North America’s energy infrastructure includes more than one million miles of underground pipelines, many of which currently remain in service years or decades past their originally intended lifespans. The organizations responsible for maintaining this infrastructure have traditionally used labor-intensive manual inspection and recording processes for staying apprised of the status of their pipelines, with the information driving, collected during, and disseminated from those processes being kept and collated largely or entirely on paper. Our client, a premier provider of pipeline protection and repair solutions and services for North America, wanted a better way to inspect, manage data for, and deliver timely and actionable information about pipeline assets. For this, our client engaged dymaptic and IT Nexus, another provider of software services.
Dymaptic team members have helped many clients reimagine their manual and paper-based processes, so we understand well that human input is error-prone and that creating and managing written records represents a major obstacle to having efficient, flexible, and responsive processes. We also have a long history of building mobile experiences for use by field staff, so our team has the know-how to deliver solutions that operate flawlessly in remote areas, behave in a way that makes sense to staff on the ground, and integrate seamlessly with the rest of an organization’s systems. We sought to bring that base of knowledge to bear in working with our client and project partners to define a robust solution that would provide a streamlined, easy-to-use, and paper-free inspection and monitoring process that would effectively alleviate the many pain points of their existing process.
Our client’s existing field process consisted of visual inspection of assets, manual monitoring of cathodic protection systems, and recording the resulting data on paper. Together with our project partners, we set out to replace this rudimentary process with one integrated digital ecosystem for collecting and managing inspection and monitoring data. This system would fully handle data collection in the field, central storage in the cloud, statistical analysis, and data review. Our team identified Amazon Web Services and DynamoDB for the back-end infrastructure coupled with an Android mobile field application built natively in Java as the optimal technological palette with which to realize this system.
With our end goal defined, we moved forward with making it a reality. Given the dymaptic team’s expertise with the requisite mobile technologies, we led the development of the mobile application that would be used directly by inspection crews in the field. Drawing from our knowledge of field requirements and feedback gathered from our client, we built the application to function entirely independent of cellular connectivity, synchronizing data to the DynamoDB database as and when connectivity was available. Understanding the importance of ensuring data integrity when pushing to and pulling from remote data sources, we leveraged Amazon Web Services lambda expressions to perform data validation during this process. For data collection, we built the application to gather and record cathodic protection voltage readings, asset information, and high-accuracy locational data by connecting to voltmeters, RFID tag readers, and high-accuracy GPS devices via Bluetooth. In doing so, we both ensured the accuracy of this data at time of collection and greatly streamlined the data entry process for field staff. And finally, we collaborated with our client and leveraged our extensive user interface design experience to present this functionality to field workers in an intuitive and easy-to-use way.
The Bottom Line
In conjunction with our project partners at IT Nexus, the dymaptic team delivered a complete modernization of our client’s existing process for maintaining critical energy infrastructure, making the process of collecting and storing asset status information simple, fast, and accurate. Having this data immediately accessible in a digital format has enabled our client to proactively aggregate, analyze, and respond to that data in an intelligent and informed way. The Android mobile application, which we continue to enhance and support, is now used by hundreds of field workers in both the United States and Canada to ensure the smooth and safe operation of our client’s pipeline assets.
For further information about this project and image credit, see this article in North American Oil & Gas Pipelines: https://napipelines.com/battling-corrosion-how-technology-has-changed-the-fight-to-protect-pipelines/
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