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Pipelines sector 'too conservative' - Palmer

ENGINEERS WORKING in the pipelines sector need to overcome industry conservatism and embrace opportunities offered by new technology to address environmental, cost and maintenance issues, Pipeline Industries Guild president Andrew Palmer said this week.

Offering a foretaste of the address he is to give at Pipelines 2000 in May, Palmer said: 'The field is developing fast, but the pipelines sector is by no means technologically mature. There are loads of good ideas around that are held back, or fail to take off through industry conservatism.'

Palmer said he would be urging his audience at the Birmingham show to take inspiration from outside their immediate discipline. He cited home pregnancy test kits as an example of the advances that have been made in measurement and sensing technology.

'They are cheap, fail-proof, and user friendly, but involve sophisticated chemical analysis,' Palmer observed. 'If you can walk into Boots and buy that kind of technology we should be able to deliver comparable sophistication in the pipelines sector.'

Improvements in sensor technology are vital in stemming leaks, he claimed: 'Methods used at the moment are pretty primitive.'

Palmer added that technological advance could help achieve improvement in cost, time and environmental performance - key industry drivers - across oil, gas, chemical, clean and dirty water sectors.

'People aren't going to tolerate pollution anywhere. Technology can help us reduce the environmental impact of construction and decommissioning, and improve sustainability through a pipeline's use life.

'Increasingly, it enables environmental demands to be balanced with the need to build things quickly and cheaply,' Palmer said. 'Innovations in pipeline technology should be seen as part and parcel of the information revolution.'

He added that he would be asking why some technologies succeed while other high calibre innovations fail to become established. He cited new pipe connection techniques using fewer people which reduced cost.

Flash butt-welding is used extensively in Russia and transfers well between land and marine situations, he said. The technique involves striking an arc simultaneously around the entire circumference of pipes butted together, reducing deformation and dramatically improving strength in the joint. But the technique is little used in the West due to resistance from the welding profession, Palmer said.

He also commended the huge potential of Homer polar welding, a technique that involves passing a giant electrical current through the interface between two steel pipes, and of memory metal joints, widely used in the construction of nuclear submarines.

'The commercial penalties for getting new technologies wrong are great,' Palmer said. But all the techniques have been demonstrated and need to be transferred 'from the lab to the field'.

For more details on Pipelines 2000 contact Sally Devine on (020) 7505 6644.

For more details on Civils 2000 contact Shelly Forrester on (020) 7505 6842.

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