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Wireless Remote Technology Improves Welding Repairs on The Ruby Pipeline

The Ruby Pipeline Project is a 680-mile, 42-inch natural gas transmission pipeline that begins in Wyoming and travels to Malin, Ore. Expected to begin service in June 2011, the pipeline has an initial design capacity of up to 1.5 billion cubic feet per day, and will serve as a vital piece of infrastructure to feed the demand for natural gas in the Pacific Northwest. 

U.S. Pipeline, of Houston, is responsible for the 241 miles of pipeline that stretch through Wyoming and Utah. The company has contracted with members of Pipeliners Local Union 798 to perform both the automated welding process that joins each length of pipe and the manual repair work that follows as each weld is tested.

Welding on the right-of-way involves battling wind, dirt, heat and cold. It also demands quality as codes and regulations pertaining to transmission pipeline welding are strict. The process of manual pipeline welding has typically involved a welder barking out instructions to a helper who manned a remote box tethered to the side of the pipeline and connected to the machine by a long cord. The remote box is nothing more than a dial that gives the helper a ballpark idea of the current welding output. It proves cumbersome to store and manipulate. It also presents a tripping hazard and one more point of wear that can break and result in downtime in the field.

Miller Electric Mfg. Co. introduced a wireless remote hand control to combat those factors, and Local 798 member Garry Allison was one of the first people to use it in a pipeline application. Allison — working repairs on the Ruby Pipeline Project — found a wireless hand remote solves each of those problems, and also improve the accuracy and quality of his welding.

Ruby Pipeline in Wyoming Contractors with U.S. Pipeline work on Spread 1 of the Ruby Pipeline near Evanston, Wyo.

Welding Repairs on the Right-of-Way

The majority of the pipeline is welded with the CRC-Evans automatic welding process. This mechanized process allows pipeliners to lay fast, repeatable beads and complete more joints per day. The pipeline is constructed of 42-inch X70 pipe with wall thicknesses ranging from .541- to .600-inches. A root pass is run internally, while the hot pass, filler and capping passes are all run externally. Each joint is then X-rayed to check for defective welds. Any weld defects are marked and communicated to repair teams like Allison and his welder helper, Tyler Nutt. 

Weld repairs first begin with gouging out the defective weld. Allison uses carbon arc gouging with a ?-inch carbon powered off his welding generator to remove the defect. Nutt then comes in with a propane tank outfitted with a torch and a rosebud tip to bring the pipe up to required preheat temperatures. If the repair is all the way down in the root of the weld, it may require as many as seven passes: a root pass, hot pass, three filler passes and two capping passes. There are varying factors that determine the amperage (heat) that needs to be put into the weld, including position, gap and speed — hence the need for remote control capabilities.

Miller's wireless remote hand control
Manual pipeline welding applications require both a welder and a welder’s helper. It is the job of the welder’s helper to control heat input at the direction of the welder as the weld is being made.
Wireless Technology Improves Welding Repair Process

One area where a wireless hand remote control helps improve quality is its digital display. Traditional remote technology relies on a dial with no display to remind the operator what the machine is currently set at. The machine may be set at 300 amps, but the helper has no real way of knowing what the amperage is set at after he makes his first series of adjustments. A wireless remote with a digital readout is much easier for the helper to track. Its settings go from 1 to 100 and represent a percentage of the amperage set back at the machine. If the remote is set at 40, and the machine is set at 300 amps, the operator knows he o;s set at 120 amps. If the operator wants to know what amperage he’s set at, he can simply ask the helper what the digital display says and have an exact answer.  

“Using a normal remote, if you say ‘five up’ or ‘five down,’ you don’t know exactly what you’re getting because it doesn’t have a digital display,” says Allison. “With the wireless remote, because it has a digital display, you’re really getting welding down to a science. The digital display allows me to have complete control of the molten puddle and know exactly what my settings are. It makes welding much easier and more precise because you know exactly where you’re at as far as amperage.”

 In addition to the improvement in accuracy, there are three main benefits associated with eliminating the cord itself:

welding on the Ruby Pipeline
Garry Allison of Pipeliners Local Union 798 performs a welding repair on the Ruby Pipeline near Evanston, Wyo.

Miller’s wireless remote hand controls extend the welding range to 300 feet from the power source. Reaching that distance in the past would have required numerous extensions. There’s also no need to buy new equipment, as the remotes are fully compatible with existing power sources through the 14-pin connection that the corded remotes previously connected to. Installation is also easy, as the remote and the receiver are linked right out of the box. Operators simply have to connect the receiver and turn on the machine, and they’re ready to weld.  

“There are several benefits to not having a cord with your remote,” says Allison. “You don’t have to roll out and roll up. You don’t have to worry about a high dollar extension cord being torn or frayed. There’s no more tripping hazard. Whenever you’re lowering stuff into the ditch, the remote is something that you always take care of. With the wireless remote, you’ve got it on you. You can put it in your pocket, put it in your belt. It makes it faster for getting your stuff rolled up and moving on to the next weld.”

Its ability to simply clip on a shirt pocket or belt ensures less wear and tear on the unit, and provides greater mobility to the welder’s helper. For Nutt, whose job is to constantly provide Allison with everything he needs (rod, grinding discs, setting adjustments), this has allowed him to stay one step ahead.

“The wireless remote is great,” says Nutt. “I can run to the truck and get more welding rods, grinding discs, any stuff that he might need while he’s welding, and he doesn’t have to stop and wait on me to grab that stuff when he’s between passes. I don’t have to worry about rolling it out or rolling it up. If he’s welding, I can be on the other side of the truck or the other side of the pipe and be able to run his heat from wherever I’m at. I don’t have to worry about taking the box around with me with the cord on it. I can just about run it from anywhere with that remote.”

The elimination of a cord also improves safety by reducing tripping hazards and clutter in the work environment.

“With the wireless remote, you don’t have an extra lead in your welding bed,” says Allison. “You don’t have to have a place to roll up another section of lead for your remote. You just have your lead and your ground. The remote itself I keep inside the truck on the dash. It has three AAA batteries, so there’s really no maintenance.”

Eliminating the cord as a tripping hazard doesn’t only improve the workers’ safety, it also improves the reliability of the remote.

“We’d normally have a magnet on the back of it and hang it up on the pipe,” says Nutt. “If you trip over that wire, the box could hit the ground and break, or the box becomes unplugged and that messes with the welder’s heat. It’s just a hassle.”

Overall, Allison feels that a seemingly simple change — removing the cord from his welding remote and adding a digital display — will have a substantial effect on the pipeline welding industry. Taking into account the nomadic lifestyle of a pipeline welder, and the need to have all your equipment mobile and accessible, the technology is a natural fit.

“I can’t say how much this has made a difference and what it’s going to do to our industry,” he says. “I’ve been on several jobs since then and everyone wants one of these wireless remotes. It’s really going to take our industry over.” 

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