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Automated FJC technology

World Pipelines,

Shawn Doyle and Jarrod Shugg, Shawcor Company Canusa-CPS, Canada, discuss the first intelligent technology developed to control the installation of heat shrinkable sleeves and outline the associated benefits.

Heat shrinkable sleeve technologies are the dominant field joint coating (FJC) selection in providing anti-corrosion and mechanical protection for oil and gas pipelines globally.

From their early beginnings as 2-layer polyethylene-backed, asphalt-coated, fit-for-purpose systems, today’s heat shrinkable sleeves offer few similarities. Through the focused development of newer, high performance hot-melt adhesives and engineered co-polymer outer layer backings, field-applied heat shrinkable sleeve technologies have broken down the boundaries of old to offer equivalent and, in some cases, enhanced coating protection compared to their factory-applied mainline coating counterparts.

This comes as good news, since pipelines today are being constructed in more remote areas, in harsher operating environments, at greater depths and with higher fluid temperatures, all under increased regulatory and public scrutiny. Today’s pipelines require seamless coating solutions along their entire length, with no compromise at the field joints. Factory grade heat shrinkable sleeve technologies are available for immediate use, and are up to the challenge.

As coating materials have improved, focus has more recently shifted to exert enhanced control over the coating process. In order to mitigate the potential risks involved in manually executed processes, further work has gone into the development of higher-level application solutions via smart automation.

Bringing automation to the field

IntelliCOATTM was first introduced into the FJC market in early 2011, as the world’s first fully automated system to control the application of heat-shrinkable sleeves.

The field-friendly system provides a step-change enhancement in the quality, consistency and productivity of field-applied coatings by means of automation. Coupled with available 3-layer polyolefin heat shrinkable sleeve technologies offering the same level of protection as their factory coating counterparts, the system enables the application of a ‘factory-grade’ joint coating solution in a simple-to-operate format that is easily adaptable for an onshore pipeline right-of-way, spoolbase coating line or offshore construction pipelay vessel.

Application process

Once the heating coil is lowered onto a pre-positioned heat shrinkable sleeve, best-practice application techniques are automated to fully-conform the sleeve to the joint surface while eliminating air entrapment and activating the adhesive onto the joint surface and factory coating overlaps.

The closed-loop control system provides precise control of heat, intensity and time at each stage in the application process to vary energy delivery both across the width and around the circumference of the coil, thus, ensuring a consistent and high-quality application, each and every cycle.

Because the system applies heat to the full surface area of the field joint during coating installation, application times are typically faster compared to manual methods and are independent of pipe diameter.

Key benefits

By design, IntelliCOAT automates best practice installation techniques to produce high quality FJC applications that are fully repeatable from joint to joint. Installation programmes are developed in advance of project deployment to meet specific project needs and can be qualified through comprehensive test programmes well in advance of pipeline construction activities. All installation parameters are tightly controlled and replicated throughout the duration of the project, just as they were during the qualification phase.

As a further enhancement to quality, Shawcor’s technology can be set to retain a permanent digital record of installation data for every field joint, providing full digital traceability of the coating process.

The application process is precisely controlled by a PLC-based control system with closed-loop feedback. Once the application programme is qualified, operators simply lower the IntelliCOAT coil onto the pre-positioned sleeve, and the system takes care of the rest. That ensures that the same top quality result achieved during the first application of the day is the same as the result achieved at the end of the day. Every FJC installation on the pipeline will be performed in the same manner and will achieve the same result, thus minimising risks and uncertainty for the pipeline construction contractor and owner/operator.

By using the system, a contractor can precisely forecast the daily FJC productivity without reliance on operators to conduct any labour-intensive work steps.

Daily coating productivity can be maximised by balancing the cycle times for each of the coating application steps in line with the surface preparation and IntelliCOAT cycles. Rates of up to 15 - 20 joints per hour (per system) can be achieved for both onshore and offshore projects.

The system delivers enhanced operator safety through its enclosed heating design and rapid heat up and cool down times.

IntelliCOAT is designed to have few moving parts and few consumable/wear items to maintain or replace over the course of a project. The system is suitably equipped for operation in the harshest of environments with ambient temperatures ranging from below -30°C to 55°C and can withstand the rugged handling associated with onshore and offshore pipeline construction.

Proven performance in extreme environments

Successful use of IntelliCOAT on onshore construction projects has largely been determined by the contractor’s ability to balance the crew set-up, surface preparation and coating activities, and the equipment handling/transport process between successive field joints to achieve productivity goals. Quality has been guaranteed as a result of proper selection of FJC materials and correct use of the system, and applications have been consistent, joint-to-joint.

On a recently completed project in Western Canada, the pipeline construction contractor was able to exceed productivity requirements using IntelliCOAT to apply Canusa-CPS GTS-80 type 3-layer polyethylene-based heat shrinkable sleeves onto 36 in. OD pipe in a winter climate. With an application cycle set at just over 2 mins and the rest of the coating operations balanced to suit, the contractor was able to consistently achieve productivity rates of 15 - 20 coated field joints per hour (including transport between joints), with all installations executed to the same high standard of quality.

Consistency in the coating rates and output quality allowed the contractor to effectively forecast and plan production activities and to minimise operational costs for FJC.

In preparation for the offshore South Stream project spanning the shores of the Black Sea, the system was used to install Canusa-CPS’s (6 mm thick) GTS-PP type 3-layer polypropylene-based system onto 32 in. OD pipe in a production line set-up. In this configuration, IntelliCOAT was able to deliver a new automated coating solution to the market that was previously only possible with expensive and more complicated injection molding equipment.

Final word

As oil and gas exploration has pushed into more remote locations and deeper waters, additional demands have been placed on the industry to deliver technology-based solutions to address the complexities of today’s pipeline construction projects. In the world of pipeline coatings, much work has gone into delivering enhanced anti-corrosion and mechanical performance in the face of extreme environmental conditions and increasing fluid temperatures.FJCs have evolved to meet these same technical challenges, and field friendly options now readily exist to provide the same level of coating protection as compared to their factory-applied mainline coating counterparts. When coupled with automated technologies, the benefits to quality, data management, consistency, productivity and safety are distinct and real.

This is an abridged version of an article that appeared in the May 2016 issue of World Pipelines.

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