Industry Article

Essential Industrial Pipeline and Inspection Tools

August 03, 2021 by David Barnard, Flexlife Ltd

What are some critical tools for pipeline inspection that an engineer should know about?

Pipeline inspection has been a common practice in the industrial sector for many years to ensure that the pipelines continue to work at maximum efficiency without problems. Several methods and tools are used to inspect these pipelines, whether offshore or on land. For example, some include annulus testing and visual inspection. 


An engineer working on pipeline inspection tasks. 


All of these methods employ a number of inspection tools to help make the process possible. These tools can help to detect any flaws or irregularities more reliably and accurately. The data collected by these equipment tools vary; however, they all serve a common purpose of detecting possible problems in the pipeline.


Pipeline Inspection Tools

Most of the pipeline inspection tools are inserted in the pipeline through their access points. These then travel in the pipelines either through gravity or a propelling mechanism. During this movement, they measure the pipeline's wall thickness and detect any corrosion or leaks. Most of these tools help make an internal inspection of the pipelines possible. These tools include the following: 


Smart Inspection Device

One of the most important and common devices used to inspect pipelines is smart inspection devices, also known as smart pigs. These are typically used in magnetic flux leakage inspection or ultrasonic inspection processes to detect leaks or cracks in offshore pipelines. Among all other inspection tools, these tend to be the most reliable and accurate.


An engineer working on pipeline inspection tasks and testing. 

Initially, pigs were used for cleaning pipelines, but now they come with specialized inspection probes. These can flow in the pipelines with gas or water to detect any signs of corrosion or leakage. Pigs can come in various forms, depending on their purpose and material; for example, metal pigs, steel pigs, or foam pigs. 


Robotic Crawler

For some pipelines, pigging may not be carried out. In this case, robotic pipeline crawlers are used for inspection instead. These can be used for all types of pipelines. A robotic crawler is a self-propelling machine with a camera attached to it. It travels through the pipeline using a propelling mechanism, much like the pigs. In some crawlers, there may also be a sensor attached to it. Robotic crawlers are typically used when pipelines and their diameters are too narrow or wherever human intervention is not possible due to distance, environmental, or space issues. Crawlers can also be attached to wheels so that they travel easily through the pipelines.



Cameras are fitted to robotic crawlers and sometimes even pigs to help inspectors and experts detect any flaws in the pipelines. Pigs with cameras are normally used for larger pipelines, whereas crawlers are used for smaller pipelines. The camera head can pan and twist to provide a 360-degree view of the pipeline. Additionally, cameras can also have LED lights to illuminate the pipeline for better viewing. Different types of cameras can be used for pipeline inspection, including lateral launch cameras, push cameras, axial cameras, and self-leveling cameras.


Lowering Ropes

For smaller pipelines, retracting the crawlers and cameras manually can be difficult. For this reason, lowering ropes, also known as “fish,” are essential. These ropes help lower the camera and crawler in the pipe and retract it back out once done with the inspection. 


Pig Launchers and Receivers

When using pigs to inspect piping, it’s common also to use tools called pig launchers and receivers. These are integral to pipeline pigging operations. As the name suggests, these are used to launch the pigs into the pipelines. Once they have traveled throughout the pipeline, the receivers are installed at the end of the line to catch the pigs.


Depending on inspection frequency, you can have these launchers and receivers built permanently to the pipeline or temporarily install them. Image used courtesy of Flexlife Ltd



Sonar involves sound propagation to detect and measure the number of flaws, debris, or sediments in either submerged or semi-submerged pipelines. It uses sound waves to analyze the condition of the pipeline. It then uses a scanner that travels throughout the piping to do all of this. Sonar is often considered to be one of the quickest, reliable, and accurate inspection methods. This is because it helps to accurately tell where precisely cracks, leaks, and irregularities are. The sonar mechanism involves collecting data from the pipeline and its properties and operating characteristics. Additionally, it can also provide images of the pipeline’s interior. 


Light and Radar 

Using light and radar is another method for pipeline inspection. Engineers can use a specialized device that allows for the usage of a laser. For example, pigs or crawlers have lasers attached to them that send out a laser that is reflected back to the sensor. These types of devices also help to accurately provide detailed information about the internal conditions of the pipeline. 


Ground Penetrating Radar 

Much like light and radar, ground-penetrating radar is a similar device that helps inspect the internal conditions of pipelines. They are typically used to inspect pipelines for any signs of corrosion and assess their conditions and how effectively they will work in the future. It does this through microwave frequencies to capture images of the internal structure of the pipelines.


The Importance of Proper Tools for Pipelines

Pipelines are used almost anywhere for the transportation of oil, gas, energy, and even water. Inspecting these piping is an integral process to ensure their efficiency for the long term. The process of pipeline inspection has evolved over the years to ensure accurate, quick, and precise detection of irregularities.

The key to effective pipeline inspection is having the appropriate tools and a reliable team of experienced individuals handling them. Flexlife was founded in 2007 by experts in flexible piping tools. The company offers a wide range of subsea flexible pipe engineering tools and technology to project support and issue resolution in manufacturing sites. Interested users can visit their website for more information.