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Mechanical Connectors

A. Gledhill and B. Hart,
Cameron Iron Works

INTRODUCTION
Mechanical connectors are present in many different areas of subsea
oilfield equipment ranging from drilling BOP stacks through Christmas trees and flowlines to the latest concepts in modular completions.
They perform a very important interface and absolute integrity is
required to prevent pollution. This is particularly so with their
extensive use in modular template completions when many more
such connectors are used than would be the case with more
traditional methods.

PURELY DIVER-INSTALLED CONNECTOR
In the case where diver involvement is acceptable, a very
cost-effective and reliable type of connector is that of the type shown
in Fig. 1. This uses individual tie-down screws which force
Advances in Underwater Technology, Ocean Science and Offshore Engineering, Volume 10:
Modular Subsea Production Systems
0Society for Underwater Technology (Graham & Trotman, 1987)

When greater imtial alignment is requlred as in the case of a tree connector. dnving them onto the matmg hubs. In the unlocked position the clamp fingers open out at the bottom to provide a funnel whch Improves guidance when used as a wellhead connector. This feature is particularly useful during guidelineless drilling. the effects of fnction have an unportant beanng on overall efficiency. 1 Mechan~calwellhead connector wedge-shaped segments radially inwards against the tapered shoulder of the wellhead housing. where internal stab mandrels are used. . it is labour intensive and obviously not suited to use m deep water and requlres longer to make up tight than hydrauhcally actuated types. a lower skirt nng is employed to provide initial lateral clearance to prevent damage. T h s design is very versatile and is equally suited for use as a dnlling connector or a Christmas tree connector.ADVANCES IN UNDERWATER TECHNOLOGY Fig. a number of hydraulic cylinders dnve a tapered sleeve which acts against the collet fingers. In this design. However. 2. Its mam advantages are low initial cost and reliability with no hydraulic components to denature after prolonged installation. As the connector mechamsm relies on sliding tapered sleeves to denve its mechanical advantage. WELLHEAD HYDRAULIC CONNECTORS A type of connector using hydraulically actuated collet fingers is shown in Fig.

MECHANICAL CONNECTORS Fig.14.83: 1. However. whlch IS equivalent to a fnctlon coefficient of 0. 2 Model 70 collet connector For the connector shown In Flg. Gwen the practical llmltatlons of the current deslgn an Improved way of lncreaslng connector preload IS to lncrease the hydraullc force on the tapered slldlng sleeve as on the annular plston hydraullc .1.Consequently. Slnce frlctlon has such a dramatlc effect on efficiency. A typlcal value of a IS 4" and of b IS 25". 1. the effects of fnctlon greatly reduce t h s figure such that a practically achievable mechanical advantage is of the order of 3:. After a considerable amount of use or after a long perlod subsea ~t IS unllkely that a connector w11 perform as efficiently as when new. particular attention IS g v e n to the use of low-fr~ctioncoatlngs and speclal lubricants. the mechanical advantage gven as IS where a = angle of outer tapered sleeve b = angle of wellhead housing and connector body fl = fnctlon angle for slldlng sleeve/collet finger interface f2 = frlctlon angle for collet fingerlwellhead houslng mterface. T h s figure IS obtalned uslng an angle of frlctlon of about 8" for both fl and fi. ~f fnctlon IS ~gnored.the mechamcal advantage IS 14.

but it is more suitable for use when high cyclic bending loads are encountered such as when dnlllng in very deep water or during wellhead tieback operations. 2. External mecharucal locking devices may be provided. using the standard overnde rod feature if any vibration is expected whch may cause the connector to loosen during installation. A tree connector whch works in the same principle as those previously described. The annular piston g v e s a larger surface area than the total for the individual cylinders of the non-integral design of a similar size and operating pressure Mechan~cally. Increased preload prevents joint separation under load and reduces the nsk of fatigue failure of the clamp fingers and fretting of the metal gasket. is shown m . smce the angle of the outer tapered sleeve at 4" is less than the assumed fnction angle of about 8". T h s can be a disadvantage where such connectors are unmersed subsea for extended periods w t h the nsk of corrosion and damage to the hydraulic components.50 ADVANCES IN UNDERWATER TECHNOLOGY connector shown in Fig. 3 HC collet connector These types of connectors are considered to be self-lockmg. The collet connectors descnbed previously are integral w t h their hydraulic actuators. 3.this connector is sunilar to that shown in Fig. although with remote actuators. Fig.

The operating rod may then be drawn upwards to unlock the connector.. 6 and close-up photographs of the connection between the hydraulic cylinders on the r u m n g tool and the extended operating rods of the wellhead connector are shown m Figs 7 and 8. -. The hydraulic actuating cylinders are incorporated mto the tree runrung tool shown m Fig. remomng them from mesh wth the collar. In order to unlock the connector. (Fig. . 4 Connector w ~ t hremote operators A special lockdown mechanism is promded at the top of each operating rod (Flg. . Fig.MECHANICAL CONNECTORS 51 Fig. 4. the actuation tool attaches to the top of the connector operating rod and compresses the serrated fingers. four serrated fingers spring out and engage wth a mating fixed collar. 5.. The runnlng tool is shown attached to the tree m Fig. 9) to prevent accidental unlocking dunng servlce. 10). on removing the actuation tool. After the operating rods have been pushed down by the actuators to lock the connector.

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but mcorporates two non-integral hydraulic pistons whch act as an emergency secondary unlock by means of two rods threaded into the annular piston. As the gaskets are flexlble m a radial direction when compared w t h the hubs.MECHANICAL CONNECTORS Fig. 9 Cross sectlon of locking mecharusm Fig. 11. Metal-to-metal seals for each bore are obtained by using nng gaskets squeezed into tapered seats. I~utialalignment on bnngmg the connector into proxlrnity w t h its . where subsea production systems are remote from wellheads. 10 Cross section of operating rod wth-actuatorattached CONNECTORS FOR MODULAR SUBSEA COMPLETIONS The latest developments in subsea completions employing the modular concept. they are pressureenergzed but they are nevertheless g v e n a substantial lnltial squeeze on make-up of the connector m order to prevent leakage at low pressure. A typical small process line connector is shown m Fig. require connectors whch have multiple bores and are capable of bemg remotely mstalled and tested w t h a h g h degree of reliabihty. This works on the annular piston concept as descnbed earher for a wellhead connector.

. The bore of the cylinder is hard surfaced mth either an electroless mckel fimsh or a corrosion and wear-resistant weld cladding. 11 Annular p~stonprocess line connector matmg hub is gtven by the lower slurt nng which incorporates a guide funnel. Alternatively. since the fingers have a lateral relief provided at the top and bottom. protruding the same amount as the normal gap to provlde equal finger spacmg. Most collet connectors were ongtnally mtended for use m a vertical mode and m thls situation no special consideration need be given to circumferential location of the collet fingers. a number of small guide blocks are provided to locate the fingers circumferentially. However. gravlty would cause the fingers to bunch together on the lower side. Although the connector would still function. After the funnel has entered over the neck of the hub. mcreased fnction ansing between each finger would Impair the connector efficiency. The annular piston is provlded m t h lip seals and beanng nngs to prevent galling. T o overcome t h s problem. m the honzontal mode. two alignment pins are provided whch extend beyond the gaskets and enter mto pockets in the hub to gtve correct angular orientation before the gaskets enter their seats.Fig. They are screwed to the connector body and fit into grooves machned m the clamp finger. a small grub screw may be provlded in the side of each clamp finger.

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they do permit subsequent movement and are thus able to contend w t h rmsalignment occumng due to thermal growth or surface movement. Once hard pipe is mstalled. it can be reasonably assumed to have a service life of up to 30 years. However. The alignment swvel flange (Fig. but the use of pipelme swvels is usually most efficient. However. This can always be acheved by usmg either long pipe runs or loops or colls.MECHANICAL CONNECTORS 59 SPECIAL FLOWLINE CONNECTORS FOR HARD PIPE Although flexlble pipe conveys certain mstallation advantages. 20 Self allgnlng collet connector . whch contams all of the beneficial features of the alignment swvel flange combmed w t h remote operation. The connection uses a standard API nng gasket and when the bolts are correctly torque tightened. once the jomt is made up. it has drawbacks dunng service. Fig. In order to facilitate installation of hard pipe. Pipelme swivels require a fine surface finish m order to prevent leakage dunng service since they are not preloaded. an alternative solution is to use the self-aligmng collet connector (Fig. 19 Alignment swvel flange Fig. albeit w t h diver involvement but this is acceptable for pipelmes laid in shallow waters. the preload in the joint g v e s a full metal-to-metal seal in the swvel mechanism. 19) allows angular rmsalignment of up to 10" in any direction and also permits disconnection. It lacks the reliable durabhty of hard pipe and thus requlres more frequent statutory inspechon. no subsequent movement is possible unless the studs are slackened first. some means of increasing flexibility is required. Where diver mvolvement is not desirable. 20).

although care is taken that the connector mechanical components are adequately protected with special coatings. Some damage to protective coatmgs is usually unavoidable and cathodic protection devices are just as essential overall as are inhibitors. hydraulics actuation fluids or electncal signals. each dedicated to a particular function. The type of connector selected depends largely upon its intended purpose. most other connector installations remain subsea for extended penods. . whlch must be llnked together so as to operate as an Integral unit. Even a small amount of corrosion occurring at the gasketlseat interface would cause leakage to occur. Cntena such as initial cost notwithstanding. It is essential that they should disconnect reliably when required. Corrosion in salt water is a senous problem and. Special stainless steel welded inlays are usually provided in the metal gasket seats to prevent corrosion. the current trend favours fully remote operation as a means of ensurmg reliability irrespective of envlronrnental conditions. whether it be made up by divers or operated and mstalled using remote means. The interface. the use of corrosion inhibitors which displace sea water from the working parts greatly improves reliability. Apart from the use of connectors dunng drilling operations. such as when equipment is recovered for overhaul. whether it be for the passage of production fluids. is provided by the mechanical connector.60 ADVANCES IN UNDERWATER TECHNOLOGY CONCLUSIONS Subsea completions are formed of discrete packages of hardware.