... On the Right Track: A Right of Way Q&A - North American Energy Pipelines

On the Right Track: A Right of Way Q&A

In the world of right-of-way clearing and maintenance, the options for tracked and wheeled prime movers, crawler carriers, tractors, feller-bunchers and harvesters are plentiful as are the attachments that can be affixed to them.
We contacted some of the experts in the field to find out what’s new in the industry, track down some maintenance tips and learn what lies ahead.

On the attachment side, we interviewed Rich Hendricks, Seppi North America; Bill Schafer, product development coordinator at Loftness; and Giorgio Carera, CEO of FAE USA Inc., which makes prime movers at its Prime Tech division. In addition to Carera, on the equipment end, we have Rob Pentesco, P. Eng., product manager of wheeled feller bunchers and mulchers at Tigercat Industries. To discuss crawler carriers, we contacted Ralph Hendricks, product support coordinator, and James Schulte, account manager at Pipeline Machinery International. We also chatted with Andrew Griffiths, vice president of operations for Seisline Resource Services Ltd., a Calgary, Alberta-based clearing contractor.

(* Denotes bonus answers not found in the February print edition of North American Oil & Gas Pipelines)

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What equipment/attachments do you make that are suited for oil and gas pipeline right-of-way work?

*Schafer: We focus on the carbide cutters, which are a mulching head to cut brush and trees to grind them down to the ground, attached to skid steer loaders. Our G3 is targeted at skid steers or dedicated brush-cutting machines that are hydraulic driven like the Rayco. In the extreme size, those are the Geo-Boy or Barko type units between 200 and 400 hp, that it was our Carbide EX Hydro is designed for. Our self-propelled side trimmer, the Kwik-Trim 53, is an excavator mounted saw blade that reaches up 53 feet so they are able to drive this from the cab, it’s really a mini excavator converted to a self-propelled, self-contained trim saw. You go along with that and drop the branches without climbing or bucket trucks.

Ralph Hendricks: The Panther line of carrier crawlers by Prinoth has many applications, especially when it comes to right-of-way clearing. With the dump box or flat-bed application you have the ability to haul materials such as erosion control, fuel for machines and even mats, which is for other equipment working onsite with low-impact to the surrounding terrain. The troop carrier application will deliver personnel. Having the lowest ground pressure psi in the industry means the Panther carriers can maneuver efficiently through the jobsite even in the rain, mud and snow. Any pipeline maintenance can be completed with the array of attachments available. These attachments mounted to the Panther carrier, could be anything from water tanks, hay blowers and seeding materials, all distributed to the project with low impact to the site.

Rich Hendricks: Generally, of course, right-of-way clearing necessitates larger, more powerful machines and right of way maintenance necessitates generally smaller, lighter duty machines. We actually make attachments as small as something that will attach to one of these walk-behind power units where you stand on it from the back. We go from very small in the 20-hp range to over 600 hp, both PTO- and hydraulic-driven, wheels or tracks and excavators, purpose-built prime movers and farm-type tractors.

Pentesco: Track mulchers or wheeled mulchers are typically involved on right-of-way clearings and on the maintenance side. It depends on where they are working and what they are trying to clear, reduce or remove. Is it possible to get merchantable timber out of the pipeline to be used or sold? Depends on the area and what the situation is for the pipeline. I know of an application where they were going through with a track feller buncher felling trees down and would follow with a track-based chipper, feed the whole trees through and make chips onto the right of way. Then a tracked or wheeled mulcher would come through to clear the remaining debris and stumps.

Carera: What we normally sell for cleanup and maintenance are skid steer heads, skid steer mulchers, that will fit any type of skid steers, standard or high flow and any brand. We offer two different types of mulchers, standard flow for smaller skid steers to high flow for larger skid steers. We can grind material up to 8-in. in diameter with the attachments. In the past, you could use only high-flow skid steers to mulch, but (almost three years ago) FAE came out with a standard flow attachment. So now we offer a mulcher to all of those customers who have standard flow skid steers at 33 gallons and below and allow them to be able to cut underbrush up to 5-in. in diameter.

Is there certain equipment or attachment that is better suited for certain regions/climates/terrain?

*Pentesco: In soft terrain, boggy terrain, track mulchers are more relied on because they will typically not sink into the ground or disturb the ground as much. On hard ground, more stable ground, wheeled machines are used, from flat terrain to gentle slopes of maybe 30 percent or so. However, just because the ground is flat doesn’t mean you can get away with a wheeled type mulcher. For instance in Alberta, in the oil sands, it might be flat but there is muskeg and you don’t want to break through, so you still do want to have low ground pressure. Wheeled mulchers, typically, have higher ground pressure numbers than tracked machines. Anywhere from around 12 psi on the front tires to about 6 to 8 psi to the back tires. Whereas track mulchers whether it be high horsepower units at 5 to 6 psi to the lower horsepower units at 3 to 4 psi.

Griffiths: Typically, hydraulically driven units are used in Alberta, tracked anywhere from 250 to 500 hp. We prefer hydraulic machines because they are less maintenance than a PTO-driven machine; less maintenance of course with less parts to wear out. Everything that I own is tracked machinery. Right now we are doing a pipeline right of way and it is maintenance of an existing right of way that was cleared about 10 years ago, so we are using slightly smaller 250-hp machines with midsize Seppi heads on them to clear re-growth that’s anywhere from 2- to 4-in.

Carera: If you are working in a hilly or mountainous area, you want to use a tracked machine because it climbs better. If you are working in a flat area, like Texas for instance, you can use rubber-tired machines in that case. Both tracked machines and rubber-tired machines can use the same type of mulcher. If you are working in a flat terrain but you have swamp and a lot of water, you are better off with a tracked machine because it floats better and has less ground pressure because it distributes the weight much better versus a rubber-tired machine. Where you have soft terrain or sensitive terrain, you are better off with the tracked machine.

Schafer: In the past, on more level ground, it was cost effective to use PTO-driven units, but I have found in my experience, and it’s customer driven, if it is rough terrain at all, PTO-driven units are restricted because PTO angles get extreme when they go up and down rough terrain. PTO-driven equipment was historically the weapon of choice but now because of the capabilities of the new skid steers it’s more realistic to use hydraulic attachments because they are not as restricted.

What can contractors do to keep their equipment or attachments in top shape?

Pentesco: On the carrier side, daily maintenance and inspection is key, ensuring the machine is warmed up or cooled off properly, cleaning the unit of debris, making sure your coolant package is maintained and cleaned to ensure that it has proper cooling capabilities both in the summer and in the winter. On tracked machines, you need to ensure track tension is maintained. You don’t want to wear out your undercarriage because of it being too loose or too tight. And you want to make sure it is clear of debris. Ensuring filters, hydraulic fluids and engine oil are changed when required to aid in preventing contamination of these systems. Contamination of the hydraulic or engine system on any equipment is the devil. It can take down a machine and cause extensive repairs and downtime.

Griffiths: We do fairly extensive inspections daily on our equipment and it is also serviced daily. So any teeth on the rotor that need to be changed are changed on a daily basis. They are looking for any teeth on the rotor that have chips or pieces missing, which creates a lot of vibration in the machine and can cause a ripple effect. With vibration in a machine, you can have a lot of things go wrong, such as cracked hydraulic tanks or cracked fuel tanks. We check undercarriages, tracks and rollers daily, and of course all of the fluid checks. Air filters are checked and hydraulic lines are checked for chips and abrasions to avoid spills … just general overall inspections of the machines, which are fairly detailed, so they need to go over everything to make sure the machines are in order. We run an auxiliary heater on our machines, called an Espar heater, that is attached to a timer on the machine and is set for 6 a.m. The heater will run for 120 minutes before our operators get to work for their shift. This heater warms all of the coolant and hydraulic oil in the machine, so when the operator gets here at 25, 30 or 35 below, you can just turn the key and the machine will fire right up.

Ralph Hendricks: One major key is to service your machines at proper intervals. Scheduled maintenance according to the manufacture’s recommendations will minimize downtime, which in turn leads to more productivity. With the backing of PLM and our parts department, we have the ability to drop-ship necessary parts straight to the job if needed. The Panther uses the Cat C7.1 engine, so you have Cat parts and field service resources available
if needed.

How has the industry changed? What lies ahead?

*Carera: I see more horsepower in these smaller-sized machines to make it easier as far as transport, getting into jobsites and reducing weight especially in wet areas. These machines are safe if everyone is following the rules but I envision these machines getting better as far as safety. And these machines will be even more economical to purchase. As far as attachments, we strive to make the attachment more productive, safer, easier to maintain, more economical to run and each year we come out with a new tooth design to meet as many applications as possible. We may have a standard carbide tooth that is perfect for cutting trees, we may have a tooth that is perfect for rocky conditions and we may have one that cuts Palmettos in Florida and another tooth, which may cut trees in Canada better.

*Schulte: The new machines now are built with Tier 4 emissions technology. Plus, with the integration of ECM’s and Product Link (Condition Monitoring) to tractors, it has been proven to help diagnose problems before they occur. This leads to less downtime. GPS has become an important part of ROW clearing. Staying in boundaries set up by the gas company. Clearing the correct amount of topsoil to be replaced. Working within the designated ROW, all these are set up with GPS and installed in cabs to keep operators up to speed with the designated work area. Load monitoring, overhead electrical line proximity sensors, safer pipe handling systems, safer more productive Tack Rigs (PANTHER units) larger shaded canopy and more maneuverability. Better, fuel-efficient, units such as Hybrid 336ELH and electric tractors (D7E). The gas companies are looking at all these improvements and will be beginning to include them as requirements in the bid process.

*Griffiths: I would say the same with the prime movers; better hydraulic systems, Tier 3 Tier 4 engines so there are a lot less emissions coming out of engines than there was 10 years ago – just more efficient machinery. It is much-better built than it was 10, 12, 15 years ago – easier access panels for inspection on the machine, better relay systems in the cab that will tell you what is going on with the machine. You can download histories of spikes in oil pressure, you can look at a lot of different data that you could not 10 years ago.

Carera: What we have seen as far as the equipment is that it is much safer, more productive and it is easier to complete the maintenance and service. For instance, all of the hydraulic hoses ran under the cab and you would have to remove the cab for service. Now, manufacturers like FAE make a tiltable cab so you have access to all of the hydraulic hoses and the engine covers tilt so the engine is fully exposed, making repairs easier on the jobsite rather than returning to the shop.

Schafer: We see fewer tractors with PTO-driven units and more skid steers are being used for [clearing] work. We attribute that to skid steer companies. In the past 10 years, they have grown by leaps and bounds in the amount of power they are giving us to work with. The machine is more powerful and the hydraulic system is getting much more powerful as time goes by.

Rich Hendricks: Certainly, we are constantly striving to improve the efficiency and productivity of our machinery and the reliability. We are always trying to listen to the market to understand and predict what the customers truly want and help them achieve their goals in the most cost effective manner.

Pentesco: On the carrier side, we are continually trying to improve efficiencies in order to achieve better fuel economy and direct as much power as possible, no matter what size carrier, to the attachment. We are ensuring the robustness of the machine meets our customers’ expectations and is long lasting. That is definitely a Tigercat philosophy — tough, reliable, productive, and we aim for all of those goals.

Schulte: I believe we will see more of what we have seen over the last 5 years as far as safety improvements, versatility within the customer’s fleets and technological advancement. Also the ability to use a base unit for several different jobs within the rubber track family. Caterpillar is constantly improving the power source and hydraulic functions to run more efficiently with tighter tolerances within hydraulic systems. They allow more power and smoother operation with less torque and less fuel and cleaner burn. This makes the equipment more efficient.

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