Europe Report: Baltic Pipe Project

Energy pipelines are becoming more diverse, and so are the machines relied on by humans to help lift and handle large-diameter tubulars fabricated for the construction of new pipelines and natural gas transmission and distribution networks.

The build-out of major pipeline systems such as the Baltic Pipe project in Europe demand multipronged periods of collaboration—reflecting the great level of care and attention to detail required to keep thousands of 12 m (approximately 40 ft) random joints safe, secure, and damage-free during the transportation, storage, staging and installation processes.

Operators considering a turn away from hooks, slings, and cables—or the use of mechanical aids that may result in metal-on-metal contact and could harm the integrity of coated steel pipe—are commonly on the lookout for safer, faster, and more contemporary solutions. When properly attuned and supported, vacuum lifting units have stood out as formidable manual-labor saving attachments in terms of versatility and stamina in the global oil and gas pipe-handling fields.

Bi-directional, the purpose-built Baltic Pipe project allows for the flow of Norwegian Shelf natural gas to Denmark and Poland. Developed by Denmark’s Energinet and Poland’s Gaz-System, it represents a new step toward greater energy security for Poland: seeking greater energy independence and the capability to satisfy growing consumption and diverse energy demands.

The Baltic Pipe project is multi-segmented and includes the approximately 110-km (68 mi), 800-mm (approximately 31-in) OD North Sea offshore pipeline—connecting Norway’s gas system with Danish interests and landing on the west coast of Denmark near Blåbjerg—as well as the key 900-mm (approximately 35-in) OD Baltic Sea offshore pipeline, estimated at 275 km (170 mi) in length, providing bi-directional natural gas shipping capabilities between Denmark and Poland.

The project is considered a major piece of gas infrastructure for Central and Eastern Europe, creating a new supply corridor in the European energy arena. The two-way gas flow is a boom for shippers, according to Energinet, as it allots for gas to flow bi-directionally and unswervingly from Poland to the Danish and Swedish markets, enhancing the potential for market flexibility.

Vacuum lifting technology has been used for many years by pipe handlers worldwide including all over Europe, Australia, North America, and other parts of the globe. Comprising a vacuum pump and right-sized vacuum pad and assembly, among other components, Vacuworx pipe handling systems are controlled via wireless remote operation and commonly tasked to work in conjunction with large-capacity excavators in the field. They can perform tasks ranging from loading to offloading trucks, barges, railcars to stacking pipe in laydown yards, and more, such as helping fit up pipe to be welded or stringing joints alongside the ROW.

RC Series lifters developed by Vacuworx have lifting capacities ranging from 10 t (20,000 lb) to 25 t (50,000 lb) or more, demonstrating the ability to handle pipe approximately 102 mm (4 in) in diameter and up with no maximum size limit. A hydraulic rotator provides for 360° movement of the lifting apparatus, enabling fast and precise placement of pipe. This generally makes things easier for operators to perform lifting and handling tasks from an improved position, enhancing views of the lift zone while keeping a safe distance—less proximity to the material being lifted.

MAX STREICHER GmbH & Co. and its counterparts value the use of high-quality construction materials, and the joint and constant optimization of best practices to create efficient workflows, including providing all information and resources needed in a timely manner. The company’s role, as it related to their portion of the Baltic Pipe build out, was to take responsibility for welding, lowering, and connecting, as well as bending pipe to align with the ROW’s topography—to follow the onshore pipeline’s unique route and ground contours.

Mechanical damage is a common cause of pipeline failures, both onshore and offshore, and of leading concern for stakeholders involved with heavy duty material-handling scenarios and in all energy related pipeline construction situations. Though potentially insignificant from structural point-of-view, dents in pipelines can result in operational difficulties and damage must be examined closely to ensure no internal obstruction or reduction in flow rates.

A dent should never be underestimated as it causes a local stress and strain concentration and a local reduction in the pipe diameter, reducing the static and cyclic strength of a pipe. The burst and fatigue strength of a dented weld, or of a dent containing a defect such as a gouge, as examples, can be significantly lower than that of an equivalent plain dent.

Dent depth is highly significant in terms of how may affect the burst strength and the fatigue strength of a plain dent. Plain dents are defined in part by the absence of stress concentrators. A smooth dent containing a gouge (or other part-wall metal loss defect) is a very severe form of mechanical damage.

In the US, studies of mechanical damage led to the development of guidance for inclusion in the ASME B31.8 code and ASME B31.8-2018, covering the significance of avoiding damage or dents for gas transmission pipelines. Dents can also be costly due to the inspections required to determine if they fall within acceptable tolerance limits, and because the pipe may have to be put up for repair as certain types of damage can have a detrimental impact on a pipeline’s performance.

Handling maneuvers related to specialized tasks such as pipe bending may require even more unique attention. The activity is generally accomplished using a pipe bending machine, with features that govern the amount of the bend in the pipe section in such a way that it avoids causing damage to the pipe or delicate bonded coatings.

For the Baltic Pipe job, MAX STREICHER GmbH & Co. acquired an RC Series lifter and 1016-mm (approximately 40-in) pad assembly directly from equipment dealer and Vacuworx distributor Maats Pipeline, based in the Netherlands. The lifter, coupled with a high-capacity CAT 352 hydraulic excavator, was deployed on the Baltic Pipe project in Denmark for several months.

“The lifting device from Vacuworx was used on the bending machine,” said Jens Mogwitz, Mechanical Engineering, MAX STREICHER GmbH & Co. “The pipes used here were 32 in, 36 in, 40 in (approximately 812 mm, 914 mm, 1016 mm). They were 12 m (approximately 40 ft) in length, with thicknesses between 19 mm and 30 mm (approximately 0.75 in and 1.18 in), and weights of up to 12 t (24,000 lb). We used the lifting device to unstack the pipes and took them to the pipelayer. This is just one way to use this lifting device. Maats plays a major role in our department maintenance and mechanical engineering: a good address for spare parts, rental machines, and pipeline equipment.”

Vacuum lifters are respected on the European front for their durability and time-saving capabilities. The diversity of such machines is demonstrated in part by their ability to couple with different host carriers like excavators, skid steers and loaders—with custom vacuum pad assemblies available for adaptation of the machines during an array of different pipe lifting and maneuvering scenarios.

RC Series lifters are powered by powerful and self-contained diesel engines while “H” model units operate via the hydraulics of carrier equipment. The manufacturer’s propriety vacuum pad seal material is engineered to cause zero damage to pipe coatings. All Vacuworx units are designed, engineered, and tested to meet or exceed many global engineering and safety standards, including the European CE Machinery Directive, CE Low Voltage Directive and CE Electromagnetic Interference Directive, and EN13155 standards that apply to vacuum lifters, among others.

“We operate worldwide and have already implemented many projects in our neighboring countries as well as in Africa and Australia,” Mogwitz said. “As well the order here in Denmark, the Baltic Pipe, which we did in cooperation with the companies Aarsleff and the company Bunte. In Tunisia (Navara Pipeline), as another example, we used (an RC Series lifter) to unload the pipes from the truck and (string) lay them out. The device is really safe, and easy to use, and also saves two workers.”

This article first appeared in an issue of World Pipelines


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