By combination of elements like hydraulic tubes, electrical and optical signal cables and electrical power cables, umbilicals provide remote control of subsea oil and gas wells. For extra tensile strength and outer protection the umbilicals may be armoured by galvanized steel wires. Dynamic umbilicals are terminated at offshore platforms or vessels. They are exposed to tension and bending variations caused by waves and vessel motions. As such a project specific analysis is normally required to verify that a given dynamic umbilical design with all its elements is able to withstand a service life of typically 20–30 years [5].

Understanding how forces are transmitted between the elements in an umbilical is vital for correct calculation of a dynamic umbilical design life. Cross section analysis is therefore performed by a finite element method program specially designed for this purpose. This software takes into account all effects in an umbilical cross section, including friction between elements. For solid elements, commonly known friction factors may be applied. However, for the steel wire armour which is corrosion protected by bitumen, the friction factors may not be valid. The force transmission between the steel wires may not be governed by friction but by the viscoelastic properties of bitumen. In such a case the transition force is not only a function of contact pressure but also of sliding velocity and dimensions.

A project was therefore initiated with the aim of describing such force transmission between bitumen and steel wires for typical umbilical conditions. Material testing has included characterization by a controlled stress rheometer and cyclic tensile testing at various temperatures, speeds and geometries. On basis of these tests, a calculation model describing the mechanical behavior of bitumen in cyclic movement is suggested. This model may later be implemented in the umbilical cross section analysis program.

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