How technology is changing the pipeline installation business

Those of you in the horizontal directional drilling business will relate to this.

An HDD contractor visited, and he pulled out a large three-ring binder. The thing was at least a couple inches thick. It was a rod-by-rod record of an ongoing pipeline installation, everything logged by hand on a daily basis.

This was an industry-leading company, by the way. And it was far from unusual.

We can’t tell you how many times we’ve seen an office with piles of paperwork on desks, spare chairs, filing cabinets, the floor — everywhere.

However, in this increasingly digital world, we’re convinced that paper logs and forms will soon be a thing of the past. Technology is changing the pipeline installation business, and contractors will adopt it as they look to improve their efficiency and productivity. But they’ll also need to use technology because customers will expect it.

Adopting technology

The oil and gas companies want to know that the assets they put in the ground are meeting expectations. So, what are some of the tools that can help?

One goes back to paperwork. That thick binder detailing an installation? It is cumbersome, time-consuming and difficult to share with a project owner. Digital planning tools assist in addressing these issues. Project owners are demanding more documentation, and they want that information in electronic files.

One good resource is the Vermeer BoreAid® design tool. Users input key details for a directional boring job, such as soil conditions, product type, the drill being used and more, and the tool provides a plan that can calculate bend radii, analyze pipe stress, identify potential inadvertent returns, anticipate pullback loads and estimate drill fluid needs. You can read more about it by clicking here.

Fleet management

In North America, pipeline installation crews often work throughout their home country, spending weeks away from their home base. And many companies treat each crew as essentially its own business unit. Knowing exactly where those crews are, what’s happening with the machines and what’s happening on the jobsite is critical. Technology now allows that sort of fleet management to be done with computers and even smartphones.

GPS-equipped machines can be located down to a specific latitude and longitude, and systems like Vermeer Fleet let users view the machine on an online map, like Google Maps. Vermeer Fleet also lets owners set a virtual boundary known as a geofence, and the owner will receive an alert if the machine moves outside of that.

Fleet management tools can also monitor idle time. Unnecessary idling is something a crew may not even realize they’re doing. But seeing the data can make them more aware and cause them to shut down a machine when it makes sense. That can lead to a reduction in fuel consumption and in the hours on a piece of equipment.

Just think of the residual value of a machine after a couple of years that has fewer hours on it. It’s done the same amount of work for a company, it just doesn’t have the idle time.

Maintenance

Maintenance also falls under fleet management. With crews spread across large distances, keeping track of maintenance can be challenging. Also, let’s face it, some crews may not be the best at alerting the service team of maintenance needs.

Technology like Vermeer Fleet now allows both scheduled and unexpected maintenance to be monitored remotely on individual machines. So, a maintenance technician at a company’s home base in Texas can see what’s happening with a horizontal directional drill working in North Dakota and another in Oklahoma, a trencher in Pennsylvania, and so on.

If a machine is having an issue, the tool can automatically send out a fault code. This can help catch something before it becomes a bigger issue. It also aids with diagnosis and getting the right tools and parts ready, which can speed up repairs.

That information is available online to both contractors and their Vermeer dealers via a desktop computer or a mobile device. Recently, a Vermeer dealer in Wisconsin was getting ready for a service trip and logged in to Fleet and noticed that other customers working in the area needed service as well. This allowed both the dealer and the customers to save time and expense because the service technician only needed to make one trip instead of several.

In any construction field, having equipment that is available when it is needed is important. In the pipeline market, it is essential. Many pipeline project specifications say if a crew misses a designated amount of time that contractor is off the job.

There are jobsites where a contractor has a backup for every piece of equipment just in case there is a problem. How much better would it be to know what’s happening inside that equipment, to know what its upcoming maintenance intervals are, to know its hours, to know that you’ll get an alert if an unanticipated issue arises?

Labor

It’s widely accepted that finding quality crew members, especially operators, is one of the biggest issues facing the industry. Technology that shows jobsite productivity, maintenance needs and fuel consumption can help managers evaluate employees.

It can also help employees learn how to work more optimally. With margins and deadlines getting tighter on pipeline construction projects that can make a big difference for a contractor.

Many HDD contractors are embracing technology and we expect usage to continue to increase as people recognize the value and as project owners demand it.

Want to talk about technology or some other issue? Send us a message. You can also learn more by visiting Vermeer.com.

Vermeer and BoreAid are trademarks of Vermeer Manufacturing Company in the U.S. and/or other countries.

© 2017 Vermeer Corporation. All Rights Reserved.

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