Many years ago, the ROSEN Group began manufacturing its own cups and discs for pipeline inspection and cleaning tools; almost since that day, there has been a constant will to perfect these polyurethane elements. These improvement efforts have now gone beyond polyurethane itself. ROSEN scientists asked themselves, What if these elements were “intelligent,” too? And so the R&D project started to develop cups and discs integrated with sensors. This leads to endless possibilities for elastomer sensors and a variety of industrial and civil applications. Let us introduce you to the initial developments of a component crucial to bringing “intelligence” into polyurethane products – starting from a classic R&D project.
Making it Smart
Due to its adjustable properties, polyurethane is used in many industries, specifically in the pipeline industry. Inline inspection (“ILI”) tools are equipped with discs or cups that are exposed to strong erosive wear. These discs or cups need to be made from an elastic material since their purpose is to guide and seal the tool against the inner pipe wall to create a differential pressure in the product stream, thereby propelling the inspection tool through the pipeline. Essentially, the material must combine the highest possible elasticity, wear resistance and tear propagation resistance while at the same time having enough mechanical strength to keep its overall shape and not distort.
However, these discs and cups have no monitoring capabilities; they are essentially “stupid.” So, to close the gap between the high-performance properties of polyurethane on one side and the lack of measurement possibilities on the other, a combination of the polyurethane itself and some kind of sensor was needed. A suitable sensor would need to be able to withstand high temperatures during manufacturing as well as deformation and chemicals in its application. Ideally, the sensor would have the same properties as the bulk material.
In correlation with a research project our developers at ROSEN have created embedded sensing based on PU that fulfill all requirements and can be used in many applications. These smart sensors are capable of detecting all kinds of material deformations. The sensor changes its electronic signal when it encounters pressure, strain or any other deformation to the structure. The high degree of design freedom offered by these specialized sensors allows ROSEN developers to integrate them in cups and discs of nearly any size and shape.
The ROSEN Group used the advantages of these stretchable and durable sensors to include them into the broad portfolio of elastomer applications. Every event that leads to a deformation of the sensor is detectable, i.e. bending, twisting, beating, compressing, expanding … the list goes on. But the sensors were only the beginning. ROSEN’s “empowered by technology” mindset really came into play in their application.
Now came the time to insert these sensors into, say, a gauge plate on a pipeline cleaning tool. Traditional mechanical gauging provides information on the existence of geometrical anomalies in a pipe using e.g. an aluminum or steel gauge plate, it is not able to record details about their exact number or location. Inserting the stretchable sensors into a “traditional PU” plate allows for gauging to be performed by sensors rather than through mechanical impact, meaning the gauge plate will retain its original shape and can detect multiple defects per application. This also allows for application in single-access pipelines such as loading lines, where a tool must run in two directions prior to recovery. When combining this innovation with other, already existing, technologies such as tracking devices and through-wall communication methods, it offers a simple and reliable method to precisely measure, locate and recover present defects, minimum passage or bends.
So how could the plate be put together?
The main component of the gauge plate is a “standard” ROSEN polyurethane disc with a casted steal ring in the center to position the sensors. The center ring also holds the needed electronics. Placed inside the disc is the flexible sensor, which is able to move as one with the gauge plate.
Now the real question: Does it work?
With every innovation comes a series of testing. In this case, validity has been and continues to be ensured through various testing methods. These include: mechanical stability, thermal dependency, freeze testing, chemical stability pressure testing, and in-field pull testing.
This proved that the durability and reusability of the plate is truly reliable, that functionality in various temperature and operational environments is possible, and that the detection abilities of the sensor are very precise.
The ROSEN Group is looking forward to reporting more news about the continued development and validation of both the gauge plate and the sensors.