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Investments in new welding techniques and equipment help oil and gas companies address critical challenges

The needs of the oil and gas industry are changing, and that’s driving a push for more efficient processing systems and facilities. As oil reserves are explored in more remote regions, there is a move toward newer materials and designs to support the extraction and processing of these resources. In addition, many companies are looking to reduce costs and finish projects on shorter timelines.

For many oil and gas contractors and fabrication shops, making changes in the welding operation can provide benefits and savings that can help them achieve a range of goals.

While companies are looking to cut expenses, they are also hoping to improve productivity and complete construction projects faster at new or existing refineries, power plants and export terminals. Whatever the goals, making changes in the welding operation can provide benefits – and savings – that help a company achieve them.

In the midst of these efforts, however, many companies overlook the opportunities they have for improvements and efficiencies in the welding operation, often because they are not willing to consider changes in processes or procedures. There are several reasons, of course, for them to open their eyes to these opportunities.

Understanding goals

The objective often depends on the stakeholder. For facility owners, reducing costs and increasing productivity may be top priorities. For engineering and procurement companies, the top priority may be designing a safe facility that meets the specific requirements of the customer. For construction companies and subcontractors, finding skilled labor to complete the project as quickly as possible may be goal No. 1.

Goals and outcomes can also be impacted by industry challenges and trends. These include a shortage of skilled workers, changing materials, shifting regulations, and pressure to increase productivity and meet shorter project timelines.

In a market where labor is scarce and more costly, finding ways to improve productivity and decrease training time are important. Even in markets where labor is plentiful, there may still be a push to reduce the time it takes to train skilled workers and have them on the job.

Sigma Thermal converted to the RMD process and increased productivity by 50 percent or more on some projects. Using the RMD process for the root pass and pulsed MIG for remaining passes offers faster travel speeds and deposition rates compared to TIG welding all passes, as Sigma Thermal had been doing for pipe welds.

When looking for ways to reduce costs, improve productivity or shorten timelines, companies may overlook welding, or they may not realize the welding operation can be a source of savings and improvements. Others know this option exists, but may not be willing to make the investment to change welding procedures or processes. Some companies may also see this as a risk – changing from standard practices to new methods and technologies that can offer greater reward but that may require additional investment or training.

It’s all about a shift in perception. Rather than seeing changes to welding procedures or implementation of new technologies as a risk or a barrier, companies should view it instead as an investment that can positively impact the bottom line. Many progressive companies are having success changing from traditional welding techniques to advanced wire processes and investing in new welding technologies and equipment.

Productivity gains 

One fabrication shop converted to the Regulated Metal Deposition (RMD) process from Miller Electric and increased productivity by 50 percent and more on some projects. Sigma Thermal, based in Marietta, Ga., designs, engineers and fabricates process heating systems for a range of industries, including oil and gas and power companies.

The company’s investment in Miller’s PipeWorx 400 multi-process welding systems and conversion to the RMD process – a modified short-circuit MIG process – helped significantly increase productivity and keep weld quality high.

The company sees new welding technologies and processes as investments that help it stay ahead in the industry – and meet customer demands. One recent Sigma Thermal product was built for the oil fields in Alaska’s North Slope. The completed unit weighed 200,000 lbs. and was shipped from Sigma’s headquarters on a 173-ft. truck.

Using the RMD process for the root pass and pulsed MIG for remaining passes offers faster travel speeds and deposition rates compared to TIG welding all passes, as Sigma Thermal had been doing for pipe welds. The RMD technology also improves deposition rates so much in the root pass that it eliminates the need for a second hot pass – saving time and money with every weld. A pump skid welding project that took about 120 hours for Sigma Thermal welders to complete using TIG was reduced to about 60 hours using RMD and pulsed MIG.

The RMD process provides the ability to create a thicker root pass of 3/16 in. or greater – enough to eliminate the need for a hot pass in many cases and to support the heat input of pulsed MIG or flux-cored welding for the fill and cap passes.

In addition to being a productive process with a high deposition rate, the RMD process also provides clean penetration, a stable arc and easier puddle control. The process is more forgiving to variations in stickout and contact tip distance to the puddle. The modified short-circuit MIG process precisely controls metal transfer for uniform droplet deposition.

Ensuring a low rate of weld defects and rework saves time and money for Sigma Thermal, and it helps the company complete projects faster for customers.

Yielding results

As demonstrated in the Sigma Thermal example, advanced welding processes such as RMD offer high weld quality and increased productivity and efficiency by way of travel speeds that are three to four times those of TIG or stick welding. These advanced wire processes are commonly used in the fabrication shop and are now available in machines designed to meet the demands of jobsite and field applications.

The RMD process provides the ability to create a thicker root pass of 3/16 in. or greater – enough to eliminate the need for a hot pass in many cases and to support the heat input of pulsed MIG or flux-cored welding for the fill and cap passes. This offers easy puddle control to help reduce operator training time and quality arc performance that boosts productivity. A modified short-circuit MIG process like RMD also produces less spatter and allows for the elimination of backing gas. All of these factors help save time and money.

Unsurprisingly, there are other welding technologies and advancements that can offer additional benefits for quality, productivity and cost savings in oil and gas applications.

New power sources can sense and react to what is happening in the weld pool at rates that just 10 years ago would be unimaginable. Traditional transformer-based welding power sources are becoming a thing of the past.

Newer technologies provide opportunities for controlling the welding current to control the weld pool and produce a calm, stable pool with less heat input. This becomes increasingly important in the oil and gas industry as materials evolve to include higher strength steels that tend to be more heat sensitive. Directing the arc energy where it is needed allows novice and experienced welders to become better. A stable, more consistent arc is easier to manipulate to ensure good fusion, which results in improved weld quality and less time-consuming and costly rework.

Advancements in remote control welding technologies also offer numerous benefits, particularly in field applications. ArcReach technology from Miller provides the ability to make process changes and parameter selections at the weld joint using the wire feeder or stick/TIG remote. This significantly minimizes the time that welders spend traveling back and forth to the power source to make changes, improving productivity, efficiency and jobsite safety.

The PipeWorx 400 was developed to simplify and optimize pipe fabrication shop welding. Customers, like Sigma Thermal, can attest to the productivity enhancements it delivers.

Manage the change

Converting from traditional welding techniques and processes to more advanced solutions can result in numerous benefits, including increased productivity, reduced scrap loss, and reduction in failures and rework.

Implementing proper training programs is one step that helps optimize the potential benefits because different welding processes or technologies weld differently than what a workforce may be used to. It’s also often easier to start in a shop environment before moving to field welding applications with any changes. When making a welding process or procedure change, outline a testing plan when necessary to ensure quality and productivity goals are achieved.

As the oil and gas industry changes, investing in new welding techniques and equipment can help companies address critical industry challenges – whether it’s a shortage of skilled welders, shorter project timelines or changing materials. Being open to making changes in the welding operation can result in reduced costs, greater productivity and shorter training time for welders.

Miller Electric Mfg. LLC