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Magnetic flux leakage

Magnetic flux leakage (MFL) is a magnetic method of nondestructive testing that is used to detect corrosion and pitting in steel structures, most commonly pipelines and storage tanks. The basic principle is that a powerful magnet is used to magnetize the steel. At areas where there is corrosion or missing metal, the magnetic field “leaks” from the steel. In an MFL tool, a magnetic detector is placed between the poles of the magnet to detect the leakage field. Analysts interpret the chart recording of the leakage field to identify damaged areas and to estimate the depth of metal loss.


As an MFL tool navigates the pipeline a magnetic circuit is created between the pipewall and the tool. Brushes typically act as a transmitter of magnetic flux from the tool into the pipewall, and as the magnets are oriented in opposing directions, a flow of flux is created in an elliptical pattern. High Field MFL tools saturate the pipewall with magnetic flux until the pipewall can no longer hold any more flux. The remaining flux leaks out of the pipewall and strategically placed tri-axial Hall effect sensor heads can accurately measure the three-dimensional vector of the leakage field.

Given the fact that magnetic flux leakage is a vector quantity and that a hall sensor can only measure in one direction, three sensors must be oriented within a sensor head to accurately measure the axial, radial and circumferential components of an MFL signal. The axial component of the vector signal is measured by a sensor mounted orthogonal to the axis of the pipe, and the radial sensor is mounted to measure the strength of the flux that leaks out of the pipe. The circumferential component of the vector signal can be measured by mounting a sensor perpendicular to this field. Earlier MFL tools recorded only the axial component but high-resolution tools typically measure all three components. To determine if metal loss is occurring on the internal or external surface of a pipe, a separate eddy current sensor is utilized to indicate wall surface location of the anomaly. The unit of measure when sensing an MFL signal is the gauss or the tesla and generally speaking, the larger the change in the detected magnetic field, the larger the anomaly.

Estimation of corrosion growth rate

High-resolution MFL tools collect data approximately every 2 mm along the axis of a pipe and this superior resolution allows for a comprehensive analysis of collected signals. Pipeline Integrity Management programs have specific intervals for inspecting pipeline segments and by employing high-resolution MFL tools an exceptional corrosion growth analysis can be conducted. This type of analysis proves extremely useful in forecasting the inspection intervals.

Other features that an MFL tool can identify

Although primarily used to detect corrosion, MFL tools can also be used to detect features that they were not originally designed to identify. When an MFL tool encounters a geometric deformity such as a dent, wrinkle or buckle, a very distinct signal is created due to the plastic deformation of the pipe wall.

Crack detection

There are cases where large non-axial oriented cracks have been found in a pipeline that was inspected by a magnetic flux leakage tool. To an experienced MFL data analyst, a dent is easily recognizable by trademark “horseshoe” signal in the radial component of the vector field. What is not easily identifiable to an MFL tool is the signature that a crack leaves.

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