Construction Equipment Global
Volvo EC380E and EC480E excavators digging the trench in Greece.

SPIECAPAG – TAP, Greece/Albania

Tapping into one of the worlds mega projects

In this article: Customer success Excavators Pipe layers Articulated haulers

French based, global pipeline contractor SPIECAPAG is using 97 Volvo Construction equipment machines on the TAP (Trans Adriatic Pipeline) as part of the southern gas corridor that will bring gas from the Caspian Sea to Europe.

Spanning 878 km across Northern Greece, Albania and across the seabed to connect to the Italian gas network, the TAP represents the final link in the ‘southern gas corridor’, which will bring gas from Azerbaijan’s Shah Deniz II gas field in the Caspian Sea to Europe and beyond. The project will take three and half years to complete.

The TAP will eventually be connected to the TANAP – Trans Anatolian Pipeline – crossing Turkey, and the TANAP connected to the SCP – South Caucasus Pipeline – carrying the gas across Azerbaijan and Georgia to the Turkish border. The total distance of 3 500 km makes this one of the most complex energy value chains ever developed and will increase energy security and diversity in the markets it will serve as well opening up potential, new markets. Designed to enable connection possibilities to a number of both existing and proposed pipelines along its route, TAP will offer the ability to make Caspian Sea gas available to many different markets in Western and Eastern Europe and the Balkans.

The operator, Trans Adriatic Pipeline AG, awarded three LOTS, or sections, of the TAP’s construction – one in Greece and the remaining two that make up the Albanian portion – to French-based, global pipeline contractor, SPIECAPAG. A subsidiary of the French ENTREPOSE Group; itself part of the larger VINCI Group, the company, with 50 000 km of pipeline construction to its credit in some of the most formidable environments in the world is no stranger to projects such as this.

Bring on the Volvo’s

To support this project, Spiecapag has 97 Volvo machines – 34 in Greece and 63 in Albania – of which 81 are heavy excavators. Commenting on the number of Volvo machines on the TAP, Per-Erik Lindström, Volvo CE’s VP Global Key Accounts, commented, “Whilst having pipelayers in our range can open discussions with pipeline contractors, the scale of this project clearly demonstrates the huge pull through potential for other large machines”.

It’s the first time Spiecapag has used Volvo excavators. “We consider many factors such as price, any requirements for repurchase or service contracts, project scope, project duration and site conditions and whether they permit economic use of the equipment. Machine availability to meet the mobilization time is also a crucial factor and especially in a case such as this where that time was very short following signature of the contract”, said Bruno Pomaré, Technical Director at Spiecapag’s headquarters in Colombes on the outskirts of Paris. “Once on site we like to compare factors such as actual machine usage, reliability, ergonomics, fuel consumption, service time and cost as this can help with future deliberations”, he continued.

“It was a discovery for us, but we are very satisfied with the quality of the machines”, said Construction Manager in Albania, Patrick Poulard. Pleased with the model mix of excavators, he explained “It’s exactly what we need. We use the big machines in rocky areas, the medium machines for other options and the smaller EC300’s we use to create access for the larger machines arriving on trucks”.

The EC300’s are also being used to power the pipe facing machines to support welding operations and to prepare the many crossings – over 1200 – encountered along on the route.

Greek start-up

The Greek section will run for 187 km from the Turkish border towards the port of Kavala and is being handled as a joint venture between Spiecapag and Greece’s largest construction equipment company, Aktor, working as a sub-contractor. Here Spiecapag’s fleet comprises 30 Volvo excavators - 22 x EC380EL and 8 x EC480EL - plus two PL4611 and two PL4809D pipelayers. The terrain here – a mixture of low level mountains and flat areas – is not so difficult, although ground conditions can be tough. Work includes delivering the pipeline under the Marista River onto Turkish territory for connection with the TANAP once completed.

Camps set up at key locations to serve the project provide accessible stocking areas for parts and other supplies and space for equipment maintenance and repair.

Volvo CE dealer Saracakis supports the project in Greece with two full-time mechanics, with Volvo employee Giovanni Ragazzini, who has delayed his retirement until December to see the project to its end, acting as the project coordinator, troubleshooting and programming technicians on where they need to go and prioritizing actions. His familiarity with Volvo systems such as Tech Line is a great benefit and has saved a lot of time on training.

In Albania, T-C Equipments has provided a dedicated team comprising Service Supervisor Edvin Kallabaku, currently on loan to Volvo, together with Parts Supervisor Rommel Garcia and with Seit Hajdini and Besmir Kuka providing technical support.

Shared core values

Quality, safety and environmental care are values shared between Volvo, TAP and Spiecapag. The TAP’s quality design is based on recognized national and international safety standards and industry best practice; the mission being to deliver a pipeline of which all stakeholders can feel justifiably proud. Like Volvo both companies operate Corporate Social Responsibility policies and safety programs, recognizing the high stakes for those involved and for the environment and mitigating any negative effects.

The ‘zero casualties’ target is supported by comprehensive training programs and safety networks, sharing and learning from any incidents. Spiecapag has an excellent record of zero accidents leading to work stoppages during 22 million hours worked on international projects since September, 2012. On site, Spiecapag operates a Safety Challenge every 90 days, covering a different subject each time, with prizes awarded. It could be for best driver, best machine operator or even the best team. “It’s an education process, enabling us to repeat and reinforce our golden rules of safety”, explained Mr. Pomaré, In addition, a Safety Forum takes place every two weeks to discuss specific topics with supervisors; content can then be shared within their teams. In the camps, details of any incidents are on display for all to share the lessons learned and how to avoid any recurrence.

Environmental considerations, guided by Environmental and Social Impact Assessments (ESIAs) in each host country, respect not only the environment, but also social and culturally sensitive areas wherever possible. To further reduce the pipeline’s footprint, facilities will be located and operated in such a way that any physical and ecological re the impacts are reduced. The pipeline’s construction and operation will minimize energy consumption, emissions to air, discharges of liquid effluents and the generation of waste, with a commitment to leaving no waste behind.

With an initial capacity to deliver 10 billion cubic meters (bcm) – sufficient to meet the needs of 7 million homes in Europe – capacity could be increased to 20 bcm in the future with the construction of two additional compressor stations.

As EU countries seek to balance their growing energy demand, clean, natural gas will continue to play an important role for decades to come.

Screening buckets apply soft material to protect the pipe coating.
Screening buckets apply soft material to protect the pipe coating and the twin ducts that will carry fiber optic cable to control the block valves.

Rising to the challenges in Albania

Albania poses bigger challenges as this 215 km stretch will encounter nine mountain peaks over 500 m high to be crossed, a climb to 1 800 m at its highest elevation and a 40 degree gradient at its steepest point; the toughest challenge in the Çorovodë region – Albania’s own Grand Canyon.

Work undertaken by TAP to enable transportation of the 48” pipes across the country started here back in 2015 with infrastructure improvements that will benefit the country long after project completion.

Partnering here with Dutch pipeline contractor, A. Hak; Spiecapag’s even larger fleet includes 51 Volvo excavators - 8 x EC300DL; two of them long reach, 35 x EC380DL, including eight long reach, and 8 x EC480DL, plus ten A30F articulated haulers and two PL4611 pipelayers. .

In both countries, most of the excavators are used for opening the Right-of-Way (ROW) – the route the pipeline will follow – trenching, rock breaking and backfilling operations. The articulated haulers are used mainly for clearing blasted rock and transporting soil on the ROW, but five can be converted to pipe haulers as required; their ability to go anywhere enabling them to move pipes from the stock yard to the site when tough mountain slope conditions deny access to other pipe carrying vehicles.

Volvo A30F’s are used for transporting blasted rock and soil.
In Albania, the A30F’s are used for transporting blasted rock and soil from the Right-of-Way, with others converted to pipe haulers to carry pipes to the steeper slopes.

The PL4611’s, shipped as soon as the pipes started to arrive, bring their huge, 110-ton tipping capacity to bear in the pipe stock yards, lifting and stocking pipes weighing up to 12 tons each, whereas the PL4809D’s in Greece are used to support tie-ins, especially where crossings are involved. “With their long booms these machines are ideally suited to situations such as this where we need to go deeper and especially where space is restricted”, said Jean-Bernard Nouet, Site Plant Manager in Greece. “Their ease of transportation is also a great advantage to us. We just load the machine onto a low boy and lay down the boom”.

Volvo PL4611 unloads and stocks the pipes.
The 110-ton tipping capacity of the PL4611’s makes easy work of unloading and stocking the pipes.


Various attachments are also in use, including Volvo HB38 and HB48 hydraulic breakers, screening buckets for pipe bed preparation, mulching attachments for clearing undergrowth and one EC480DL has been used with a vacuum shoe for pipe handling. Some of the excavators are equipped with quick couplers, increasing versatility and efficiency and the long reach excavators can also switch to standard digging equipment.

Tackling some of the tougher areas with Volvo hydraulic breakers.
Tackling some of the tougher areas with Volvo hydraulic breakers.

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