Predicting FRP damage and reducing failures in the pulp and paper industry
UTComp’s first licensee, Horizon Testing Inc. of Prince George, B.C., has been part of the UltraAnalytix® team since 2011. Horizon Testing is a full-service testing company that also specializes in tubular advanced testing for ferrous and nonferrous materials, and radiography, bringing a wealth of experience and knowledge to clients in the pulp and paper, mining, oil and gas, chemical processing and power generation sectors.
We checked in with Horizon’s owner Daniel Tremblay to talk about the advantages of UltraAnalytix NDT for detecting hidden damage and preventing failures in FRP tanks, piping and other equipment at some of Canada’s largest pulp and paper mills.
Q: What impact has UltraAnalytix NDT had on the industry and your customers? How is it different from what you were doing before?
A: The UTComp system provides clients more information about their FRP equipment from the point of view of reliability. This allows them to better predict failures, and identify damage before it before it leads to problems. At Horizon Testing, we provide UltraAnalytix inspection services on a regular basis to pulp mills and chemical plants in the Prince George area and throughout British Columbia.
Some mills use a lot of FRP in tanks, piping and vessels, and they had no objective, repeatable way to inspect that equipment until UltraAnalytix came along. With the UTComp system, they’re able to determine the condition of their FRP equipment much more efficiently than they could before.
Pulp and paper mills use a lot of chemicals and corrosive materials, especially bleach. Over time, the chemicals attack the corrosion barrier, getting into the structures of the fiber and weakening the FRP to the point that a pipe or vessel starts leaking or fails. So, by using UTComp, we’re able to determine the worst areas that need repair or replacement while the equipment is in operation and without the need for confined space entry. And that’s been helping clients have fewer leaks by preventing failures and they can avoid shutdowns for unexpected repairs. By predicting problems in advance, they can plan for repairs during a regular maintenance shutdown.
Q: Is there a particular UltraAnalytix NDT inspection job that stands out for you? Why?
A: We work with one B.C. pulp that was concerned about a line from the bleach plant and they were trying to figure out how much they had to repair or replace. So, we did ultrasonic testing with UTComp and, even though on a visual basis it looked pretty good, analysis of the data showed that in the bottom section of the pipe, there was basically no corrosion barrier left. So, they were able to determine that they needed to replace more than was anticipated. When they removed that section of pipe and looked at it, it was really pretty bad. If that pipe had failed, the plant would have been down for weeks. So in the end, investing in an UltraAnalytix inspection saved them time and money.
Q: Is there an example of an assessment that clearly shows the value of the UltraAnalytix system in terms of insights for the customer compared to other methods?
A: There was another pulp mill where they brought in an FRP contractor to do a visual inspection of a tank, and they were told they going to have to reline the whole thing. And it going to cost a lot of money — more money than a tank replacement. So, I was asked to come in and have a look at it. And we did the UltraAnalytix inspection that showed the remaining strength was high enough that they didn’t have to do the work they were planning to do. So, it saved them money by avoiding an unnecessary and expensive repair. It’s either one side or the other, right? You don’t want to do a repair that you don’t need, but you want to do a repair that you need. So, we were able to tell them, yes, you do have some problems but they’re not going to cause you any grief or any failure in the near future. So, you have time. Also, there was an area where there was a lot of blistering at the top of the tank. But, because of changes to plant operations over the years, the volume of liquid inside never got to that level of the tank anymore. So, they didn’t need to worry about it. With UltraAnalytix, we were able to tell them yes, you have some things to keep an eye on, but the tank is not going to fail anytime soon.
Visual inspections are important but can be very deceiving. Something can look really bad, but it’s not actually as bad as it looks. On the other hand, it could be looking pretty good but when you do the UltraAnalytix testing, you might find the strength is not there anymore. That’s because when it comes to FRP strength, the thickness doesn’t really matter much. You can have full thickness, but not have full strength because there’s invisible damage to the polymer that binds the material together. So UltraAnalytix is able to quantify the condition of the polymer for the client. We save them money by not having to do repairs right away, and by preventing failures by identifying damage before it’s too late.
Q: What’s it like working with UTComp as an UltraAnalytix licensee? What impact has it had on your business?
A: I’ve been involved with them since 2011 — we were their first licensee. The relationship has been great. They’re easy to reach, and any questions I’ve had, we’ve been well supported over the years. They are very knowledgeable, and that’s been providing me more work in pulp and paper and the chemical industry. So being a UTComp licensee has helped get our name out there and increase our company’s exposure to potential customers in those key sectors.
One problem with pulp and paper is that they tend to forget very quickly. There’s often a lot of turnover, and as people move on, you keep having to re-educate the people using your service because they might not know anything about FRP inspection and what this technology provides compared to just doing visual inspections. They also tend to rely on the same contractors for inspections and for repairs and service. To me, that’s a potential conflict of interest — sort of like a welder inspecting his own welds, right? UTComp is different. As a licensee, I offer clients an objective third-party inspection with no vested interest in doing the repairs and reconstruction or selling new FRP components. That’s where I think the one of the values of UTComp has been.
Q: Are there any new developments for your business that you’d like to share?
A: Well, right now we’re getting ready to start a big job at one of the oldest and largest pulp and paper mills in B.C. We’ll spend three weeks collecting ultrasonic data and inspecting lots of piping, vessels and tanks. Then we’ll send all the data to UTComp for analysis and then prepare the reports to pass on to the client by the end of October so they can plan for a shutdown next year. We’ll be able to tell them what equipment is fit for service, what needs to be replaced and what needs to be repaired. It’s very rewarding because this client has been on board for many years and they really understand and appreciate what this technology can do for them.
Q: What new developments, challenges or opportunities do you see ahead for the industry in general?
A: There’s a new LNG terminal under construction at Kitimat on the coast of B.C. It’s a huge facility. I don’t know how much FRP is being used but I imagine there will be water treatment facilities and other equipment that requires FRP where we might have something to offer. I’m hoping to make some calls and get up there to see if there’s a role for UltraAnalytix. There are also oil and gas facilities in northern B.C. that I expect will get on board soon. Plus, construction is just getting underway on a facility in Prince George that takes sawmill waste and other biomass and turns it into low-carbon biofuels. I know they’ll have piping and pressure vessels, but I don’t know if they’re going to have any FRP in there. But if they do, I’m sure we’re going to be in there helping them.
Questions about your FRP assets?