An engineering critical assessment (ECA) is commonly conducted during the design of an offshore pipeline in order to determine the tolerable size of flaws in the girth welds. API 579-1/ASME FFS-1 2016 and BS 7910:2013+A1:2015 Incorporating Corrigenda Nos. 1 and 2 give guidance on conducting fitness-for-service assessments of cracks and crack-like flaws. The essential data required for an assessment (nature, position and orientation of flaw; structural and weld geometry; stresses; yield and tensile strength; fracture toughness; etc.) is subject to uncertainty. That uncertainty is addressed through the use of bounding values. The use of extreme bounding values might be overly-conservative. A sensitivity analysis is one way of investigating the sensitivity of the results of an assessment to the input data. A structural reliability-based assessment (a probabilistic assessment) is an alternative. A probabilistic assessment is significantly more complicated than a deterministic assessment.

API 579-1/ASME FFS-1 and BS 7910:2013 note that a sensitivity analysis, partial safety factors or a probabilistic analysis can be used to evaluate uncertainties in the input parameters. Annex K of BS 7910:2013 gives partial safety factors for different combinations of target reliability and variability of input data. ISO 16708:2006 gives guidance on the use of structural reliability-based limit-state methods in the design and operation of pipelines.

The structural reliability-based assessment of circumferentially-orientated, surface crack-like flaw in a girth weld in a pipeline is used to illustrate the significance of the distributions of the difference between the wall thickness and the ovality (out-of-roundness) of two pipes when calculating the bounding value of the stress concentration factor due to axial misalignment. The (assumed) distributions of diameter, wall thickness, out-of-roundness, yield strength, etc. are based on Annex B of ISO 16708:2006. The (nominal) probability of failure is calculated. It is then used to inform the choice of an appropriate bounding value (i.e. a characteristic value) for axial misalignment.

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