In northern France, just south of the port of Dunkirk, a Volvo PL4809D rotating pipelayer is helping to bring another section of pipeline towards the Belgian border.
The French gas operator, GRTgaz, is investing around €56 million in a joint venture with Belgian operator, Fluxys, to build a 100 km, 36 inch transmission pipeline that will allow gas to flow from France to Belgium for the first time.
On the 23 km stretch known as ‘L’artère des Flandres’, which runs between the towns of Pitgam and Hondschoote, situated to the north east and just a few kilometers from the Belgian border, the PL4809D is working on the final tie-ins. Having started work in April this year, this section was completed at the end of July.
The main contractor on this section is French pipeline specialist, SPAC, a subsidiary of France’s Colas group, working together with the Belgian based contractor Denys – a company that currently builds pipelines in Europe, Africa and the Middle East.
In addition to Spac’s pipeline operations, the group’s activities also embrace gas and electricity networks, the construction and maintenance of sewerage and drainage networks, the delivery of drinking water and also civil engineering and maritime engineering projects, such as the construction and maintenance of quays, dikes and embankments.
Typical of the region, the ground on this site is a mixture of sand and clay with a high water table that requires constant pumping to dry out the trench. The machine was working on wooden dragline mats, protecting equipment from abrasion damage as well as protecting the land – something appreciated by the farmers. With the mats laid about 3-4 meters back from the trench, operator Carlos Aiello liked the PL4809D’s hydraulic cab elevation. “This is a very good feature. With the cab raised I have excellent visibility for the tie-ins”, he said.
Carlos, aged 35, has worked with pipelayers since 2006 and before that trained as an architect. His father worked as a welding inspector on pipelines and through him he became familiar with Volvo equipment. As an operator of side boom pipelayers, crawler cranes and excavators Carlos was able to adapt quickly to the Volvo pipelayer and this project was his first opportunity to operate one.
“I like the comfort of the machine,” says Carlos. “It is a very delicate operation doing tie-ins and this machine is extremely stable and precise. I also like the machine’s upper structure swing lock feature for pulling pipes under crossings.” This feature also enhances stability and operational safety when working on slopes.
The latest PL4809D-Series has a normal tipping capacity of 90 tons, although this particular model featured an additional counterweight, raising the capacity to 102 tons.
Despite its size and weight, it is easy to transport.
For road crossings, sometimes the machines can cross when the road surface is protected and the necessary road closure agreement has been obtained. For water and rail crossings, the machine can be loaded onto a transporter with no machine disassembly required. Simply unload and put the machine back to work, saving both time and transportation costs.
Antoine Roumain de la Touche, equipment manager for SPAC, running 30 large excavators, liked the idea of being able to convert the pipelayer to an excavator, which requires an additional digging kit and can be achieved in just a few hours. With the machine’s hydraulics maximized for both pipelaying and digging operations, there is no loss of power or performance when in the excavator configuration.
At the Belgian border a metering station will be installed and modifications will be made to the gas compressor station at Pitgam – the biggest in France – at a further cost of €30 million.
To complete the connection on the Belgian side, the remaining 70 km from the border to Maldegem station is being built for Fluxys, where Volvo CE PL4608 pipelayers have also been supporting both welding and tie-in operations.
Once completed, this interconnection will link the GRTgaz network and the LNG terminal in Dunkirk to the Belgian Fluxys network and enable the transmission of 8 billion m3 of natural gas to flow from France to Belgium and beyond.
Picture 1: Built on an excavator-based platform, the Volvo PL4809D rotating pipelayer offers superior stability and lifting capacity.
Picture 2: The Volvo PL4809D’s hydraulic cab elevation offers excellent visibility for the pipelayer tie-ins.
Picture 3: On this site SPAC also used a Volvo EC380D, equipped with a 3D leveling system, for some of the excavation work and an EC480D for lifting operations.