Pigging Supplies — What Pig Launchers & Receivers Do
Pipeline pigging has to be one of the strangest (and most interesting) job names in the natural gas distribution industry. Pig launchers and receivers, two of the more common pigging supplies used in the industry, sound a lot more like something out of Angry Birds than pipeline operations.
This equipment might not be used to launch and catch cute piglets, but launchers and receivers have an even more interesting and important job — they help keep everyone safe. If you’re curious as to how these stupendous pigging supplies work, read on!
First Off: What Is Natural Gas Pipeline Pigging?
Pipelines are the networks of pipes — large and small — that bring natural gas to our businesses and homes. Pipeline pigging is the process of cleaning, inspecting, and maintaining those pipe networks with equipment called “pigs.” In the early days, pigging was reserved for giant oil and gas pipelines, but, because of its usefulness, pigging is now an industry-wide practice for oil and gas pipes of all diameters. You’ll even find pigging operations going on in the cosmetics, paint, food, and chemical industries these days. Wherever there are pipes, you’re likely to find some sort of pigging.
According to research, the first pipeline pigs were probably made of bales of straw wrapped with cloth and barbed wire. When these contraptions traveled down the pipes, they’d create a squealing sound — hence the name “pigs.” Though still sometimes noisy, the pigging process is no longer accompanied by the high-pitched squeal. The word “pig” has taken on a clever and handy acronym: Pipeline Inspection Gauge.
Today, depending on needs and budgets, pipeline pigs, launchers, and receivers are made of various types of stainless or carbon steel and polyurethane foam. Based on the fluid within the pipes, pigs might be coated with special materials for corrosion protection.
Like so many other things, pipeline pigs have gotten smart and do a lot more than clean out pipes. Today’s “smart pigs” are sophisticated inspection devices capable of gathering data on a pipeline’s internal condition. These advanced machines can identify serious internal problems like metal loss, weak points, and pipe deformations and restrictions.
About Launchers and Receivers
Since the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) enacted the Gas Distribution Integrity Management Program (DIMP) in 2010, launchers and receivers have become an essential component in all pipeline pigging operations.
To do its job safely and efficiently, a pipeline pig must be launched from one end of the pipe and received at the other end — hence the name “launchers and receivers.” The launcher is closed and sealed on one end, allowing the pipe’s pressure to drive the pig down the pipe to the receiver, which is also sealed. Many launcher and receiver systems have bidirectional capabilities — meaning the receiver can send the pig back to the launcher in the event of a pipeline blockage.
You can think of these pigging supplies as entry and exit points for the pigs as they travel in and out of the pipeline during pigging operations.
Most importantly, launchers and receivers serve as “safety gates” that prevent dangerous leaks during pigging. They keep the pigging process efficient and keep workers and communities protected.
If you’re interested to learn even more about these amazing machines, check out our Pig Launchers and Receivers products page.