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Author's profile photo Melanie Fiolka

Pipeline Integrity: How New Technology Can Help Root Out Hidden Problems in Aging Infrastructure

By Robert Girvan,Vice President, Utilities West at SAP

Anyone who works in utilities would probably agree: The problems you can’t see are the ones that you worry the most about.

We only need to look back a few years to the San Bruno pipeline explosion in the San Francisco area to see what’s at stake. The National Transportation Safety Board ultimately determined that incident, which killed eight people and resulted in $1.4 billion in fines, was caused by an inadequate pipe that hadn’t been properly maintained since its installation in 1956.

Monitoring pipelines in an efficient and cost-effective way has been a continuing challenge for utilities, especially when many of the
systems and materials were installed decades ago.

Three things in particular are at stake:

  1. Greater populations of people centered near areas where safety incidents could occur
  2. Utilities are under increasing scrutiny to root out problems in aging systems
  3. The need for continued pipeline construction to meet rising demands, without starving the funds needed to update older systems

That’s why it’s critical for utilities to employ modern technology solutions that can provide visibility into age-old infrastructure

Single source of information can inform priorities

Having a single source of information that addresses both operational and compliance issues can help enable utilities to prioritize their investments so they can keep up with current needs while ensuring that legacy systems are operating safely.

Of course, pipelines that are buried deep in the ground often come with a host of other concealed obstacles. That is, as in the case of the San Bruno pipeline, much of the documentation surrounding these systems is difficult to access. If the information exists at all, it might be on paper in a filing cabinet, or it may be in another software system that’s incompatible with newer systems that are in use.

It may take weeks or months to find information that could be critical to helping divert disaster.

Beyond that, many enterprises are relying on point solutions that were built from an engineering perspective inside of their

organizations. Typically, these tend to not to work well with modern corporate systems because they’re unable to provide the best perspective on all the variables that need to be managed.

The SAP HANA platform can help bridge this gap. It not only connects these point systems with the databases where maintenance, materials, and inspection information is stored, it can also incorporate the existing point solutions into a larger data universe. That can create a holistic, geospatial view of pipeline integrity, helping enable engineers to make emergency repairs faster.

Plus, if utilities are in a better position to assess where issues are likely to arise, they can prioritize where to direct their budgets accordingly.

It’s an interesting time for utilities. Each enterprise needs to seek out a cost-effective, sustainable position to minimize risk while balancing project needs and shareholder values. A single source of information can help balance the objectives of operating and maintaining their assets safely, while also adapting to evolving market needs.

Here’s an example of how Alliander N.V. uses the SAP HANA
platform to conduct predictive maintenance on gas lines in The Netherlands.

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