National Grid’s Pipelines Maintenance Centre (PMC) plays a critical role in keeping the UK’s gas flowing exactly when and where it needs to. Head of Delivery Services Karl Yates discusses PMC’s strategy and services — and reveals some facts that might surprise you.
PMC has come a long way since it was founded as the emergency response unit to National Grid’s nationwide network of gas pipelines back in the 1970s.
Today, we are a leading authority on pipeline intervention and provide a huge range of engineering solutions to customers within National Grid as well as external customers.
Our team numbers over 180 highly trained technicians and engineers. Their expertise spans the complete range of pipeline materials and pressures used in gas transmission and distribution, on steel and polythene, up to pressures of 100 bar.
While we have vastly expanded our range of service since the 70s, our emergency response service, known as the Centralised Emergency, Materials and Equipment (CEME) scheme, remains a core service. We provide 24/7, 365-day-a-year support for a range of customers including gas transmission and distribution network owners, power stations and oil pipelines.
Typical call-outs include fractured or failed pipes on the distribution network. We also have the capability to handle much more serious issues on the high-pressure transmission network. Whatever the call, we can have skilled technicians on site within an agreed timeframe. This is complemented with a vast amount of maintenance and repair equipment held by PMC to ensure we are fully prepared to deal with any type of pipeline emergency.
Beyond CEME and reactive engineering services on pipelines and associated equipment, PMC also undertakes a number of proactive inspection services. These include in-line inspections using pipeline inspection gauges (PIGs), robotic devices, radiography and a full range of non-destructive testing inspections (NDT).
All these services help our customers keep their networks of pipelines working safely and reliably.
We are also responsible for surveying National Grid’s gas pipelines with a repair turnaround of 14 or 28 days, depending on the pressure at which they operate. The surveying from the air is done using manned aircraft and drones for which we have a civil aviation license. From the ground we have engineers walking the lines and reporting any issues that require intervention.
Planned pipeline works is another of our core services. Our services include asset repair and maintenance, pipe cutting, preparing and changing pipe ends, welding, maintaining valves and actuators, flow-stopping across a full range of pipe diameters, pressures and materials, plus the use of innovative techniques such as the bond and bolt which reduces excavation size and cost.
Our expertise has evolved to the point where we now work as the principal contractor on a range of large mechanical and civil engineering projects. One example was when we fully dismantled a gas site in Hawarden, North Wales. It was a complex project that included removing the connecting pipe from the transmission pipeline, capping off the valve below ground and demolishing all the above-ground pipe work.
Across all these areas our workforce makes a powerful contribution to the safe and reliable operation of the UK’s pipeline networks. But it is not only the scope of our services that make us a unique part of National Grid. By providing services to third parties as well as our internal customers, we have the means to bring revenue into the business. This is particularly valuable in the current regulatory landscape where network companies like ours face fresh financial challenges.
Following a comprehensive strategic review, we have set ourselves the target of growing our business by 6% in the coming years. While that may not sound immediately ambitious, we have to balance opportunities in the market with managing a number of challenges.
Foot on the ball
Some of these are significant. Not least the fact that a significant number of our technicians and engineers will reach retirement age in the next 10 years. We will also be tackling a number of process issues across our seven UK sites to enhance the customer experience, investing in CEME and developing training facilities core to PMC’s skills.
So rather than over promise and under deliver, we decided to put our foot on the ball and make sure we had the right strategy in place to deliver an achievable level of growth taking into account the cost to achieve our ambitions.
We are now in the process of building on the key themes we identified in our strategic review. Projects under way include efforts to become more efficient by improving our end-to-end processes and reviewing skills across all of our teams to meet the challenge of an ageing workforce.
Above all, our focus will be on expanding our emergency response service, a core part of our identity, and really bolstering our safety processes, particularly in our role as principal contractor.
So our future path is paved with opportunities, but it is also important to reflect on some of the recent successes we have had. On a challenging job with one of our capital delivery customers, for example, our team put in such a fantastic effort replacing two valves that the customer now wants other suppliers to replicate out professional approach.
We also went the extra mile on a project on our Feeder 12 pipe across Scotland. We delivered more repairs than expected in a shorter time than anticipated, enabling the pipeline to be returned to live operation five weeks ahead of schedule.
We have people who fly our lines in all weathers, without any dramas or crises. They simply do their jobs in a dedicated and professional way and deliver a fantastic service. It is important not to forget the dedication of people like this who work behind the scenes every day to ensure gas flows to the people who need it – bringing energy to life.
At PMC, we are also a real champion of innovation, which helps us deliver continued improvements in the quality and cost of our services. At the grassroots level, our engineers regularly find unique solutions that help customers fix problems with their systems. For example, after identifying an issue with fittings blowing off older valves, we developed a capping capability made from resin that keeps them secure for the long term.
Nationally, PMC will deliver one of National Grid’s most important innovations, Project GRAID, to the market. The project’s objective is to create a robot that can move through complex, buried pipework at our high-pressure gas installations and inspect their condition. Once it becomes a commercial option, we will go to work selling the service to our customers and providing ongoing intelligence and expertise to the wider business.
Our work on UK pipelines is essential for the safe flow of gas to every home and business that uses it. We take our responsibility seriously and are determined to tackle the challenges ahead. With the commitment of our people and a solid plan in place, we believe further growth and success are well and truly in the pipeline.
PMC in numbers
2016 saw the teams deliver the following:
- Repaired more than 100 valves
- Spotted more than 900 potential threats to pipelines
- Responded to more than 30 emergency call-outs
- 3,108 line-walking repairs
- 1,045 litres of paint used
- 2,118 maintenance jobs completed.