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Engineering Encyclopedia

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Visual Inspection

Note: The source of the technical material in this volume is the Professional
Engineering Development Program (PEDP) of Engineering Services.
Warning: The material contained in this document was developed for Saudi
Aramco and is intended for the exclusive use of Saudi Aramcos
employees. Any material contained in this document which is not
already in the public domain may not be copied, reproduced, sold, given,
or disclosed to third parties, or otherwise used in whole, or in part,
without the written permission of the Vice President, Engineering
Services, Saudi Aramco.

Chapter : Inspection
File Reference: COE10303

For additional information on this subject, contact


W.P. Lamp on 875-2742

Engineering Encyclopedia

Inspection
Visual Inspection

CONTENTS

PAGES

INTRODUCTION TO VISUAL INSPECTION..................................................... 1


Elements of an Effective Visual Inspection................................................. 1
Auxiliary Inspection Items .......................................................................... 2
VISUAL INSPECTION: APPLICATIONS AND REQUIREMENTS.................. 4
General Application..................................................................................... 4
Visual Indications of Corrosion................................................................... 5
Application Checklist .................................................................................. 6
Visual Inspection in Case of Failure............................................................ 8
INSPECTION TOOLS AND THEIR USES......................................................... 11
Fiber Optics ............................................................................................... 12
Fiberscope ................................................................................................. 14
Pit Gauges ................................................................................................. 16
Cameras..................................................................................................... 17
Mirrors....................................................................................................... 18
Magnets ..................................................................................................... 19
ADVANTAGES AND LIMITATIONS OF VISUAL INSPECTION .................. 20
Advantages ................................................................................................ 20
Limitations................................................................................................. 20
GLOSSARY ......................................................................................................... 21

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INTRODUCTION TO VISUAL INSPECTION


Visual inspection was undoubtedly the first nondestructive method used by man to examine
the objects around him. Having passed the test of time, this method remains the simplest and
most effective means of examination.
The following quotation from Corrosion and Water Technology for Petroleum Producers
sums up the importance of visual inspections:
No test instrument or inspection tool has ever been developed that can benefit a
corrosion control program as much as thorough on-site inspection by interested
personnel. Direct examination and a few simple tests on failed equipment will
often reveal the basic cause of the problem.
In the literal sense, the term visual inspection only includes inspection by eyesight. In a
broader sense, this term can also include using other senses such as touching, listening, and
smelling, along with sensory-enhancing tools.
In the oil and gas industry, visual inspection can be defined as a nondestructive testing (NDT)
method that involves visual examination, enhanced or assisted by the use of simple inspection
tools such as fiber optics, mirrors, and magnets.
Elements of an Effective Visual Inspection
An increased awareness of details is a fundamental element of an effective visual inspection.
This awareness involves attention to input from all the senses.
Experience in examining a system or piece of equipment is an element that increases
effectiveness with each subsequent inspection. This familiarity enables an inspector to be
more aware of subtle changes that can indicate a potential problem.
An effective visual inspection also includes the use of auxiliary items and simple inspection
tools, especially when examining inaccessible areas. Using the proper tool can assist an
inspector in locating problems and making accurate observations.
Finally, to be effective, a visual inspection should be conducted using an inspection form or
checklist. A checklist provides a systematic approach to the inspection that, in turn, produces
a clear and concise record of observations.

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Auxiliary Inspection Items


The following is a list of some auxiliary items that can be used to assist in conducting an
effective visual inspection.

Standard forms/inspection checklist


This item includes the Saudi Aramco EIS form, if appropriate, as well as any other
approved procedural checklists.

Notebook and pencil


Use a notebook and pencil to write down observations at the time they are made rather
than attempting to recall them later.

Original designs and data from earlier inspections


Refer to new or previously noted conditions in order to distinguish between deviations
and normal or desired conditions. Notes and photographs or drawings from earlier
inspections can be useful in making decisions about current conditions.

Cleaning tools
When needed, use simple cleaning tools such as a scraper or steel brush to clean a
surface before making a preliminary visual inspection.
Chalk or similar marking device
Use marking materials such as chalk to identify potential or suspected problem areas.

Straight ruler, square, and level


Use these items to measure problem areas and record the results for use in follow-up
inspections or treatments.

Vernier, micrometer, and measuring tape


Use these simple measuring tools to determine and record material thicknesses, a key
indicator of corrosion.

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Visual inspections can include both external and internal surfaces of equipment. Internal
surfaces, especially, are often inaccessible and require the use of special inspection tools. In
addition to the auxiliary items listed earlier, the following tools can be used to gather and
record data during visual inspections.

Fiber Optics
Pit Gauges
Cameras
Mirrors
Magnets

The uses, advantages, and limitations of each of these instruments will be discussed in depth
later in this module.

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VISUAL INSPECTION: APPLICATIONS AND REQUIREMENTS


General Application
Visual inspection is the inspection method most often used for detecting and evaluating:

General or localized corrosion


Shallow or intense pitting
Ruptures or cracks
Erosion and deformities
Significant changes in deposits on surfaces

This method of inspection can be used on the internal and/or external surfaces of equipment
such as:

Pipelines
Chokes
Lines
Fittings
Valves
Tanks
Welds
Tubing

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Visual Indications of Corrosion


The following series of drawings and photographs illustrate examples of corrosion-related
damage that can be detected and evaluated during a visual inspection.
Visual inspection can be used to detect kinks, deep external pits, or damaged joints of well
tubing. Figure 1 illustrates external pitting.

FIGURE 1. External Pitting


By using an inspection tool such as a downhole camera, cracking can be detected as seen in
Figure 2. Cracking may be due either to mechanical means such as overload or fatigue or to
corrosion such as stress corrosion cracking or corrosion fatigue.

FIGURE 2. Cracking

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Insulated pipes or vessels often have rust stains; bulged, cracked or distorted insulation; and
hot spots, which are indicative of corrosion damage. These features can be noted during a
visual inspection. Figure 3 illustrates this problem.

FIGURE 3. Distortions or Deformities


Examination of vessel or pipe exteriors can reveal excessive corrosion and locate areas where
thickness measurements are needed.
External signs of leaks in tanks and other enclosed vessels, as well as areas of localized
corrosion, can also be detected using this method.
Application Checklist
To be effective, visual inspection should be performed in an organized manner. Although
procedures vary according to the location and type of equipment being inspected, the
following general tasks can be applied to most inspection situations:

Observe and measure critical areas


Document observations and measurements
Analyze potential problem areas

As a general rule, the initial check of an area should occur before the area is cleaned. Crack
formations and leaks are often easier to discover when an area has not been cleaned. The
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location and amount, or significant changes in surface deposits such as rust or scale, also need
to be noted.
After the initial check, a more thorough inspection should be made. Saudi Aramco
documents entitled AIP (Aramco Inspection Procedure) detail step-by-step procedures for
conducting inspections in specific areas. Figure 4 illustrates the type of data that is included
on a typical visual inspection checklist.
Visual Inspection Form
Owner or User No. __________
Jurisdiction or
National Board No. __________

Date of
Inspection

Thickness at
Critical Points
A

Owner _______
Owner _______

Maximum Metal
Temperature at
Critical Points

Date _____

Manufacturer
____________
Manufacturers
Date _____ Serial No.
_______________
Design Pressure
_________
Temperature
_____________
Original Hydrostatic
Test Pressure
____________
Original Thickness:
A
B
C
D
Corrosion Allowance: A
B
C
D
Minimum
Allowable Metal
Thickness at
Critical Points
A B C D

Date of
Next
Inspection

Signature of
Inspector

}
1

}
2

}
3

Description of Location _______________________________


Description of Location _______________________________
Description of Location _______________________________
Description of Location _______________________________
Description of Location _______________________________

Date
Date
Date
Date
Date

______________________
______________________
______________________
______________________
______________________

Note: Manufacturers drawing can be used to show the location of A, B, C, D.

FIGURE 4. Visual Inspection Form


Section 1 of the sample form should be used to document original or design information about
the equipment to be inspected. Original data on hydrostatic pressure and wall thickness can
be particularly helpful as a point of comparison for subsequent inspections.
Section 2 lists the critical inspection points or areas.
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The final section, section 3, should be used to document the location and time of each
observation. Location description can include potential problem areas as well as location
identifiers from the manufacturers design specifications.
Following a simple inspection checklist such as this one will not only ensure an organized,
time-efficient visual examination, but it will also ensure that all pertinent observations are
documented for future use.
Visual Inspection in Case of Failure
Up to this point, the discussion of visual inspection has focused on using this method to locate
and evaluate potential problem areas. This section focuses on using this method in case of
equipment or system failure.
Direct visual examination and a few simple tests can often reveal why the failure occurred.
Table 1, originally printed in Corrosion and Water Technology for Petroleum Producers,
contains a suggested list of procedures for this type of visual inspection. These steps can be
used as a guide for preparation of a data acquisition form. Preprinted forms, with blank
spaces for observations and comments, are helpful for use by field crews.

1.
2.

4.
5.
6.

TABLE 1 Scheme for Field Inspection of Equipment Failures


Record specific identification of failed item and position of use.
Describe the gross nature of the failure, for instance,
Longitudinal rupture
Transverse fracture
Perforation
Wall thinning internal and external
Internal and external pitting
Test solubility and reaction of deposits in dilute acid.
Clean a number of local areas and pits by wire brushing and scraping. Visually
examine configuration and distribution of pits, cracks, and thinned areas.
Photograph the overall failure and take close-ups of local areas before and after
cleaning.

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Table 2 from the same source contains a list of observations that may help to identify the
cause of the failure.
TABLE 2. Characteristics of Some Corrosion-Related Failures
Appearance
Probable Contributing Factors
Hydrogen sulfide attack (H2S may be natural
Small conical pits with steep sides and
or generated by bacteria)
smooth edges. Pits filled with black
deposit.
As above plus transverse cracks.
Hydrogen sulfide attack with tensile stress
(stress corrosion fatigue)
Transverse fracture with little or no pitting
Sulfide stress cracking
but with black deposit.
Excessive metal hardness
Round bottom connecting pits with sharp
Carbon dioxide attack
sides. Grey deposit but pit bottoms are
bright.
General thinning with sharp feathery or
Mineral acid corrosion
weblike residual metal. Little or no
deposits.
Rust deposits. Shallow, widespread pitting
Oxygen corrosion
or deep pits under rust nodules.
Single, isolated pits in a row on one side.
Electrolytic corrosion due to current
discharge
Worn or abraded areas with numerous small Erosion by solids or metal rubbing presence
pits.
of H2S, CO2, or O2

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Figure 5 is an example of observable evidence of equipment failure due to stress corrosion.


The drawing shows the broken end of a rod whose failure was caused by stress corrosion
fatigue after six months of use.

FIGURE 5. Evidence of Failure Due To Corrosion Fatigue


Visible evidence of damage in Figure 5 includes

Pitting along the outer edges


A crack or fracture along the smooth surface of the face
A tensile break on the rough surface

The first two items of visible evidence can be indications of stress corrosion fatigue.
The final evidence, the tensile break, is nonbrittle in nature and probably happened rapidly, as
indicated by the rough texture of the area surrounding it. This break more than likely
occurred after the diameter of the rod had been reduced to the point at which it could no
longer sustain the tensile load.

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INSPECTION TOOLS AND THEIR USES


The following tools can be used to gather and record data during visual inspections.

Fiber Optics
Pit Gauges
Cameras
Mirrors
Magnets

These simple inspection tools can enhance the effectiveness of visual inspections by helping
an inspector locate, inspect, and accurately record observations. Their uses, limitations, and
advantages will be addressed in this segment.

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Fiber Optics
Description/Operation. Fiber optics in a broad sense refers to endoscopes such as
borescopes and fiberscopes. Endoscopes are optical instruments used for visual inspection of
internal surfaces in tubes, holes, or other hard-to-reach places (Figure 6). Rigid endoscopes
are called borescopes. Flexible endoscopes are called fiberscopes.

FIGURE 6. An endoscope can be used for the visual inspection of hard-to-reach locations

Borescope

A borescope is similar to a telescope, a long tubular instrument with optical lenses. While a
telescope narrows the field of view for observation at a distance, a borescope spreads the field
of view for close-up work. A borescope also has relay lenses along its length to preserve
precise resolution. Magnification is usually 3 to 4.

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Borescopes are available as one-piece units or as modular units for easier storage and
handling. Self-illumination is provided either by lamps integral to the viewhead or fiber
optics (Figure 7). Using mirrors and prisms, the viewhead can provide right angle, bottom,
circumference, forward oblique, or retrospective views.

FIGURE 7. Borescope with Lenses and Optical Fiber Light Guide

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Fiberscope
Unlike a borescope, a fiberscope can be inserted into curved pipes and cavities. Fiber optics
transmit light inside the fiberscope.
A fiberscope holds two optical bundles with as many as 120,000 individual strands of glass
fiber. The optical bundles carry light down to the inspection area and carry the image back to
the eyepiece (Figure 8). These bundles, protected by a housing of sealed stainless-steel
flexible conduit, allow the fiberscope to bend for passage around corners or sharp elbows
while sending back a clear image.
The tip of a fiberscope is easily steerable to give up to 240 scanning range and sensitive
movement control.

FIGURE 8. Image Transfer Through a Flexible Bundle of Fibers


Application. Borescopes and fiberscopes have a wide range of applications.

Internal visual inspection of pipes, boilers, cylinders, motors, reactors, heat exchangers,
turbines, compressors, and other equipment with narrow, inaccessible cavities or
channels

Checking process piping internals for blockage prior to start-up. For instance, early
detection of blockages is extremely critical for piping going to release stacks that vent in
emergencies.

Inspection of pressure relief and other valves for damage or blockage that can cause
valve failures

Examination of internal parts of gear boxes to spot bent shafts, floating gears, broken
keys, and teeth

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Advantages and Limitations. Many jobs place special demands upon the endoscopic
equipment. Selecting the proper equipment to meet the inspection requirements is very
important. The following lists some of the endoscopic equipment and their capabilities.

Explosion-proof and watertight. Some equipment can handle up to 3 bars. They can be
used directly in liquid-filled containers and piping systems without the risk of causing an
explosion, short-circuit, or excessive handling.

Ultraviolet illumination. For surfaces treated with fluorescent material, equipment with
ultraviolet (UV) illumination sources and quartz glass conductors provides greater
sensitivity for inspection of cracks and porosity than with white light.

Cleaning/retrieving. To clean inspected areas, some models have additional channels


for the flow of air or liquid. Other models have pincers for the retrieval of lost objects.

Optical measuring. For accurate length measurements through the viewhead, equipment
with optical measuring gratings are available.

Adjustable viewing angle. Some models have a movable prism located at the tip of the
optical path so that the viewing angle can be varied during inspection.

Locking position. Fiberscopes can normally be maneuvered into any position by means
of a handle and then locked in place.

Camera/video. For permanent recordings, models are available with cameras or video
recorders. The video recordings reduce eye fatigue and permit group viewing during
and after inspection.

A borescope offers the best choice for high resolution and rapid examination. However, it is
limited to straight-line viewing. Because it is a rigid instrument, the borescope cannot be used
in curved sections of piping and complex-shaped equipment.
Although a fiberscope can access hard-to-reach locations, it has less resolution than a
borescope.
Before a borescope or fiberscope can be used, the equipment or piping to be inspected must
be out of service.

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Both borescopes and fiberscopes are sensitive to external factors. The following precautions
should be taken to prevent tool damage:

Use a soft cloth to clean lenses and the viewhead.

Never bend a fiber optics cable too sharply.

Protect the tool from shocks by storing it in a safe place and handling it with care when
in use.

Never twist a fiber optics cable more than 360.


Never dip the tool in a liquid for which it was not designed.
Never operate the tool at temperatures beyond its design limits.
Avoid excessive heat build-up when using the built-in lamps.

Pit Gauges
Description/Operation. Pit gauges are instruments used to measure the depth of pitting by
placing a calibrated rod in the pit.
Application. Pit gauges are used to access the severity of localized corrosion pitting. They
can be used to measure the depth and width of a depression or cavity in a pitted metal surface.
The distribution of the attack and an indication of the rate of corrosion can be determined by
using these tools.
Advantages and Limitations. Pit gauges are relatively simple to use and the data gathered by
using them is easily interpreted.
These tools can be used to measure the depth of pitting on any accessible surface.

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Cameras
Description/Operation. In general, downhole cameras and video logging devices can
provide high resolution photographic or video images of the wellbore. Some camera systems
have a joystick that the operator can use to scan an area and focus directly on a particular
section inside a well.
The Visual Inspection System, produced by H. Rosen Engineering GmbH, is an example of a
video logging device. It provides high resolution color video records from empty or waterfilled pipelines. The following description/operation information applies to this device.

Composed of two segments, allowing it to negotiate 3-D bends


Self-propelled by three electromotors, fed from an accumulator
Is available for all sizes 10 inches and larger
Records while running forward and backward
Travels up to 10 km horizontally and climbs more than 200 meters vertically
Records up to four hours
Relevant location data is displayed on screen and can be updated after the run
Can be programmed to perform customized inspection. For example, it can travel into a
pipeline for a specified distance, record for a certain length of time, and then return.

Closed circuit television can also be used to monitor well activity. This type of visual
equipment is capable of surveying to a depth of one thousand feet or more in areas as small as
eight inches in diameter.
Application. Cameras can supply observations when ordinary close-up inspections and
measurements are not possible. Through the eye of the camera, the distant and inaccessible
internal surfaces of well casings and production tubing can be observed and evaluated closeup. Damage can be observed and the condition of the wellbore can be checked in this
manner.
Cameras and video systems can also be used to provide pictorial evidence of documented
problems. Along with an inspections observation notes, photographs or video images can be
used to evaluate internal corrosion, check internal coating, check valves and welds, and more.

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Advantages and Limitations. An advantage of downhole cameras is their pictorial record of


the location and extent of both internal and external corrosion damage.
State-of-the-art video logging devices provide high-resolution color images. Furthermore, by
attaching a listening apparatus, an inspector can not only see but also listen to well activity
thousands of feet underground.
A main advantage of closed circuit TV is that it permits the inspector to monitor conditions
in distant or inaccessible locations.
Perhaps the most obvious limitation of these inspection tools is the cost. Although some
cameras are relatively inexpensive, a closed circuit TV system can be a major investment.
In addition to cost, the proper use and operation of certain tools such as a video logging
system can require extensive training.
Mirrors
Description/Operation. To handle a variety of circumstances, mirrors of varying sizes should
be available, from a small dentist-style mirror for small openings to much larger mirrors for
larger exterior surfaces.
Miniature light sources can be attached to mirrors in order to illuminate dark areas.
Application. Mirrors can be used to observe inaccessible areas such as the external surfaces
of pipelines that are near the ground or a wall. They can also be used to inspect the underside
of a pipe that is difficult to see.
In addition, mirrors can be used to look around corners or through small openings.
Advantages and Limitations. The advantages of mirrors include the fact that they are simple
to operate and easy to use. They are also inexpensive.
Their greatest limitation is the fact that, although mirrors are an effective tool for close-up
observation, their usefulness is limited to short-range viewing.

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Magnets
Application. Magnets can assist in identifying the individual material composition of a piece
of equipment by checking the magnetic properties. Since only a few metals are easily
identified by visual observation alone, a magnet can be used to distinguish, for example,
between magnetic types of steel and nonmagnetic stainless steel and other alloys.
Advantages and Limitations. Magnets provide a simple, easy, and inexpensive means of
identifying certain types of metal. This simplicity is also a limitation since the use of magnets
as an inspection tool is limited to this single application.

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ADVANTAGES AND LIMITATIONS OF VISUAL INSPECTION


Table 3 points out the advantages and limitations of some of the visual inspection techniques
mentioned in this module.
TABLE 3. Characteristics of Corrosion Monitoring Techniques
Technique

Time for
Individual
Measurements

Type of
Information

Speed of
Relation-ship
Possible
Response to
to
Environment
Change
Plant

Type of
Corrosion

Ease of
Interpretation

Visual,
Slow,
with aid of requires
gauges
entry on
shutdown

Distribution Poor
of attack

Accessible Any
surfaces

General or Easy
localized

Optical
aids
(closed
circuit TV,
light bulbs,
etc.)

Distribution Poor
of attack

Localized

Localized Easy

Fast when
access
available,
otherwise
slow

Any

Technological
Culture
Needed

Relatively
simple, but
experience
needed
Relatively
simple

Advantages
As Table 3 indicates, visual inspections provide a simple and easy method of determining the
location and severity of corrosion-related damage. Often the only tools needed to perform
this inspection technique are the trained eyes of the inspector.
The relative simplicity of auxiliary items and tools contribute to a second advantage of visual
inspections economics. Minimal training and low costs for most equipment make visual
inspections an inexpensive and cost-effective method of monitoring corrosion.
Another advantage of visual inspection is its flexibility. It can be performed on external
surfaces while the equipment or system is on-stream, as well as during planned downtimes or
work stoppages. In addition to scheduled intervals, visual inspections can take place any time
a line is open, a pump is down, or a tank is cleaned.
Limitations
Distance is a limitation for visual inspections. The human eye can only distinguish finer
details when the distance to the object is less than one meter, so visual inspection is usually
confined to objects that can be observed at close range.
Furthermore, a visual examination is often neither accurate nor sensitive enough to analyze
many corrosion-related problems. For example, the presence or severity of stress cracking
cannot always be seen during a visual inspection of damaged equipment.
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GLOSSARY
borescope

A rigid type of endoscope; an instrument used for the visual


inspection of hard-to-reach locations

closed circuit TV

Television in which the signal is transmitted by wire

downhole camera

A camera that is designed for use inside well casing and


production tubing

endoscopes

Optical instruments, such as a borescope or fiberscope, that are


used for visual inspection of internal surfaces of hard-to-reach
places

fiber optics

A term applied generally to all types of endoscopes and


specifically to fiberscopes

fiberscope

A flexible type of endoscope; an instrument used for the visual


inspection of hard-to-reach locations

fluorescent

Bright and glowing as a result of emission of electromagnetic


radiation; usually as visible light resulting from and occurring
only during the absorption of radiation from some other source

joystick

A device that is used to operate remotely an electronic viewing


instrument such as a television camera

localized corrosion

Corrosion that is confined or limited to a certain area

micrometer

An instrument used for measuring small distances

pit gauges

Instruments that are used to measure the depth and width of a


depression or cavity in a pitted metal surface

prism

A transparent body bounded in part by two nonparallel plane


faces that is used to disperse a beam of light

telescope

A tubular magnifying optical instrument; an optical instrument


used for viewing distant objects by means of the refraction of
light through a lens or reflection of light rays by a concave
mirror

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tensile break

A crack or fracture caused by a tension overload

vernier

A short scale made to slide along the divisions of a graduated


instrument for indicating parts of divisions

video logging device

A video device used to check wellbore conditions

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