How do you isolate, or plug an oil or gas pipeline safely and securely to enable repair or maintenance work to be carried out in-situ with a device which meets the toughest safety standards. There are very few companies in the world that make autonomous isolation plugs and those that do tend to make tools for large pipes, up to 56” in diameter. However, the UK based Safer Plug Company has successfully developed, patented and built, a pipeline isolation plug for 6” pipeline sizes which comprises an innovative titanium gateway manifold manufactured using the additive manufacturing DMLS process (Direct Metal Laser Sintering). Among the key components used in the manifold are those supplied by miniature component specialists THE LEE COMPANY.
More than 20 Lee components were chosen for the Gateway Manifold primarily due to the very small space envelope into which they have to be packaged, along with Lee’s reputation for high quality and outstanding reliability in the most challenging applications. Parts included are; Lee plugs, AFO plugs, check valves, relief valves, shuttle valves and 6 special 250 series solenoid valves, (based on those used in Formula 1 racing cars).
The Gateway Manifold achieved Lloyd’s Register (LR) certification in September 2017. This is acknowledged as an industry milestone as it was the first titanium part made using the additive manufacturing process certified for use in the oil and gas industry. The manifold was designed by The Safer Plug Company and manufactured by the AM production specialists 3T RPD using powder bed fusion techniques. The entire process was overseen and certified by LR using its framework, an industry first that guides manufacturers on AM processes to certify components.
Ciaran Early, Technical Director at The Safer Plug Company comments, “In taking on this initiative, LR’s Additive Manufacturing group has truly opened a gateway to the future,” he continued “LR’s pivotal role is to guide suppliers through the codes, standards, controls and best practices to manufacture AM parts to ensure that end-users will have full confidence that an AM part meets the required level of criticality for that part”. Amelia Stead, LR AM Surveyor and the primary technical lead on the project said, “The gateway manifold would have been nearly impossible to produce using traditional manufacturing techniques due to its complex internal channels.”
Regarding the choice and performance of Lee’s plugs and valves within the manifold Ciaran said “The Gateway Manifold has been designed to control any autonomous isolation plug, in pipeline sizes from 6” to 56” diameter, without changing a single Gateway Manifold component. Lee were chosen, because only their components exhibit the standards of safety and quality which provide the required level of engineering certainty that autonomous pipeline isolation plugs must always deliver.”