Welding Trends: How Pipeline Industry Changes Impact Welding Services
The energy pipeline industry is experiencing significant changes. With the discussion about Energy Transition, there has been increased interest in developing infrastructure to decarbonize energy supplies through the use of hydrogen gas (H2) and the capture of carbon dioxide (CO2).
As with oil and natural gas pipelines, welding will continue to be a critical component in the construction of hydrogen and carbon capture, use and storage (CCUS) pipelines. North American Energy Pipelines spoke with two experts in the pipeline welding field about current trends in the market and how the Energy Transition is impacting their business.
Sam Phillips is global industry segment director for pipe mill and pipeline at Lincoln Electric, a company that specializes in the engineering, design and manufacturing of advanced arc welding solutions, automated joining, assembly and cutting systems, plasma and oxy-fuel cutting equipment, and has a leading global position in brazing and soldering alloys. Headquartered in Cleveland, Ohio, Lincoln has 56 manufacturing locations in 19 countries and a worldwide network of distributors and sales offices serving customers in more than 160 countries.
Christian Loeffler is commercial and project director for Serimax, a company that is focused on providing a wide array of welding solutions to markets around the world, largely to the pipeline sector, supporting both pipeline contractors with its equipment offerings and owner/operators at the research and development (R&D) and engineering levels. The company has been in business for 45 years and for the past 12 years as a member of the Vallourec group, notably manufacturing pipes and connections out of Youngstown, Ohio; Muskogee, Oklahoma; and Houston, Texas.
The following is an edited transcript of our discussion.
What current trends are you seeing in the energy pipeline market?
Phillips: We are seeing increasing interest in higher strength solutions that have lower hydrogen weld deposits. Mechanizing pipeline construction coupled with easier mobility is also gaining popularity.
Loeffler: Currently, we are seeing owner/operators increasing pipeline capacity through expansion loops, as well as the continued movement forward with new pipelines to be constructed to meet the increasing energy demands brought about by recovery from the impacts of COVID-19 and geopolitical events. We see construction of multi-hundred-mile, large-diameter pipelines to transport natural gas across Texas from the Permian that will increase takeaway capacity from the basin. We do as well see new initiatives becoming a reality with CCUS pipelines construction expected to commence in the coming year across the Midwest, as well as hydrogen and hydrogen/natural gas mixture pipelines.
What challenges do welding equipment and service providers have in today’s changing energy pipeline market?
Loeffler: One of the biggest challenges faced by mechanized welding providers specifically is understanding of the change from manual welding processes to mechanized welding. Mechanized welding is a robust, consistent, continually developing technology that will continue to provide for the pipeline energy market. There is a trend in the industry of an aging workforce and a concern with the lack of available talent in the very near future to perform the work needed. Mechanized welding has the immediate opportunity to fulfill this need.
Phillips: Understanding contractor and operator expectations with enough time to address any changes is a challenge. As changes occur, obtaining and training skilled labor throughout the process will remain.
How do you address those challenges from an equipment/materials supply side?
Phillips: We try to stay ahead of the curve, but it is impossible to do all the time. Developing products and solutions that make our customers’ jobs easier is our goal. We often dual source major components such as diesel engines to mitigate supply risks.
Loeffler: We address the challenges early on through training of personnel on our mechanized welding equipment and technology exchanges with owner/operators and pipeline contractors alike. When we introduce our equipment at the early/pre-FEED stages, the stakeholders are able to understand the equipment, the benefits and the ease of use in order to visualize the benefit of the implementation on their pipeline project. Serimax provides welding engineering/expertise support early in the project life in order to suggest the best welding solution for the specific project needs related to project steel grade requirements, welding consumable and process requirements, and production/weld rate requirements.
How does Serimax look at the Energy Transition topic?
Loeffler: Serimax sees energy transition as continued opportunity in the energy and pipeline markets. While we continue to support and see the clear and beneficial need for pipelines to transport oil and gas to the market in a safe and reliable manner, we are also called upon from industry stakeholders including owner/operators, pipeline contractors, and suppliers of equipment/welding consumables to review new energy project requirements and consolidate the requirements with the best fit welding practice, process, consumable and welding equipment. We see the future of the industry as a mix of traditional oil and gas pipelines and new energy projects, such as CCUS, H2 pipelines, renewable natural gas lines and LNG, with mechanized welding becoming an even stronger contributing asset.
How does Lincoln Electric look at the Energy Transition topic?
Phillips: Different regions are moving faster than others when it comes to the Energy Transition, as the need for secure energy has taken the forefront, especially with everything happening in Ukraine. When you listen to the news, everyone is scrambling for secure energy. I think we’ll see natural gas and LNG being used in short- and mid-term, but we’ll see hydrogen start to take a bigger role in the energy mix, whether it’s 100 percent hydrogen pipelines or different blends. There is still a lot of research required to see how hydrogen impacts steel pipe to determine how those pipelines will need to be built.
Our business looks at it as an opportunity to be part of the solution that fulfill the world’s need for clean, reliable energy. Training opportunities, especially on new products and processes, will exist before or during jobs to help contractors hone their skills.
With the Energy Transition looking at introducing new types of pipelines (e.g., Hydrogen, Carbon Capture, etc.), what effect does that have on the welding side?
Phillips: There are examples of both CO2 and H2 pipelines in the ground today. So to some extent, we understand what it should take to build more. However, in some cases, like mainline transmission of 100 percent hydrogen, there are still questions that need answered as to what processes and procedures can meet the requirements.
Loeffler: Each of these markets have their own unique complications when it comes to welding and the effects of the transported product on the pipe and weld material. CCUS is transporting a traditionally “sour” gas (CO2) having corrosive tendencies on steel. Hydrogen has a similar impact, although the hydrogen molecules are smaller and therefore have a higher penetration rate, which can introduce a brittleness to the steel. Accordingly, Serimax is evaluating, testing and producing welding techniques and procedures to help address this.
What opportunities exist for welding equipment/service providers in this changing energy market?
Loeffler: With the ever-increasing welding specification requirements, we see key opportunities for mechanized welding and the associated low hydrogen consumable. We have seen this movement in Canada for quite a few years and are now seeing the U.S. specifications shift toward this demand for low hydrogen requirements. Mechanized welding processes meet these increasing demands, while at the same time increase welding production with a consistently high quality which ultimately lowers the cost both for the pipeline contractor and owner/operator. These benefits accompanied with the aging labor workforce allows for a younger generation of welders to be trained on and succeed with
Phillips: There will be new projects for pipelines that move CO2 and hydrogen; building them safely and efficiently are the opportunities. That being said, there will also be more natural gas pipelines to help bridge the energy gap.
How have the recent government infrastructure funding bills impacted the welding industry?
Loeffler: We have not seen the recent funding bills effectively impact the welding industry yet, but we definitively see projects discussed and owners/operators trying to maximize the benefit of these bills, CCUS projects as a good example. While looking solely at the incentives related to new energy pipelines in these bills, we look forward to the potential growth for the pipeline industry.
How have recent supply chain delays impacted the welding industry?
Phillips: Backlog has increased. The industry as a whole has had to plan ahead and commit to input materials that previously didn’t require such large lead times. Fleet managers must consider equipment needs at a much earlier stage in project planning.
What are your thoughts on the future of the pipeline welding market?
Phillips: I’m bullish for the next several years as we work toward addressing the demand of reliable and secure energy globally.
Loeffler: The future of the pipeline market looks promising with strong signals for the U.S. Gulf of Mexico, multiple cross-country pipelines, large-diameter pipelines to increase natural gas takeaway capacity, as well as CCUS in 2023-2024. We are excited for the energy transition. We are engaged with owner/operators, engineering firms and pipeline contractors alike to help them tackle the new challenges.
Lincoln Electric, November December 2022 Print Issue, Serimax, Welding
Bradley Kramer is managing editor of North American Energy Pipelines. Contact him at email@example.com.
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