Spiderplough delivers a world-first in pipeline installation

The Spiderplough technology has shown that it can heighten safety performance, improve sustainability, and reduce costs by up to 50 per cent, while achieving notable daily productivity rates of up to 17.2 km using a range of 4.3 inch to 24.8 inch high-density polyethylene (HDPE) pipe.

Research and development identifies a unique opportunity

Murphy Pipe and Civil (MPC) has been using the German-manufactured F̦ckersperger Spiderplough technology over the last three years to install more than 3,000 km of HDPE pipe, ranging in diameter from 4.3-17.7 inches including dual 12.4 inches. Based on its experience with the technology, the company saw an opportunity to adapt the Spiderplough for 24.8 inch HDPE installations, as MPC Director Tony O’Sullivan explains.

“Our fleet is currently deployed on three projects across the Surat Basin in Western Queensland, Australia, including the 5000+ km 4.3-24.8 inch HDPE pipeline for the QCLNG Gathering Project. With the market continually looking for efficiencies in the installation of gathering networks, the need to extend the Spiderplough technology to install larger diameter pipeline was becoming increasingly apparent.

“Utilising our experience with the technology, our research and development team identified a unique opportunity for the 17.7 inch Spiderploughs to be adapted and modified for use in 24.8 inch diameter applications. This was developed and trialled internally, in consultation with the manufacturer. Extensive modifications were made in order to deliver economic, safety, and environmental benefits through its operation, and to assess its viability for larger-diameter installations.”

A wide range of enhancements have been added to the ploughs, including a radical redesign of the pipeline-loading process to allow a pipeline to be loaded at ground level rather than at height, designing pipe couplings to safely handle larger pipelines of up to 24.8 inches in diameter, installing GPS equipment to ensure buried services were not disturbed while ploughing, and increased operator safety through step ladders, safety guard rails, and easily accessible safety-shut-off switches.

The Spiderploughs use a specially designed all-terrain, all-weather, winch vehicle to pull the plough using a cable. A blade on the plough forms and clears the laying bed to specific depths of up to 2.8 m, and the machine’s movement is accurately guided using GPS technology.

The plough’s ripper and pipe-insertion unit is pulled through the ground and the pipe is continuously laid. As the machine moves forward the narrow slot in the earth is quickly closed and compacted. The pipe is installed in a single pass: among the advantages over conventional installation systems is that the latter may require several passes.

Efficiency, safety, sustainability

MPC’s continued investment into research and development of the technology has produced considerable advances in performance, and at the end of 2013, QCLNG’s project crews were able to install an impressive 250+ km of 24.8 inch diameter HDPE pipeline each month.

Utilisation of Spiderplough technology for trenchless installation has been proved to offer significant efficiencies for MPC over conventional trench techniques. Evaluation data indicates many advantages, including fast and cost-effective pipeline installation, higher levels of safety through a closed trench system, improved environmental performance due to a narrower construction corridor, and less site preparation and ground reinstatement. Spiderplough has the ability to operate in all terrains and climate conditions, and as a result of the successful introduction of GPS guidance systems, is able to ensure accurate pipeline route installation.

The Spiderplough has been able to achieve significantly increased productivity rates for HDPE pipeline installation. Of particular note is the installation of 10+ km of dual 12.4 inch, 3.5 km of 24.8 inches, and an impressive 17.2 km of HDPE pipeline being installed in a single 12 hour shift.

While each pipeline installation contract varies, Spiderplough technology is generally seen as saving clients between 30-50 per cent in costs through reduced crew sizes, reduced fleet requirements, and shorter installation time leading to reduced contract periods.

One of the key advantages of the Spiderplough technology is the inherent safety benefits it brings from eliminating the open trench. Since its introduction MPC has achieved 2.7 million hours worked without any lost-time injury related to its use on projects. These milestones were further supported by MPC’s adoption of Murphy’s “÷Never harm culture’ development programme which was rolled-out across MPC’s 1,600 employees in 2013. Since then, MPC’s total recordable case frequency ratio has been decreased by 83 per cent from 10.9 to 1.9 (the Australian industry average is 5.7) across its projects in the oil, gas, and mining sectors.

The method is also environmentally superior to trenching and ditching through a significantly narrower construction corridor. It can achieve outcomes within a 12-15 m right of way, far narrower than the conventionally-trenched 30 m allowance. In addition, a minimal work area is required, which significantly reduces the area to be reinstated. The adapted Spiderplough uses a blade to carve aside earth and insert the pipeline during its pass over. This eliminates the need to remove or replace any top or subterranean soil, requiring only a light-grade post-installation to return the ground area to its former condition.

A key player in the active Australian coal seam gas gathering market, MPC today has the world’s largest fleet of F̦ckersperger Spiderploughs offering an inherently superior pipeline construction system. The leading-edge technology has been heralded as an industry-changing innovation, which delivers a positive balance between improved safety, high levels of pipeline construction productivity, cost reduction, and improved environmental performance.

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