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Understanding pipe laying operation in differing environmental conditions

15th April 2013

There are many factors that must be taken into account when designing a pipelayer to operate in vastly different conditions

Understanding pipe laying operation in differing environmental conditions
The pipelayer must be designed for optimal machine balance and the best possible component life in desert, wet, and extreme cold terrains

In the onshore pipeline construction process, there are many different types of climates and terrains that will be encountered. Environments that include desert, extreme cold, high ambient, mountainous, and significantly wet regions are encountered on a consistent basis. To ensure operator safety, superior performance, and achieve optimum productivity these need to be considered when designing the pipe laying equipment.


The pipelayer must be designed for optimal machine balance and the best possible component life in desert, wet, and extreme cold terrains.  Where flotation is important, the pipelayer will require long track roller frames and a wide track gauge to enhance track contact area with the ground and thus provide a stable working base.


A wide track and clipped shoes are preferred in these applications as they will lower the ground pressure and give the machine an increased amount of manoeuvrability. Consistent track tension is preferred in these applications to keep the machine from bogging down. To maintain a consistent track tension, the recoil system of the track roller frames should be sealed and lubricated.


The stability of a pipelayer is most critical in slope applications and mountainous areas. There are many factors that impact machine stability, such as boom length, load, load overhang, load swing, ground conditions, operator experience, track tension, etc.


For example, pipelayers should be equipped with booms that meet American, Australian, Canadian, European Union (CE Certification 2006/42/CE) as well as Russian crane standards for the pipeline industry. Meeting these requirements, these booms will be precisely engineered for use in various applications and are validated at maximum lift throughout the boom’s working range.


An integral part of the lifting assembly on pipelayers are the blocks and hooks. These blocks and hooks should be heavy duty lifting components with high performance cable. With these qualities, these components will have improved life, crush resistance, flexibility, and strength. For ease of usage and a maximum life, the boom and hook drawworks should be driven by independent hydraulic winches that have variable speed controls which allow for their precise control.


To improve the balance on a pipelayer, the counterweight should hydraulically extend.  A properly designed counterweight will provide clearance and will be contoured to provide a low centre of gravity also enhancing visibility. A drawbar should be standard for a pipelayer in extreme conditions and should be coupled with a front hook and/or rear winch where required.


Cold weather applications present a challenge in the operation of any machines as well as pipelayers. When operating in extreme cold applications, the pipelayer should be outfitted with a cold weather arrangement.  A cold weather arrangement would typically consist of  heavy duty batteries; cold weather oils and seals in the track roller frames and idlers; cold weather final drive seals; cold weather machine fluids; engine coolant heaters; and solid engine doors.  To maximise the productivity of an operator in these conditions, an enclosed cab with a heater will help to ensure operator comfort.


In any machine design, the safety of the operator and those around the machine should be at the forefront.  On a pipelayer, the standard safety features should consist of roll over-protective structures (ROPS) that are integrated and certified, machine controls that allow the operator to quickly lower the load, seat belt and back-up alarm, mounting/dismounting steps and hand holds for access and egress and finally operation and maintenance manuals (OMM) along with safety decals and messages.


To further enhance safety, a pipelayer should be equipped with a load monitoring system. This type of safety system eliminates operator guesswork and provides operators with the precise load management information they need to get the job done safely and efficiently.  It also provides instant, accurate load data preventing tip-overs, roll-overs, and equipment damage due to overloading and extreme steep slope operations.  Further enhancement of safety is the anti-2-block protection. This feature includes a simple, wireless anti-2-block switch, which swivels freely to travel in the direction of the wire rope and a chain and trigger-weight.


Since operators typically concentrate on the load on the hook, not the proximity of the hanging blocks, the anti-2-block function provides an audible and visual alarm just before the two hanging blocks come together, eliminating equipment damage and increasing safety for ground personnel.


As pipeline work presents safety hazards similar to any other jobsite, the risk of injury is increased with the addition of heavy equipment, suspended loads, terrain and jobsite conditions, inexperienced or untrained workers and pressure to essentially get the job done.


Prior to operating equipment on the jobsite, operators must read and understand the OMMs of all equipment they operate on the jobsite. Before stepping into a machine, operations should understand the operating controls, proper operation procedures and have assessed the operating conditions. They must understand equipment operation on a slope and how it differs from operation on flat ground. They must also be aware of their surroundings and recognise any adjustments that must be made due to changing conditions.


Operators should follow the OMM guidelines and conduct frequent walk around inspections. These inspections only take a few minutes and are one of the best ways to detect and prevent mechanical problems and safety hazards. Any necessary repairs should be made immediately.


Operators must understand the importance of completing the walk-arounds, and supervisors and foremen must allow time for a thorough evaluation. They should take note of the equipment, terrain, workers and other obstacles in  the job site area and  ensure backup alarm is functioning at all times.


When working on the ground around equipment, an operator should be aware of their visibility and maintain eye contact with others that may approach the equipment during operation.


A pipelayer operator must understand and follow safe practices for material handling.  When handling pipe or other heavy loads, proper load handling ensures the safety of everyone on the jobsite. The operator should keep the manufacturer’s load recommendations readily available and never load equipment beyond its capacity.


Inspecting the integrity of hoisting equipment, chains, cables, hooks and slings before every use, ensuring they are properly sized and free from excessive wear is very important. Others around the pipelayer should practice caution by staying clear of suspended loads. The use of taglines to guide and manoeuvre the load from a distance while maintaining eye contact with the operator is also very important and an operator must warn others to never walk under a load. An operator should also take the time to warn others when there are hazards present.


When it comes to jobsite safety, no amount of equipment technology or advanced machine design can replace caution and good safety practices. The primary contributors to safe jobsites are awareness, proper training, and attention to detail on the part of business owners and their employees. Safety must be a priority and an on-going point of attention regardless of the environment.


This article was written by Brad Olson, general manager, Caterpillar Global Pipeline division.