Pipeline cleaning using Swiss precision

Pipelines International‘s Editor-in-Chief, John Tiratsoo, recently visited Reinhart Hydrocleaning SA in Switzerland to find out more about this interesting company’s sophisticated (and guaranteed) approach to cleaning the inner wall of all types of pipelines. He found a company that has kept its many achievements below the industry’s radar, although this attitude is now changing.

The big question that is repeatedly asked is, of course, “how clean is clean?” and, arguably, different levels of cleanliness can be applied to an oil or gas pipeline, depending on the circumstances. For example, cleaning a line by removing scale or wax to improve the flow, while important, may not need such diligence as cleaning a line prior to an intelligent inspection.

There are many ways of achieving the level of cleanliness required, from using various types of pig through to the use of chemicals combined with a lengthy pigging programme. Using such techniques, most routine cleaning operations will have a great measure of success, though none can ensure that the line will be as clean as the project may require, and none come with a guarantee of any sort.

It’s a paradox that has been mentioned many times, that despite the tremendous sophistication of intelligent inspection devices, their success is largely governed by the ability of their sensors to make direct contact with the pipe wall, and there is no way of ensuring that this will happen 100 per cent of the time. Similarly, as the economics of pipeline operations are of increasing importance, the ability of ensuring good flow through a line with smooth walls has a direct economic benefit; nevertheless, many operators disregard the importance of routine cleaning, and permit their pipelines’ flows to be reduced, or become unnecessarily turbulent, as a consequence.

The beginnings of Reinhart Hydrocleaning SA

Over 60 years ago – long before magnetic-flux leakage or ultrasonics had been developed for pipeline inspection – a Swiss engineer called Albert J. Reinhart decided to try to solve a water-pipeline cleaning problem in his local town and, having considered various solutions, hit upon the ideas that have formed the basis of his eponymous company’s success ever since.

A.J. Reinhart’s hydromechanical cleaning process harnessed the power of water and the mechanical cleaning/scraping actions of specially-designed springs, which were incorporated into the Reinhart “÷basic tool’ that was used until 1980. This tool was then developed further to give rise to the process now known as Reinhart cleaning technology (RCT), which works by combining dynamic cleaning from the tools’ springs and other hardware with optimised by-pass to provide the necessary flushing effect that allows the waste material to be kept in suspension and moved away in front of the tool’s passage through the pipeline. The first successful use of the Reinhart basic tool was on 21 April 1952. This led to the establishment in due course of the company now known as Reinhart Hydrocleaning SA, based in Courroux, not far from Basel, Switzerland.

A first for pipeline cleanliness

This first job was soon followed by others, to all of which A.J. Reinhart applied the philosophy which he had by then established, which combined a detailed investigation of the parameters of the pipeline that was to be cleaned (and its contents), a tool design that was tailored to each specific project, and careful control over the operational aspects and analyses of the results. The successes that arose from this approach enabled the company to offer an absolute guarantee to its clients that the pipeline in question had been cleaned back to the bare pipe wall – the first time this could ever be said.

During the next 34 years, the company perfected this process, and had landmark successes in cleaning pipelines as diverse as gas pipelines in Germany, water pipelines in German coal mines, and pipelines in steel and other industrial plants in Italy and Germany. The company found that it could apply its process to cleaning vertical pipelines as well, and increased the range of diameters its tools could work with up to an astonishing 1,800 mm.

A family affair

Over this period, A.J. Reinhart, who passed away in 1980, had been joined in his company by his son Giacomo Reinhart in 1968, and by his other son Pietro in 1972. Giacomo’s own sons Robert and Roland joined the company in 1998 and 2000, respectively, and Pietro’s sons Luca and Max joined in 2008 and 2013. Pietro’s arrival in the company provided the opportunity of both improvement and expansion of the company’s technology for hydromechanical cleaning.

Expanding into offshore applications

Up to this point, the company had been working with onshore pipelines, although with an increasing variety and type of pipes and contents. A step-change in the company’s history and achievements came in 1996, with the first offshore application of its mechanical hydrocleaning process for BP in Scotland, and this was soon followed by other North Sea pipeline cleaning projects for various operator clients.

Since then, the many onshore and offshore challenges which the company has been offered have all been met with total success: as an example of its achievements, in the last five years it has cleaned pipelines ranging in diameter from 2-40 inches, in length from 50 m to 460 km, in flow rate from 0.02-6 m/second, and in multi-diameter ratios of 8/10 inches, 14/20 inches, and 36/40 inches. The main industry sectors in which Reinhart Hydrocleaning has worked can be conveniently split into oil (80 per cent), gas (10 per cent), and for water and industrial plants 5 per cent each.

Use of customised tools

So what’s so special about the company’s tools and processes that allow it – in all its projects – to guarantee it will leave the pipeline clean, with no deposits on the pipe wall or in any corrosion pits or other features? (It’s noteworthy that the company has worked with a wide range of pipeline materials, including steel, stainless steel, flexible pipes for the offshore industry, clad pipelines, asbestos-cement pipes for the water industry, and polyethylene pipes, in all of which it has had similar success.)

In answer to this question, Roland Reinhart, the company’s R&D manager, points to the use of tools that are non-standard and are customised for each job, following a thorough analysis. This includes establishing the type of deposits to be expected, the current level of cleanliness of the pipeline (where known), the flow rate and regime, the product being transported, and the pipeline’s geometric specification including its diameter, any diameter changes, the presence and type of tees (barred or unbarred) and of wyes (with the deflection angle), and launcher/receiver details.

The company uses these data to design a mechanical hydrocleaning tool to fit the individual situation, as well as specifying the number of runs required. If its recommendations are followed correctly, Roland says that the company will guarantee the result. “It’s the quality of runs, not the quantity of runs” that bring this success, he says.

Keeping tool design in-house

The design of the individual tool to be used for a project is, clearly, a critical factor. Using its considerable database of experience, Reinhart Hydrocleaning is able to design the solution for each case in great detail, and can analyse and refine the tool’s cleaning and flushing performance using CAD software prior to its manufacture. Once the company is satisfied that it has the right configuration of discs, “÷Tiger’ cleaning springs, wheels, and other components, the tool is manufactured in-house using the company’s extensive CNC-machine-equipped workshop.

The company says that around 95 per cent of all of its tools’ components are manufactured in-house, with only a few items being provided by external suppliers. Among the materials it uses is high-quality leather, glued-together layers of which are used to manufacture the tool-drive “÷flaps’ (like a disc, though segmented so they can fold backwards).

Serving a range of clients

The company has worked for a wide range of clients, which includes BP, ExxonMobil, Statoil, Total, Conoco Phillips, and Amerada Hess. In 2012 it obtained ISO 9001 and 14001 certification, and in 2013 it was confirmed as conforming to Part 1 of the BSI’s OHSAS 18000, an international occupational health and safety management system specification. The following list gives an example some of the projects that Reinhart Hydrocleaning has completed in recent years with its hallmark guarantee of success:

  • Weld-seam removal using compressed air as the drive fluid for Sakhalin pipelines;
  • Calcium carbonate descaling for 12 inch diameter, 10 km long, oil pipeline;
  • Wax removal for the 16 inch diameter,
  • 91 km long, Wytch Farm oil pipeline – twelve runs were required;
  • Hard scale removal in a 14/20 inch diameter, 3.1 km long, oil line for ConocoPhillips;
  • Wax removal using sea water propulsion in a 22 inch diameter, 2.4 km long, loading line for Amerada Hess;
  • Wax removal using water propulsion in an 8 inch diameter, 8 km long, flexible pipeline; and,
  • Wax removal in an 8/10 inch diameter oil pipeline, followed by towing an inspection tool through the line’s eccentric portion.

Total project cost considerations

Robert Reinhart, the company’s Operations Manager, says that clients are sometimes taken aback by the apparent expense of the tool and the number of runs required (although this is usually considerably fewer than with conventional pigging cleaning operations.)

He points out that – particularly offshore – there are huge overall savings to be made if the cleaning aspect of the overall project is considered as part of the total project cost. For example, using the company’s tools and processes can often save several days of stand-by costs for high-cost facilities and equipment (such as DSVs). In cases where these support costs come out of a different budget from the actual pipeline cleaning and inspection budget, the cost of the Reinhart approach can indeed seem to make it the most expensive option. However, as well as its tailored solutions, Robert emphasises that the company also guarantees its work, which is an advantage that’s not available elsewhere.

Innovative developments

As a further example of the company’s innovative ideas, it has recently developed a specially-designed, bi-directional disc for certain applications that does not need an increase of pressure to “÷flip’ in order to reverse the tool in a pipeline. The discs are manufactured for each application precisely to match the pipeline’s internal diameter, and with their curved profile they have a very low coefficient of friction.

Wide-reaching, direct service

In recent years Reinhart Hydrocleaning has worked with many partners. However, for a variety of reasons, including the ability to interact with its clients more directly and efficiently, the company now works directly with its clients, many of whom are involved in North Sea operations or onshore pipelines in Europe. The company is highly flexible, with a small, expert, and committed workforce, and from its Swiss base it can provide its services worldwide as required.

A unique, well-designed approach to pipeline cleaning

The visitor to Reinhart Hydrocleaning’s plant will come away with an impression, borne out by what has been seen, of a company that – with great precision and commitment – exploits a fascinating approach to the problem of pipeline cleaning that is not replicated anywhere else.

Like all good things that come out of Switzerland, the company’s products are not the cheapest. Taken as a whole, however, the company’s abilities and tools will bring greater value for money to its clients than can normally be found elsewhere. Maybe it’s not a coincidence that the manufacturing headquarters of the renowned Swiss Army penknives (and other Victorinox products) is a short distance away from Reinhart Hydrocleaning’s plant: between them the two companies embody all that is best in well-designed and applied technology.

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