Use Case: How Democratized IoT Can Provide Better Pipeline Monitoring and Increased Safety

By December 12, 2017Case Studies

The Big Picture

Every year, approximately 1 million daily shipments of hazardous materials are made by land, sea and air, reports the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA).

In the U.S. alone, hundreds of companies operate almost 2.6 million miles of oil and gas pipeline transport systems, through which trillions of cubic feet of natural gas and hundreds of billions of tons of liquid petroleum products are transported every year. While some of these pipelines ship from wells and refineries, others provide gas directly into homes. Crossing mixed terrain, the pipelines often pass through land owned by others and across large areas, some of which are densely populated.

Safety & Numbers

To keep safety conditions stable, more than system change alerts are needed. Increased data is required to measure, analyze, and conduct action plans and preventative actions to lessen risks of failures.

Upstream and downstream segments of the oil and gas industry consist of complex equipment that’s critical to the overall functioning of the operational system. This equipment not only protects inventory, people and environments, but also helps operators adhere to the industry’s stringent regulations.

Monitoring equipment includes instrumentation on the gas pipelines and performance monitoring gauges spread across vast areas of land. Tens of millions of dollars are spent annually on maintaining this equipment, and the data is either fetched manually or by paying a high price on connecting the instrumentation to cellular networks.


“The higher the potential impact of a disaster on nearby population, the more frequent and stringent the requirements for inspections, maintenance, and upgrades. For example, a segment that runs through Dallas, within hundreds of feet of homes, offices, and schools, requires much more monitoring than one along the Rockies, hundreds of miles from the nearest town. High consequence areas (HCAs) include those locations where commercial business occurs (such as shopping malls), where people with limited mobility gather (such as schools, prisons, and hospitals), and where people gather outdoors (such as sports stadiums).” — Digital Globe


The problem: Connectivity and Technological Limitations

For many industries, not only oil and gas, connectivity issues occur in remote areas with poor terrestrial networks, which ultimately leads to data collection issues. To remedy this, organizations spend millions to maintain, monitor, and operate critical equipment, machinery, vessels, and pipelines in these remote areas.

They deploy manual labourers or, when safety conditions are poor, they subscribe to expensive satellite connectivity to collect operating data from assets spread across wide distances.

Pipeline monitoring has made a decent amount of technological strides, but there still remain some deficiencies. It’s these remaining deficiencies that increase vulnerability to damage and an increased need for monitoring. And connectivity is the key to better monitoring.

The Solution

It comes down to affordable, wide-range monitoring. Helios is disrupting how data is collected and delivered for the purposes of both monitoring and analysis — and at much reduced cost.

Placing microsatellites in the low-earth orbit, Helios provides global coverage to the darkest areas, connecting devices and instrumentation, while providing analytical dashboards to the operations and maintenance staff of the energy sector and oil and gas industry.

How it works:

  1. Tags/sensors are deployed on critical instrumentation of electronics, gas pipelines, vessels, control panels, etc.
  2. Access point tag captures, aggregates and relays data to the satellites.
  3. Cloud application depicts critical parameters and analytics online.

Most of these pipelines lie underground, where constant monitoring is especially difficult. Pipeline failures, when they occur, trigger drops in pressure that have automatic system triggers to close those valves. Should drops in pressure be detected by the satellite system, trouble shooting and further monitoring can begin to confirm that automatic safety procedures are carried out as expected and monitored over time.

How Helios tackles this:

  • Connectivity provided at less than half the cost of conventional means of cellular networks and geosatellites, substantially reducing the operating expenditures for the operational and maintenance staff.
  • Access to the remote areas where there has been little/no terrestrial network and providing the means to remotely monitor end-end gas pipelines instrumentation.

This lessens the organizations reliance on more costly means of monitoring — and to a great extent, augments analysis alongside these alternative monitoring tools — and allows for long-term monitoring and increasing of operational efficiencies.

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