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In Northern Germany Volvo Construction Equipment’s new concept in pipelaying machinery is helping to build one of Europe’s major gas pipelines.
 
Surrounded by sand, ten Volvo PL4611 pipelayers stand alongside one another to carefully lower-in a section of the Bunde-Etzel gas pipeline into the freshly excavated trench. As the 12 tonne, 1200mm diameter pipe is lowered, a short, sharp, whistle blow carries above the engine noise and the machines’ booms halt. The whistle belongs to a spread manager standing at the side of the trench, orchestrating the lowering. At his signal the machines move, one by one, along the pipe to lower the next section.

The Bunde-Etzel pipeline in Northern Germany will be 60km long and operable in both directions, between the cavern storage at Etzel and the gas pipeline hub at Bunde – situated on the German- Dutch border. IVG Caverns GmbH, which operates caverns for both crude oil and gas in Etzel, is expanding its storage facilities and the new pipeline is needed to deal with the increasing demand for gas. It is expected to hold 4.5million Nm3/h.

A new concept
Ghizzoni S.p.A is the Italian contractor in charge of the project. Ghizzoni was commissioned by Bunde Etzel Pipeline (BEP) to complete the pipeline by mid 2011, for a contract value of 60 million Euros.

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Ghizzoni has been operating in the pipeline industry for 60 years and has extensive experience of constructing and laying cross country pipelines for oil, gas, and water transportation.

Lowering and laying is the sole purpose of the Volvo pipelayers onsite. The machines work tirelessly for eight hours every day, accompanied by 10 Volvo EC290BNLC crawler excavators. The machines are currently inserting the pipeline in four different areas consecutively. Generators pump out ground water before the Volvo  excavators dig a trench. Then the pipelayers stand in a row and lower sections of the pipeline into the ground. Water is then pushed through the pipeline to check for leaks, which can be fixed onsite if found, before the trench is covered over. “The lowering and laying by the Volvo pipelayers is excellent,” says Marco Scazzina, Construction Leader at Ghizzoni. “We can lower a1km long pipe in one go using 10 pipelayers at the same time.”

The Volvo pipelayers are different to the conventional side-boom track-type tractor pipelayer and Ghizzoni was keen to try the new concept. “The boom on the PL4611 can turn 360°, unlike the fixed boom on a normal dozer,” explains Marco. “This provides enormous flexibility, precision and better control for the operator in pipe placement.”

The Volvo PL4611 is based on the Volvo EC460C standard hydraulic excavator design, which makes the machine very versatile. “It can be disassembled easily and transported quickly, within the hour, by hydraulically lowering the counterweight and removing the track frames,” continues Marco. “This is important on such a big project because time is very precious,” he says. During the project the PL4611 can be transformed into an excavator, by switching the boom for digging equipment, enabling contractors more flexibility onsite.

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Safety first
The boom on the PL4611 is longer than a conventional side-boom track-type tractor pipelayer at 9.2m (30ft), which means the machine can sit back from the trench and avoid the risk of tipping. “In very wet conditions the risk of slippage is considerable, if not inevitable, when conventional side boom pipelayers are required to work close to the trench,” says Marco. But the PL4611’s boom is mounted inside the track frame, near the machine’s central line, for higher lift capacity and stability and its fixed-track width of 18ft (5.48m) provides a solid working platform. “Safety is a priority for Ghizzoni so we want to make sure our machines have the best possible safety features. Volvo provides these features,” he continues.

Visibility is key onsite and the PL4611 has a standard Load Management System which enables the operator to see what he can lift safely depending on the angle of the boom, the position of the cab relative to the tracks and the incline on which the machine is operating. The machine offers a tipping load capability of 110t, depending on the terrain. The boom has a three-stage light indicator system situated at its end, which shows when it reaches load capacity – spanning from green (lowest) to red (capacity).  The standard fully enclosed Volvo Care Cab means the operator has excellent visibility and the boom is asymmetrical so the pipe can be seen at all times, for safe and precise load placement.

Up to the challenge
Building the Bunde-Etzel pipeline is not an easy task, mainly because of the abundance of canals and waterways in the area. “The water table is very high – only 50mm below the ground surface – which causes problems in excavation and planning,” says Marco. “The pipeline has to pass underneath the Elms River for 1,000m so we need to be conscious and protect the environment.” So after the 22mm thick pipes are welded together they are meticulously tested for leaks.

The ground conditions have also caused problems for the contractor. “The soft soil in the area – a mixture of silt and sand – became very soft during the heavy snowfall we had at the beginning of the year, which caused the machinery to sink,” says Marco. “But we continued with the machines and now we are halfway to completion.”

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A growing segment
Paul Johnson, Key Customer Business Development for Volvo Construction Equipment Europe, says the Ghizzoni project shows how Volvo is expanding into the oil and gas segment. “Despite the recession, the pipeline segment has more than doubled in recent years and there has never been a better time for Volvo to become more involved in this growing market,” he says.
 
“Volvo’s pipelayer range, including the PL4611 and the smaller PL4608, meets the highest emission standards and will soon be supplied with Stage IIIB/Tier 4i engines in North America and Europe,” he concludes.

Marco is pleased with his new machines. “Volvo’s new concept could be the future for pipelayers,” he grins. “We are keen to try the Volvo pipelayers on some of our more challenging projects.”

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August 2010

Text: Clare Gittins

NEW: Visit Volvo’s YouTube channel to see video footage of the Volvo PL4611 pipelayers working on the Bunde-Etzel gas pipeline:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5x9NIOoffFE

Picture 1: Volvo PL4611 pipelayers work with a Volvo EC290BNLC crawler excavator to prepare the pipes for welding and testing.
Picture 2: Lowering and laying. A Volvo PL4611 pipelayers lower the pipeline into the freshly-dug trench.
Picture 3: Paul Johnson from Volvo key customer business development discusses safety with Ghizzoni construction leader Marco Scazzina.
Picture 4: A Volvo PL4611pipelayer lifts a pipe ready for transportation.

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Bill Law
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Volvo Construction Equipment
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Brian O’Sullivan
SE10
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