0 Means a New Era in Automation

Enable Work from Home

Just like the IT department has enabled office staff to work from home or anywhere on the ERP system and the office software suite, the I&C department is now enabling maintenance, reliability, integrity, energy, HS&E, and quality etc. personnel to work from home. The Internet connection is already there at the plant provided by the IT department. I&C engineers work with the IT engineers to connect the DOI to the Internet through a DMZ or data diode to it so no extensive IT work is required. For corrosion monitoring, vibration, and acoustic noise the DOI can even be separate from core process control and safety system not requiring any IT involvement at all. You can deploy solutions one at a time.

Day One

The future is digital. Schedule a meeting (online) for 24th of April Corrosion Awareness Day or today to discuss plans for digital transformation of corrosion and integrity management. Online corrosivity and wall thickness measurement is the next best practice. Engineers have a knack for pulling together solutions when there is a problem to solve. Corrosion is a good way to start digital transformation; vibration, leak detection, and more can come next in a phased approach. Start with a discovery session to uncover the plant needs before you subscribe a solution. A discovery session can be done online, with participation from home.

The best time to start digital transformation was 4 years ago. The second-best time is today

And remember, always ask for product data sheet to make sure the product is proven, and pay close attention to software screen captures in it to see if it does what is promised without expensive customization. Well, that’s my personal opinion. If you are interested in digital transformation in the process industries click “Follow” by my photo to not miss future updates. Click “Like” if you found this useful to you and “Share” it with others if you think it would be useful to them.


Jonas Berge

Senior Director, Applied Technology at Emerson Automation Solutions

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