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GE Modifies X-ray Unit For Crushing Depths

March 6, 2014
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GE is hoping that a re-engineered medical X-ray detector will be able to inspect underwater pipelines for cracks and corrosion—despite daunting conditions that, at the 10,000-foot depths where many pipelines are found, can include 300 atmospheres of pressure.

That’s more than 4,400 pounds per square inch. A normal X-ray detector, with its fragile glass and delicate electronics, could never survive. “These are medical detectors,” said GE Healthcare mechanical engineer Karen Southwick. “They go in a hospital.”

The bottom of the ocean is a much tougher environment than a hospital, contrary to what some medical students may think. According to Dan Scoville, the water pressure at such great depths presents a very basic danger:

Anything with air in it would be squished.

Scoville was quoted in a GE news release. He is a project manager and electrical engineer for the oil-field services company Oceaneering International, which is partnering with GE Healthcare, GE Oil & Gas, and BP on the underwater imaging project.

He is also an experienced diver who as a hobby searches for shipwrecks in Lake Ontario, using an underwater remote operated vehicle that he developed with a team of students from the Rochester Institute of Technology, his alma mater.

The engineers put the medical X-ray detector inside a rugged case designed to protect it even at extreme underwater depths. It fits inside a larger machine that’s attached to a deep-sea submersible rig. The machine latches onto a pipeline and slides down its length, taking X-ray snapshots as it goes.

The device hasn’t yet gotten a chance to prove itself at sea, but it has performed well in lab tests.

“Whether it’s a small spill or a catastrophic one, this is hopefully preventing that,” Southwick said. “Ideally, we will be able to have data for every pipeline that’s in the water.”

Related CME seminar (up to 42.5 AMA PRA Category 1 credits™): UCSF Radiology Review: COMPREHENSIVE IMAGING

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