Innovation in action: Reliability highlights

Enbridge is continually looking for opportunities to enhance existing technologies, and advance new ones, that work to increase the reliability of our system.

Enbridge landowner and land agent shaking hands
For Enbridge, reliability is about more than just pipelines. It encompasses all our business units, our customer interactions, our information technologies. (N.B. image captured pre-COVID)

A reliable system is not only a safe system—it’s a predictable system, and predictability helps to make it easier to highlight items that could use attention.

For pipeline systems, reliability and integrity innovation often enjoy a symbiotic relationship, with advances in one area typically helping to improve performance in the other. Advances in machine learning-driven predictive maintenance, for example, can help reduce potential stresses on the system, lengthening the life of our assets and enhancing overall system safety.

At Enbridge, we believe reliability is about more than just pipelines. It encompasses all our business units, our customer interactions, our information technologies. Reliability innovation is about ensuring everything operates as it should, with minimal disruption.

  • New integrity assessment technologies gather more data than previously possible, enabling ever greater confidence in assessment results.
  • New data tools streamline and help manage review of dramatically increasing volumes of data gathered by new inspection, measurement and monitoring technologies. 
  • Passive inline systems reduce water vapor infiltration from natural gas distribution lines.  
  • Machine learning and artificial intelligence technologies can help reduce false alarms and support our proactive maintenance programs by identifying variations from normal or ideal operations. 
  • Above-ground inspection technologies for below-ground assets offer the promise of reduced ground disturbance and enhanced monitoring of hard-to-reach or “unpiggable” assets—i.e. those that can’t be inspected with a high-tech inline inspection (ILI) tool.
  • Cutting-edge technologies can enhance training of new team members.
  • Innovative sensors, processing, and inhibition systems technologies improve corrosion testing, detection and prevention.

Looking further into the future, Enbridge team members are engaged in investigations into: self-healing and impact-resistant coatings; augmented reality technologies to support integration and representation of disparate, complex, multi-source data sets; and new long-range technologies for secure, reliable communications.

Case studies

Data and analytics: More connected, more intelligent, more sustainable

Big data. Machine learning. Predictive analytics. Giant leaps forward in the collection, management and analysis of “Big Data” are set to radically change our world’s energy system over the next few decades, making it more connected, intelligent, efficient, reliable and sustainable.

In many ways, data and analytics are the new forms of energy, and the Technology and Innovation Lab (T+IL) is front and center of their delivery for Enbridge.

Data fuels our management of risk and threats to safety, powering partnerships between the T+IL and Enbridge’s business units to develop next-generation capabilities.

Integrity management (gas pipelines)

Managing risk and threats through integrity programs is fundamental to asset health and system reliability. Together, Enbridge's T+IL and Gas Transmission partnership has developed a product that tackles the challenge of mining billions of data pieces to optimize the efficient operation of our suite of inline inspection (ILI) tools.

Through applied machine learning, we are better able to characterize operational risk and safety factors, leveraging vast volumes of data to continuously assess and mitigate threats and applying advanced analytics to recommend threat solutions.

Integrity management (crude and liquids pipelines)

Partnering with the Enbridge Liquids Pipeline Integrity team, the T+IL has also created a digital tool that consumes all inspection data from vendors and the field to better predict trending in features that may affect pipeline health in our liquids pipeline system, helping our integrity teams to focus most where it matters most.

The application of machine learning has resulted in the calculation of a corrosion factor and other features, such as metal loss and cracking, that are detected through inspection—speeding up the process for engineers to review and validate. These digital tools provide the ability to process, trend and extract insights from the enormous amount of data gained from integrity and inspection work to optimize maintenance programs, avoid unnecessary digs and drive efficiency.

This enables our business experts to spend more time on higher-value, data-based analytical work, instead of grappling with data gathering and preparation, and confidently make informed decisions.

Terminal optimization

In partnership with our Liquids Pipelines group, the T+IL has built a Terminal Flow Optimization tool that enables better data-driven decisions about optimizing different commodity flow paths through our liquids pipeline system.

This digital tool identifies multiple different attributes and specifications with respect to our terminal assets, and provides optimal flow path recommendations within minutes or even seconds. The tool also simulates batch movement, which previously took months to perform manually.

Following completion of the tool and one pilot terminal, and multiple iterations of enhancement, the tool is initially being scaled to 13 additional terminals prior to full system deployment—and is unlocking significant business value through resolution of bottlenecks and maximizing throughput.

These virtual views of Enbridge assets, augmenting the physical views, are making critical information and insights more readily available and empowering complete and accurate asset utilization decisions.

Workers at an Enbridge compressor station 
Digital tools extract insights from the enormous amount of data gained from integrity and inspection work to optimize maintenance programs on our systems. (N.B. image captured pre-COVID)

“With the vast volumes of data that Enbridge gathers, and the T+IL driving ever more advanced analytics, these projects represent the dawn of a bright future for enhanced safety, reliability and efficiency."

—Tuong Lee, Vice President, Technology and Information Services (TIS) for Enbridge's Liquids Pipelines (LP) and Gas Transmission and Midstream (GTM) groups

White pipes at tank terminal 
Enbridge's Column Separation Quantification Tool (CSQT) identifies specific patterns in pressure and temperature readings that can indicate a column separation event.

Column Separation Quantification Tool: Boosting confidence in our alert systems

Focused innovation builds best on clearly identified needs and opportunities, ensuring results that add clear value.

The Enbridge Column Separation Management program has identified improvements to processes, tools and training that have been implemented over several years. Most recently the program has completed piloting the innovative Column Separation Quantification Tool (CSQT), which establishes a new level of reliability in column separation identification.

Column separation occurs in pipelines when pressure in the line drops below the pressure required to keep the lighter fractions of the oil liquid, causing vaporization and “breaking” of the contiguous flow of oil. Column separation can happen due to heating and/or cooling during extended pipeline shut-in, or due to elevation changes or flow transients. Greater confidence in identifying column separation leads to greater certainty over operational reliability.

CSQT was developed internally by TIS Pipeline Control Systems and Leak Detection (PCSLD) staff in collaboration with Enbridge's Liquids Pipelines (LP) control center and world-renowned pipeline hydraulic experts. The system identifies specific patterns in pressure and temperature readings that can indicate a column separation event. The system cleverly utilizes a combination of pattern recognition capability, fused together with a range of contextual data, location information and flow rates to create a high-confidence alert system.

The application has been deployed on five Enbridge pipelines and performance has been excellent, with the system automatically and accurately detecting the majority of column separation events. The application also enables several innovative features such as improved alarming, real-time vapor volume estimates and automated timers for tracking a column separation as it fills. This functionality has enabled our control center to manage and track the evolution of column separation eventsenabling them to distinguish between normal vs. abnormal pipeline behaviors faster, and with greater confidence.

This innovative application shows the power and potential of multi-disciplinary collaboration to solve significant challenges and create pioneering solutions. In the end, more than 60 team members contributed to the safe and successful deployment of this unique functionality, unknown to exist anywhere else in the world.

Pushing the envelope on predictive maintenance

Innovation is not just about new tools or inventions. Sometimes it’s about transforming processes to enable new levels of reliability.

Our operations and engineering teams dedicated to asset health and reliability are advancing Enbridge’s maintenance strategies—with a focus on proactive inspection of critical equipment, using leading-edge condition-based technologies.

Condition-Based Maintenance (CBM)

CBM is an emerging innovative philosophy of maintenance that looks at changes in condition or performance to provide early detection of potential issues and proactive maintenance scheduling.

By design, these systems are non-intrusive and help to ensure optimal maintenance scheduling. Specifically, these systems:

  • reduce the energy and throughput losses involved in shutdowns and startups.
  • help prolong the lifetime of the systems and their components.
  • increase the overall efficiency with which we transport energy.

The early detection of equipment defects also allows field technicians to perform repair work in a safer way by identifying the problem before the asset begins to behave more erratically.

As an example, during a maintenance inspection at Floodwood Station, along our Mainline liquids pipeline system in northern Minnesota, an infrared thermography (IR) scan identified a hot spot on a fuse.

IR scans measure and compare heat signatures of each piece of equipment, looking for significant changes from previous readings. This particular scan showed a 23°F difference in temperatures from phase to phase—a potential cause for concern.

Since the signs of potential failure were detected early on, our Liquids Pipelines operations team was able to proactively and properly plan, schedule and replace the main breaker to avoid future failure.

Ultrasonic Flow Meters (UFMs)

Accurate volumetric flow measurement is a critical part of pipeline operations. Combined, the Enbridge liquids and gas pipeline networks incorporate nearly 500 UFMs that calculate flow velocity in pipelines using high-frequency sound waves resulting in precise flow measurement.

UFM data and alarms provide critical monitoring information to Enbridge leak detection and control centers, and are capable of triggering a pipeline shutdown when abnormal conditions exist. These actions are an essential part of ensuring integrity of the pipeline system. When root cause of flow measurement anomalies is found to be related to performance issues with the UFM, overall energy transportation efficiency can be compromised.

What if there was a proactive way to predict failure of these important measurement devices themselves?

Enbridge’s TIS Pipeline Control Systems and Leak Detection (PCSLD) team has turned to Artificial Intelligence (AI) and machine learning to answer this question. The team is exploring multiple avenues—from multi-source data integration to machine-learning models based on neural networks and deep learning—to provide greater context around alerts.

This approach is already demonstrating considerable potential, providing more than 40 hours of advanced notice of impending problems in a high percentage (about 90%) of test cases. This has the potential to further reduce the energy used to move each barrel of product, while further enhancing overall system integrity and reliability.

FLIR image at an Enbridge pump station 
FLIR image at an Enbridge pump station 
The top image shows a normally functioning fuse. The above image, using an infrared thermography (IR) scan, shows the same fuse revealing a hot spot (Bx1). With signs of potential failure detected early on, we were able to perform proactive maintenance and fix the issue.
Infographic of Enbridge Straits Maritime Operations Center 
The state-of-the-art Enbridge Straits Maritime Operations Center (ESMOC) represents a new, unprecedented level of maritime monitoring capability for a commercial company. Click on the image above to view a full-screen version of this infographic.Maritimes Ops Center at Straits of Mackinac 
The ESMOC features a suite of marine traffic safety systems, including 24/7 monitoring and on-water patrol boats, at Michigan's Straits of Mackinac. Click on the image directly above to watch a video of Enbridge's ESMOC in action.

Watching the waters 24/7 in the Straits of Mackinac

We often think of innovation in terms of new products or services.

Innovating systems—people, products, services and infrastructure working together for a particular purpose—requires a broader perspective and, quite often, a heavier lift.

In the summer of 2020, Enbridge’s innovation efforts led to a new, unprecedented level of maritime monitoring capability for a commercial company, when the Enbridge Straits Maritime Operations Center (ESMOC) became fully operational in Michigan’s Straits of Mackinac.

Staffed around the clock, ESMOC acts as the nerve center for the Enbridge Maritime Pipeline Protection Program (EMP3)—an unprecedented suite of marine traffic safety systems put in place by Enbridge—to guard against accidental anchor strikes on Enbridge’s Line 5 pipeline as it crosses the Straits on the bottom of the lakebed.

The measures are now in place until Enbridge's completion of the Great Lakes Tunnel, which will be bored through rock deep under the Straits to house a new segment of Line 5. 

The overlapping measures and their coordination by ESMOC staff are comparable to extensive government marine monitoring systems in operation at major ports throughout the world.

Key among the multiple safety measures is the Vesper Marine Guardian:protect system, which identifies approaching vessels at the Straits. Guardian:protect leverages the Automated Identification System (AIS) messages broadcast by marine vessels that indicate their position, course, speed and a unique vessel ID.

Guardian:protect also automatically broadcasts AIS messages—such as reminders of the no-anchoring requirement—to vessels entering the Straits, and virtual aids to navigation (or virtual buoys) indicating the approximate location of Line 5 in the Straits. Since its initial installation, the system has logged nearly 8,000 individual pipeline crossings by over 400 unique vessels.

Additional ESMOC measures include:

  • 24/7 on-water boat patrols, weather permitting, directly over the Line 5 Straits crossing.
  • Additional patrol boats performing visual inspections of anchor positions on vessels passing through the Straits.
  • Radio contact to vessels to confirm anchor position, as needed.
  • Six high-definition cameras currently being installed at various locations in the Straits.
  • Weather monitoring tools for tracking wind speed and wave heights in the Straits.