World`s Largest Pipe Contract Awarded to Fabricated Plastics for Expansion of Petrochemical Complex in Texas


Courtesy of Fabricated Plastics Limited

When Fabricated Plastics Limited of Maple, Ont., was given the contract to supply all the piping required for the expansion of a plastics resin plant in southern Texas, it proved to be the largest single pipe contract ever awarded. In terms of variety of pipe and chemical service requirements, it was also one of the most complicated and demanding, with different molded laminates and pipe lining materials called for - each with its own specific application.

When the project was finally completed, it contained 48 km (30 miles) of dual laminate piping made up of some 16,000 pieces of pipe ranging in size from 13 to 965 mm (1/2' to 38') diameter, as well as innumberable fittings (elbows, tees and flanges, etc).

Well over 200,000 man-hours of effort went into the production and administration of the project, reports Fabricated Plastics' president Don Sablinskas. And to ensure that changing conditions at the site during installation were reacted to quickly with a minimum of impact on shipping schedules, the customer's delivery requirements and Fabricated Plastics production capabilities had to be closely monitored and coordinated throughout the project.

A Giant Complex

The resin facility itself is one of 23 plants which make up a major petrochemical complex that covers some 61 km2 (15,000 acres). In its 15 years of operations, the complex has employed the oil cracking process to produce ethylene and propylene, two chemicals which are further processed to create two intermediate formulations, ethylene dichloride and vinyl chloride monomers. Those monomers are then combined to create the plant's main product, polyvinyl chloride (PVC) resin - most of which is earmarked for sale to plastic molders, but some of which goes into the extrusion of pipe by another of the plants in the complex. Two other materials also produced by the resin plant are polyethylene and polypropylene - thermoplastics created by the polymerization of ethylene and propylene.

The Need For A Chlorine Facility

The reason for expanding the resin plant was to add an 'ion-exchange membrane' (IEM) that was required for the manufacture of liquid chlorine, the central ingredient in the production of PVC.

'We were called on to supply the piping for the IEM plant,' says Ken Choi, senior process design engineer at Fabricated Plastics. 'As the unit that generates chlorine, it's the most important part of the new operation.'

Previously, he points out, liquid chlorine was purchased from other manufacturers who delivered it to the plant by railcar. However, increasingly concerned about the danger of a railcar spill that could seriously damage the environment, the Texas firm decided it must end its dependence on outside suppliers and set up its own chlorine-generating facility.

How Fabricated Plastics Won The Contract

Fabricated Plastics was only one of the many vendors selected to bid on the massive piping contract, says Don Sablinskas. Understandably, the competition was fierce as a wide range of manufacturers in the U.S., Europe and Far East vied for the same job.

'The customer was aware of us because of another project we had previously completed at the same location,' he says. 'It had involved building seven large dual-laminate vessels up to 3.2 meters (10-1/2 ft) in diameter and more than 18 meters (60 ft) high - intricate pieces of equipment required in processing.

'When we were advised we were eligible to bid on the massive piping project, we were given the largest amount of reference material we had ever seen - over 1,500 drawings and specifications contained in a stack of paper more than two feet high.'

And if that were not enough of a challenge, Fabricated Plastics was given only three weeks in which to prepare and submit its bid for the contract. Faced with such a demanding undertaking, the company's engineering group immediately assigned 10 draftsmen to assemble a 'takeoff' of the entire project.

'For three weeks,' says Vice President of Engineering Lam Woo, 'our draftsmen worked full time reviewing each drawing in turn - listing the pipe lengths and diameter of pipe required, their pressure ratings, the classes and types of materials that were called for, the number of joints and types of fittings involved, etc.

'By the time we were finished, we had spent thousands of dollars preparing our bid.'

'And then for the next nine months we were in constant discussion with our client,' says Sablinskas, 'making revisions and updating specifications, reinforcing our proposal to the firm and making on-site presentations.'

'By the end of that time, everything in our proposal had changed, and the client had decided it no longer wanted to just buy the pipe and fittings from the supplier, it also wanted the supplier to handle the installation of the piping and commission the plant as well.'

In order to satisfy that new requirement, Fabricated Plastics had to find a partner who could install the pipe and fittings produced at its Ontario plant. After several months spent interviewing different companies throughout the southern United States, Fabricated Plastics finally found a group of contractors that could meet its needs, and submitted a new proposal to the customer for an all-inclusive, supply-and-install bid package. The key factor in winning the bid 'Probably the biggest factor in our winning the contract was that we are one of a very few companies throughout the world that could provide every type and size of pipe required for the job,' says Don Sablinskas. 'There were many other molders eager to supply part of the order - just the FRP piping or only the dual-laminate piping.' But the customer insisted on dealing with only one vendor who could supply all the pipe - a company that had the proven ability to manufacture every single class and type of pipe it required.

'We were able to demonstrate we have such capabilities - that we have the necessary equipment and engineering know how which very few others in the world can match.'

Once it was awarded the contract, Fabricated Plastics then had only nine months to complete the job.

Piping Specifications

The contract called for six different classes of piping made up of different resin systems and different pressure ratings - each class designed by the customer:

  • Class 1 consisted of 5,486 m (18,000 linear ft) of glass reinforced polyester pipe in sizes ranging from 25 through 457 mm (1 in. through 18 in.), and in pressure ratings of 150 psi through 50 psi. 
  • Class 2 was to be 8,321 m (27,300 ft) of glass-reinforced vinyl ester pipe in diameters of 25 through 457 mm (1 through 18 in.), all with a pressure rating of 150 psi. 
  • Some 9,632 m (31,600 ft) of Armourplastic® (dual laminate) piping made up the Class 3 category - Greykor® PVC-lined glass-reinforced vinyl ester pipe, ranging in size from 13 through 406 mm (1/2 through 16 in.), and pressure ratings of 150 through 100 psi. 
  • Class 4 called for 1,311 m (4,300 ft) of Orangekor® CPVC (chlorinated polyvinyl chloride) lined glass reinforced reinforced vinyl ester pipe in diameters of 25 through 356 mm (1 through 14 in.), and pressure ratings of 150 through 100 psi. 
  • Class 5 called for some 4,907 m (16,100 ft) of Bluekor® polypropylene-lined glass-reinforced vinyl ester pipe in diameters of 25 through 711 mm (1 through 28 in.), and pressure ratings of 150 through 50 psi. 
  • Class 6 consisted of 3,627 m (11,900 ft) of Greykor-L® PVC lined glass reinforced vinyl ester pipe. (PVC-L is a special high-purity PVC resin.) Pipe sizes ranged from 25 through 254 mm (1 through 10 in.), and pressure ratings from 150through 75 psi.

To keep track of each of the six pipe systems which were fabricated to meet different chemical resistant requirements, they were all color coded - a different color being applied to the outer surface of the pipe in each class so that it could be readily identified during and after installation.

'In each of the Armourplastic® (dual-laminate) piping systems we supplied for the Texas plant,' Lam Woo points out, 'the lining is not considered to be a structural portion of the pipe. The liner is there strictly for chemical protection. The FRP over wrap is the structural layer.

'In the case of the two classes of strictly FRP pipe, their corrosion liners consist of C veil and four layers of mat, in the one class, and synthetic veil and six layers of mat in the second - liners that are not considered to be structural elements as they normally are in most pipe applications.' Also, he says, in addition to the fact that the FRP corrosion liners are not looked on as part of the structural components, they incorporated more layers of mat than usual which made them much thicker than normal. In other words, nothing was conventional on this project,' he says, 'and every single class of pipe was designed to fill a different special requirement.'

In order to minimize on-site assembly of the pipe systems, Fabricated Plastics undertook to pre-assemble as much of its output as possible in spools' - combining a length of pipe with a fitted flange and a elbow, for example, rather than shipping loose pipe and fittings.

'That meant we had to make sure all dimensions were accurate before the pieces left our plant,' says Ken Choi, 'so that when they reached the site, everything would fit precisely, and the spools could readily be bolted together. Also, every spool (pipe-and-fittings assembly) was inspected by our quality control department before it left our shop to make sure we had not fitted a tee joint to the pipe instead of a 90-degree elbow, for example, or used a length of pipe longer or shorter than the one specified.'

Keeping Track Of The Spools

Once the quality control procedure was established, the problem then became one of keeping track of each pipeline component - from the time it was packaged for shipment to Texas until it was unpacked for shipment to Texas until it was unpacked and made ready for installation at the job-site.

'We started by setting up a tagging system,' says Ken Choi, 'giving each drawing its own tag number, and painting that tag number on the assembled spool. But because of the thousands of spools we had to ship, that alone would not have solved the problem of locating each one when it reached the customer's plant.

'Our solution was to develop a barcode system similar to that used in retailing. We created labels containing bar-code information identifying the number of the drawing, the spool number, and the class of pipe involved. Then by using a hand-held bar-code scanner, we could read the information and feed it into a computer data base program.

'We also added information identifying the crate into which each part was packed, the day it was shipped and the truck onto which it was loaded for delivery to the Texas plant. The computer disk with all that information was sent to the client so that he could locate each part after it was delivered, simply by running a computer printout. Using his own scanner, he could also identify each crate and the number of the spool contained inside.'

Fabrication Of The Pipe

Whenever Fabricated Plastics is called on to fill an order for Armourplastic® (dual laminate) pipe - FRP pipe lined with a corrosion resistant PVC, for example - it purchases an extruded liner of the specified thermoplastic and required diameter from another supplier. It then prepares the surfaces for Fabricated Plastics' proprietary chemical or mechanical bonding, and applies the FRP laminate to its outer surface by hand lay up or filament winding, using the thermoplastic pipe as a mandrel.

For other projects where standard (unlined) FRP pipe is specified, Fabricated Plastics is equipped with various sizes of mandrels on which the pipe lengths are laid up.

'On this Texas job, however, the customer ordered most of the FRP pipe in non-standard sizes,' says Lam Woo. 'Instead of specifying the usual 610, 762 and 914 mm (24, 30 and 36-in.) diameters, he called for 711, 864 and 965 mm (28,34 and 38-in.) sizes, so we had to build a special mandrel for each. 'And we also had to build molds to make 90-degree elbows for the 864 and 965 mm (34 and 38-in.) pipe.'

Once the contract was finalized and Fabricated Plastics faced the prospect of producing more than 48,768 m (160,000 ft) of pipe and fittings within a relatively short nine-month period, the Ontario fabricator transformed itself from an industrial equipment fabricator into a 'strictly pipe' manufacturer. 'Our whole plant was turned upside down for the job,' says Lam Woo. 'For nine months we did nothing but produce pipe and fittings. Before we were awarded the contract, we had nine turning stations in our plant for the layup of FRP on thermoplastic liners. We also had four filament winding machines which had rarely been used to capacity.

'On this project, however, we did use the winders to full capacity, and increased our number of turning stations from 9 to 36 in a matter of three weeks. We even added an extra work shift, producing pipe day and night as we worked to complete the job in the specified time.' One special requirement of the job was that all pipe headers had to be integrally molded. That is, they had to be built during the molding stage so that there would be no secondary bonding areas which would always be vulnerable to corrosive attack from the chlorine. (They could not be molded separately and then bonded in place on the pipe.)

The corrosion liner of the pipe and nozzle also had to be continuous (not stubbed in after the pipe was completed) - a feature that was achieved by use of a special fabrication technique developed by Fabricated Plastics. Because of the extended length of one of the polypropylene headers designed by the client and the critical alignment of nozzles that were to feed from that header, Fabricated Plastics recommended a change in the method of producing the part. With a flange-to-flange length of 18.3 m (60-ft) specified, the original concept concept was to make it in three 6.1 m (20-ft) long sections that could be joined in the field to form the full header.

'However, we felt that it would be far better to produce it in one piece and eliminate the field joints,' says Choi. 'It would have been extremely difficult for the contractor to align the three sections and make the two joints on site. 'The customer accepted our recommendation which was to build a one piece, 18.3 m (60-ft) header in our plant,' adds Woo. 'We actually used a surveyor's transit to position each nozzle - to make sure it extended to the precise height specified in the contract.

'The only problem we faced in producing it, initially, was that there wasn't enough room in our plant to fabricate such a long component, so we had to rent larger (temporary) workspace in another building nearby.' Fabricated Plastics completed production and delivery of all the pipeline components nine months after the beginning of fabrication, but the installation was not completed until close to the middle of the following year. During that time, Fabricated Plastics held instructional sessions (both on site and in its own plant) to set up installation procedures and show installers how to make pipe joints (where no flanged joints were called for) using FRP.

After the installation was complete and chlorine production achieved capacity, the owners of the petrochemical complex expressed their satisfaction with the way Fabricated Plastics carried out the contract. 'They appreciated the technical support we gave them throughout,' says Lam Woo, 'and the way we met our contractual obligations. 'As for us, we found it gratifying to demonstrate Fabricated Plastics' capacity and efficiency to produce and keep track of such a high volume of parts, and that quality consciousness paid off big. Everything came together beautifully during installation.'

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