Visit our website:
Call: (936) 321-3333

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

The Great Trans-Alaska Pipeline - a Case Study from Raychem's Perspective

“I don't think it's a secret to anyone that the trans-Alaska pipeline, the terminal at Valdez, is a critical asset not only to the state but the country. It's stating the obvious - that this pipeline plays a critical role in this nation's economy.” - Eric Gonzales

420 miles of the 800 mile Trans Alaska Pipeline are above ground.

     (The following is one tiny slice of the history of the Trans-Alaska pipeline told by a man who was there.)

     The year was 1974 and Alyeska had an incredibly large problem on their hands.  Their pipeline had been delayed for years as politicians argued about environmental impact studies, labor disputes and land ownership questions (and probably argued about what was in it for their constituents).  At that time, Fusion Bonded Epoxy (FBE) was a somewhat 'new on the scene' pipe coating and manufacturers and applicators were both learning their way through some kinks. In any case, the FBE coated pipe that had been patiently waiting in pipe yards scattered around Alaska had, unfortunately, not been coated with an FBE designed to withstand several years of UV exposure.  Imagine that for a second; 380 miles of 48" OD pipe sitting in a pipe yard...and the factory applied coating is experiencing massive failures due to UV degradation.  I have to believe this resulted in many sleepless night for those responsible for the integrity of that pipeline.

The Dalton Highway which runs (at times) parallel to the pipeline.
       Now let's look at this same problem from another perspective; that of the somewhat fledgling technology company; Raychem Corp.  The year was 1974 and Raychem had an incredibly large opportunity on their hands.  Scattered across Alaska were 380 miles of 48" OD pipe, coated with failing FBE.If Raychem could engineer a solution for this incredibly difficult problem, Raychem would cement their place at the top of the heat shrinkable pipeline coatings world and leave their mark on one of the greatest pipeline projects of all time.

A beautiful partnership is born in 1974.
     So, the problem as it stood was re-coating 380 miles of 48" pipe; in the field; faced with sub-zero temperatures; installed on top of a failing coating; using a product backing that did not yet exist; using an adhesive that did not yet exist; installed with equipment that did not yet exist and having this all completed within a time frame that did not dramatically compromise the timing of the project.  Raychem's response:  "No problem."

     Raychem had already been established as a leader in heat shrinkable technology and specialty adhesives.  They didn't have the perfect products already created, but they did have a solid base of proven technologies to work from.  It was determined early in the process that the timeline for this project needed to be 6 months or less (keep in mind, that was 6 months to production so it would have to include training the different pipeline crews and qualifying the product).

     It was also decided early in the process that the best solution was going to be a heat shrinkable, spirally wrapped tape product.  Raychem had never manufactured a tape product before!  So the team (led by one of the great corporate leaders of all time, Paul Cook) got to work conquering this mountain.  The product which was eventually used was called Arcticlad (and was similar to another product called Rayclad that continues to be used today!).  

     As one team was working on developing and perfecting the Arcticlad, another team was busy engineering the machines that would clean the pipe; preheat the pipe; wrap the Arcticlad and then shrink the Arcticlad.  Quite a tall order.  Starting at the beginning, machinery was built that encapsulated the pipe and had numerous wire brushes working to knock any lose or disbonded FBE from the pipe.

The machine at the far right of the picture is the specially designed pipe cleaner.
     The next step in the process was the preheating station.  In order for the Arcticlad to properly bond to both the bare steel (where the FBE had disbonded) and to the still bonded FBE, the bond line temperature needed to be ~225 Fahrenheit.  Quite a challenge to raise the temperature of a 48" pipe from below zero; up to 225 in a reasonable amount of time.  Custom heaters (sometimes as many as 8 or 10 used at a time) were designed for just this purpose.

The four silver objects between the two side booms are the heaters.
     Finally, the Arcticlad would be spiral wrapped using a specially engineered tape wrapping machine.  The heat of the pipe (from the machines above) was sufficient to to create adhesive flow and put the Arcticlad backing into a state of crystalline melt; which resulted in the adhesive filling, flowing and forming a homogenous layer which acted as a sealant and offered some physical protection for the pipe.  
A close up of the wrapping machine, and the Arcticlad pay off.
A picture of the finished product.  Well done, Raychem!
     In the end, the project was successfully completed.  The six month time frame was kept.  Alyeska was able to salvage and still use their pipe in spite of the damaged coating; and Raychem was able expand their business into the oil and gas pipeline market with what turned out to be a $23 million dollar project (which would be more than $100 million in 2013 dollars!).  Thirty eight years later this pipeline is STILL in service!  

     As an added bonus, the new technologies Raychem had created to solve this problem were able to be transitioned into entirely new (and leading) product lines.  Modern products (currently under the Covalence Seal for Life heading) including ambient temperature wrap around shrink sleeves; factory applied line coatings; closures; road bore sleeves; high temp wrap around sleeves and others can all trace their ancestry right back to the mid 1970's.  

     One man's problem is another man's opportunity.  Isn't that a beautiful thing?

1 comment:

  1. We did a little bit of repair /maintenance on the flex lip dies in bldg A tool control. It's a good feeling to know we were a part of Raychem history in it's biggest project. Bill Holstein