Every piece of equipment used by offshore oil and gas companies - every pipe, vessel and pump - has the potential to fail eventually. Some parts yield to the intense pressures inflicted upon them by the rapid transference of the viscous liquids they are designed to convey at speed, but most will simply succumb to the ravages of age. Carbon steel components, for example - a mainstay of older installations - are especially vulnerable to corrosion. While external manifestations are relatively easy to spot and mend, the interiors of pipes - particularly at bend points - are also at risk.
To guard against equipment failure, oil and gas companies have invested heavily in new materials, such as austenitic steel, or in cladding key infrastructure. Even so, these measures do not prevent the need for its routine inspection, a process commonly referred to as non-destructive testing (NDT). Indeed, they often throw up new challenges for those engineers performing the service.
"The issue is, from an NDT perspective, they're a lot more difficult to inspect," explains Gary Luckett. As an applications specialist for NDT at Olympus, he has collaborated closely with oil and gas companies around the world to develop new and more accurate inspection solutions for their platforms and associated infrastructure. One of the primary methods the company has hitherto relied upon has been phased array ultrasound, which transmits sound into the material and provides an acoustic analysis of its interior based on the retuned acoustic reflection.
"What happens with austenitic materials, or duplexes or stainless steels, is that they're what we call 'noisy materials'," explains Luckett, referring to the difficulty experienced in passing sound into the material to obtain consistent results. "That has led to us developing more advanced techniques. For example, we've got a range of dual matrix array probes that are tailored for these dissimilar kinds of materials."
Olympus continues to provide new and more accurate inspection equipment. As well as phased array and complimentary ultrasonic and eddy-current NDT solutions, the company also offers remote visual inspection of pipework using endoscopic tools; X-ray fluorescence products, used for positive material identification; and materials microscopy for fatigue testing and analysis, among other solutions.
Bends in piping can also prove challenging to inspect. Olympus has overcome this problem through its use of the FlexoFORM, another type of flexible array probe that can be contoured to different profiles of pipe. "That enables you do get full coverage and data recording where, traditionally, that hasn't been possible," says Luckett.
Now widely used by its clients in the oil and gas sector, the FlexoFORM was developed in close collaboration with engineers on the ground. "Companies like Olympus can't work in isolation," says Rod Matheson, its strategic marketing manager for NDT. "We actively work with asset owners and inspection service providers in the industry, because they're at the coalface. They'll confront problems as they happen, and return to us and say, 'We can't inspect this part. How can you solve it?'"
In addition to its close collaboration with clients on the ground, Olympus also offers extensive global aftercare support for its products, underpinned by its network of regional business centres. This offering includes access to its servicing, calibration and repair facilities, consistent firmware and software updates, and the provision of loan inspection equipment to reduce downtime for its clients - formal service care plans ensure a comprehensive approach to supporting customers. Above all, Olympus strives to place its clients at ease when it comes to the finer points of inspecting their key infrastructure for vulnerabilities.
"Our customers are buying into our expertise and our industry-proven, tried and tested products, but also our technical support and service backup," says Matheson. "They're very much getting a complete solution from Olympus."