Posted: 25 May 2017
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Pipeline protection slabs go plastic

Gas Transmission’s Innovation Value Mid-Term Report looks at how new ideas transform into real value for customers. One such project is developing plastic protection slabs to keep farm and construction workers safer – and saving almost half a million pounds. Paul Ogden, Senior Engineer, Civil Assets picks up the story.

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Pipeline protection slabs go plastic

Pipeline protection slabs go plastic

A new type of plastic impact protection slab is bringing substantial cost savings and safety benefits to National Grid and its customers.

“Made from Ultra High Molecular Weight Polyethylene (UHMWPE), the new slabs are around 30mm thick, extremely lightweight and strong enough to survive the impact of a stray dredger bucket”

Paul Ogden, Senior Engineer, Civil Assets.

Insight:

£471k – total cost savings for installations to date

Source: National Grid.

Protecting our buried gas pipelines against damage from farm and construction equipment is a critical safety concern for our business.

Paul Ogden, Senior Engineer, Civil Assets.

One traditional safeguard has been the use of impact protection slabs manufactured from reinforced concrete. These are buried below ground level to protect pipes from being hit during activities such as digging or dredging. So before anyone hits one of our gas pipes, they strike concrete.

While the solution is satisfactory, it’s not perfect. Concrete reinforcements, for example, can corrode, causing the concrete to crack and move. The slabs can also sink over time. When either of these happens, there’s a risk the concrete could rub against a pipe, causing damage and a potentially serious incident.

Plastic surgery

Keen to find another solution, we embarked on a Network Innovation Allowance (NIA) project to research and develop polyethylene (PE) slabs as an innovative alternative. Polyethylene in its purest form is common plastic. But the material we’re using is a stronger, denser, more robust type – and it’s bright yellow.

It’s called Ultra High Molecular Weight Polyethylene (UHMWPE), is around 30mm thick, extremely lightweight and strong enough to survive the impact of a stray dredger bucket. It also offers many benefits that concrete doesn’t.

For a start, the slabs are faster, easier and safer to install. They’re also considerably less expensive to buy than the concrete alternative. This adds up to significant cost savings for our business and customers. In fact, after installing just 159 PE slabs across 30 sites, we’ve already made savings of £471k. As we roll the slabs out across the country these savings will continue to grow.

Light relief

Disruption to our customers is also reduced. While installing concrete slabs requires heavy machinery to be moved across a customer’s land, with plastic slabs our technicians can simply move them by hand direct from their vehicle to the installation site.

The slabs are faster, easier and safer to install than the concrete alternative.

One area where we’ve found the new slabs particularly useful is in shallow ditches. Farmers clear these areas regularly, and often bring in external contractors to do the work who may not be aware of the location of our pipes. The benefit of having a yellow slab buried in the ditch is it gives machine operators early visual warning of the presence of a pipeline, reducing the chance of any incidents.

We’re really pleased with the outcome of the project and we’ll continue to order and install more plastic slabs across the country – bringing more of their impressive benefits to the surface.

Fast facts

44% less carbon than concrete – for 3x5m coverage

£471k – total cost savings for installations to date

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To find out more out Gas Transmission’s innovation portfolio – and how it’s benefiting our customers – read our Mid-term Innovation Value Report.

 

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