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Magnatech: Welding the Maui A-B Pipeline - Orbital Welding Systems


An onshore pipe welding setup speeded the production of underwater pipe-laying for
a major project off New Zealand

By Peter Butler, J.G. Emmerson, and Rene Van Den Berg

Submarine pipelines have been installed all over the world, in diameters ranging from 76mm (3in.) up
to 1270mm (50in) or more and in water depths up to 500m (1600ft) using the S-lay method. This
method is based on holding the pipe at the end of the pipe lay barge, supporting the over bend by means
of a mechanical structure known as a "stinger," and lowering the pipe to the sea bed at a typical
inclination of 30 deg to horizontal. The pipe is prevented from buckling by tension maintained by the lay
barge anchors which are periodically moved forward along the route of the pipeline. On the deck of the
S-lay barge, pipe welding, NDT, and pipe joint coating workstations are sequentially positioned to allow
use of standard 12m (39ft) or double-jointed 24m (79ft) pipe lengths. The multiple workstations
optimize the production rate at the expense of increased vessel length.
Most commercially worthwhile oil and gas fields located in shallow waters have already been
developed. With the increasing cost of production from marginal shallow water fields, exploration and
development have focused on new sites in increasingly deeper waters. With increasing water depth, the
length and weight of the unsupported pipe span increase and the anchor tension required to prevent
buckling also increases. Due to the catenary of the anchoring cables, the ability to provide the tension
decreases as the water depth increases, until a limit is reached beyond which anchors cannot be used.
In the 1950s, the J-lay concept was developed. With the J-lay technique, the pipe is suspended near
vertically from the lay barge, thus reducing the horizontal force required to prevent pipe buckling. The
J-lay technique has obvious advantages for deep-water applications where it is possible to eliminate the
use of anchors by using dynamic positioning. The main drawback of the J-lay technique is that the near
vertical pipe is difficult to handle and multiple workstations cannot be used. Only one length of pipe can
be welded onto the pipeline at a time and subsequent inspection and coating must be done before the
next weld can be made, resulting in low production rates compared to that achieved by S-lay barges.
In 1989, Heerema, a Dutch company, which operates a fleet of semi-submersible crane vessels (SSCV)
used for the installation of offshore oil and gas production platforms, decided to diversify into marine
pipe laying. Realizing direct competition with established pipe lay contractors using S-lay barges could
not be commercially competitive, an innovative J-lay system was designed which took advantage of the
unique capabilities of the SSCV.
Although the J-lay concept was some 30 years old, no functional system had been constructed as
there was no immediate market for it, especially one which could justify inferior productivity when
compared to S-lay barges. Heerema's solution to this limitation was to maximize the length of each
piece of pipe added to the pipeline. By fabricating the pipe on shore into lengths up to 72m (240ft) and
using the massive crane capacity (4000 tons) of the SSCV to lift each pipe string into position for
welding, they could compensate for a lower productivity rate.

J-Lay Project

In late 1990, Heerema was awarded a pipe lay contract from Shell Todd Oil Services (STOS) of New
Zealand and detail design and construction of the J-lay equipment was begun.
New Zealand is supplied with natural gas from the Maui A platform which was installed in the late
1970s. To increase available supplies, Shell Todd Oil Services decided to invest in a second platform
which was to be installed 15km (9 miles) from Maui A. A 20in (51cm) diameter pipeline was planned to
carry untreated gas from this new platform, Maui B, to Maui A for treatment before transport to shore
through the existing pipelines. The raw gas from the Maui field is extremely corrosive due to the high
CO 2 content which led to the selection of API 5LX grade X60 pipe internally clad with Type 316L
stainless steel. The 20in diameter seam welded pipe had a nominal 3/4in (19mm) wall of API SLX 60
and an internal cladding of Type 316L stainless steel, 1/8in (3mm) thick. It was to be the longest clad
steel pipeline in the world.
This was to be no ordinary pipeline project. In addition to the teething problems of a complex and
innovative new technique, the customer required that pipe welds meet a specification far more
demanding than the traditional standard for pipelines (API 1104).
In August 1991, a full-scale trial was conducted onboard the SSCV Balder off Vancouver Island,
Canada, during which 1km (0.62 miles) of pipe was laid and retrieved. Subsequently, the Maui A-B
pipeline was laid in the Tasman Sea off New Zealand during the period December 1991 to March 1992.
The selection of welding equipment was influenced by the requirement for "no defects/no repairs" in
the clad layer and the ability to make an acceptable root pass on pipes exhibiting the maximum
permitted mismatch of 1.6mm (0.062in). Two fundamentally different approaches were considered.
The first was the use of an orbital GMAW system using a "narrow gap" bevel geometry. With this
approach, the root pass was made from the inside, with hot, fill, and capping passes made from the
outside. This approach offered substantial speed due to the low weld volume and high deposition rates.
The second alternative was to use orbital GTAW for the root pass, which required a wider groove
geometry and potentially lower deposition rates, but offered a better guarantee of weld metal quality.
GTAW or GMAW would be used for fill and capping passes.
The restrictive welding specification, the complexities of the clad pipe, combined with the first time
use of an innovative pipe lay system, led to the decision to place the emphasis on making good welds
the first time around, and that optimizing the weld deposition rate should be a secondary consideration.
Magnatech orbital welding equipment was chosen for a welding development program based on the use
of GTAW for the root and hot passes. The purpose of the development program was to establish the root[3/26/2011 9:25:01 PM]

Magnatech: Welding the Maui A-B Pipeline - Orbital Welding Systems

and hot pass parameters and evaluate both GTAW and GMAW techniques for the fill and cap passes.
Welding equipment selection, welding procedure development and the training of local welders in New
Zealand were conducted concurrently with the required modification to the SSCV for J-lay operations.

Equipment Development

The welding development program was undertaken at a Heerema associated facility in Zwijndrecht,
Holland. Magnatech provided its Series 500 System for the GTAW development. The system consists of
a track-mounted orbital welding head, a constant current power source and controls which integrate the
operation of the welding head and power source. The T Model welding head incorporates torch rotation,
filler wire feed, torch oscillation, and arc voltage control functions. The welding head mounts on the
pipe using an appropriately sized guide ring, which consists of a metal band that encircles the pipe O.D.
The Series 500 controller provides speed regulation and servo control circuitry for the various functions
of the welding head, as well as control of welding current. The controller offers the ability to pulse the
welding current and allows certain weld head functions (wire feed, torch rotation, oscillation and arc
voltage control operation) to be synchronized with the pulsed current. The Cyber-Wave power source
from Hobart Bros., Inc., Troy, Ohio, supplied as part of the system, has sufficient output capability
(300A/60% duty cycle) and good arc characteristics required to make welds meeting the demanding
The Series 500 System has an established history of use for marine pipeline projects by a number of
contractors. This has included the welding of duplex stainless steel pipeline and pipe clad internally
with Inconel 825. The Series 500 system was originally developed for welding pipe work in the steam
generation and chemical industries. Further refinements were added to optimize it for this pipeline
Magnatech also supplied the orbital GMAW system for welding trials in Holland. This GMAW system is
similar in construction to the Series 500 and consists of a welding head, power source, and controls.
The welding head is track mounted on an identical guide ring to the GTAW system. The Pipeliner Model
welding head also incorporates torch rotation, filler wire feed, and torch oscillation. The power source
used with the GMAW system was the Transarc 500 model manufactured by Fronius Schweissmaschinen
KG, Wels-Thalheim, Austria. This is a pulsed power source which allows synergic control between the
welding head mounted wire feeder and the power source output. The torch oscillation system has the
unique capability of a "power boost" mode of operation. The torch oscillation system commands a
higher power output level during the dwell period, when the torch is adjacent to the side walls of the
bevel. This feature provides better side wall fusion and has made orbital GMAW welding a viable
alternative for many applications. Synergic programming of the Transarc 500 is based on the concept
that the four basic pulse parameters (voltage, current, time period, and frequency) are factory preset
for a given combination of filler wire size, material and shielding gas. The wire feeder interacts with the
factory preset program which automatically adjusts one or more of the pulse variables to maintain
uniform arc energy. The welder sets the pipe base material and wire diameter which leads to the
selection of the appropriate pulse relationships stored on a memory chip.

Welding Equipment Trials

A program of welding trials was conducted using the Magnatech GTAW and GMAW equipment on clad
pipe supplied by the customer, STOS. The purpose of these trials was to select the welding process to
be used for the fill and cap passes, and to optimize equipment design for the task.
The Maui pipeline was to be welded in the 6G position, with the pipe axis at a nominal 37 deg to the
horizontal, due to the constraints of the J-lay system. For use in the single welding station within the
stinger, a double-up welding technique (6 to 12 o'clock) was selected on the basis of maximizing the
deposition rate and minimizing the potential for lack of side wall fusion. The 20in pipe was large enough
to permit the simultaneous use of two welding heads, one traveling clockwise and the other,
All controls required during welding operations are located on the remote pendant, and the operator
has little need to make any adjustments on the welding head when in motion.
The ease of repositioning and resetting the welding heads for subsequent passes was important to the
overall speed of operations given the simultaneous use of two heads on a joint and the double-up weld
techniques. Minor modifications to the equipment were made such as the integration of a clutch in the
drive system to minimize the time required to reposition the weld head.
The guide rings which mount the weld head on a pipe are conventionally sized to minimize radial
clearance around the pipe joint. There is only minimal clearance between the under surface of the weld
head and the pipe O.D. This created a problem for the Maui application where the pipe lengths were
supplied with a thick coating of insulating material to within 20cm (8in) of each pipe end. The solution
was to use oversized guide rings equipped with "stand-off legs" to provide rotational clearance of the
weld head over the insulation layer. The stand-offs were manufactured of copper and also served as a
convenient work piece "ground" connection.
The final modification to the control system was dictated by the "no defects/no repairs" criteria for the
clad layer and the considerable impact that resultant cut-outs would have on the pipe lay schedule. It
was imperative that when welding the clad layer the equipment operated faultlessly or not at all, so with
that in mind a flow switch was added to the shield gas supply. Thus no gas, no arc and, no cut-out.

Welding Procedure Development

The welding trials used to assess the equipment also provided the basis for welding procedure
development. From the process and consumable variations investigated in these trials the outline[3/26/2011 9:25:01 PM]

Magnatech: Welding the Maui A-B Pipeline - Orbital Welding Systems

welding procedure was established. This was then refined during the period of training and
qualification of welding operators in New Zealand.
The process options conducted were:
1) GTAW for the root and hot pass using Type 309MoL stainless steel filler wire which was selected to
provide the required root bead chemistry.
2) GTAW fill and cap using stainless steel filler wires.
3) GMAW fill and cap using solid stainless steel wire in the "short arc" mode.
4) GMAW fill and cap using flux cored stainless steel filler wires in the pulsed spray mode.
The GMAW welds were made with a variety of shielding gases and in both uphill and downhill
Also considered for the fill and cap was GMAW with carbon steel over pure iron buffer layer. This is
known to have been used successfully on a previous occasion on a pipeline of similar metal. The
procedure was not actively pursued because adequate properties were obtained from the stainless steel
filler wires. Also, it would have required an increase in the amount of equipment to be installed in the
already congested stinger welding station and have increased the risk of contamination of the stainless
No significant problems were experienced in producing consistent root and hot passes once the
parameters were established. The ability to deposit consistent root passes was very dependent upon
the consistency of the weld preparation and fitup. The addition of an internal line-up clamp during the
trials influenced the established root parameters which had to be modified to compensate for the
increased heat sink. The hot pass(es) was developed to provide an adequate barrier to
"overpenetration" by the GMAW and to fill the groove to a point where there was adequate access for
the GMAW nozzle.
The groove geometry, 6G weld position, and the stainless filler metal all created difficulties during the
evaluation of the GMAW process. All personnel, regardless of experience, had difficulties with the GMAW
process throughout the trials. Constant observations and adjustment of the welding head were required
during its progression around the pipe, making it hard to establish a set of parameters in which there
was sufficient confidence.
Bead placement was found to be critical as the stainless pool exhibited poor fluidity and did not
readily wet the carbon steel pipe. There was a tendency for the pool to become too large and cease to
support itself. A narrower weld preparation may have been of assistance but had to be sufficiently wide
to provide access for the GTAW root. The included angle of the joint was reduced to get better support
for the weld pool and reduce the overall weld volume, but this made steering of the torch within the
groove much more critical to avoid collisions with the bevel side wall. In order to further reduce the
width of the narrow groove, substantially extended contact tips were evaluated, but this approach was
rejected because of unacceptable tip life.

Gas Metal Arc Welding

The GMAW development program identified a number of problems with often conflicting solutions.
Solid wire made satisfactory caps when used in the uphill progression, downhill capping was susceptible
to cracking. The 0.9mm flux cored wire was more user friendly than the solid wire and was also found
more forgiving with respect to bead placement.
Qualitatively flux cored wire was preferred, both for operability and freedom from defects.
Quantitatively solid wire produced better mechanical properties.
GMAW promised improved production rates over GTAW, but the larger bead size increased the size of
the heat-affected zone, typified by coarse-grained structure, high hardness values and low impact
It was concluded that the GMAW equipment was being operated close to the limit of its capabilities.
The combination of welding wire, shielding gas, power supply programming, feed/travel rates and torch
settings which would provide repeated clean welds was not found. The only technique found to make
definitively acceptable welds, both quantitatively and qualitatively was GTAW. To develop and qualify a
reliable GMAW fill and cap procedure and then to train and qualify the operators would not be possible
within the time allowed by the project schedule. Consequently, GTAW was selected for the complete
A final set of GTAW welds was made with different wire alloys evaluated for the fill and cap. These
trials showed comparable performance for both alloys of wire, the Type 309MoL stainless wire being
preferred by the welders because of weld pool behavior but the 309L wire giving superior mechanical
properties. As both wire grades had properties well in excess of requirements, 309MoL stainless was
chosen for all welding.
The GTAW equipment and 309MoL stainless welding wires were delivered to New Zealand to start four
months of procedure development and operator training. At this stage it was necessary to select the
groove geometry to be used, as this was a critical factor in the development of the ultrasonic test
equipment and testing procedures. Procedure development led to the selection of 25 deg included
angle. Although not the minimum used during the trials, the benefits of reducing the angle further
became less significant with respect to volume. Conversely, the reduction of angle increases the
probability of lack of side wall fusion and cause large movements of the arc voltage control where the
weld preparation is irregular.
The most effective way to reduce weld volume is to reduce the root nose, which was possible because
of the use of a ceramic "chisel" shaped gas cup. Root pass geometry is a critical factor, however; it
affects the ability to deposit an acceptable root bead. The length and thickness of the nose dictate the
success of root penetration. In production, the nose thickness was controlled within a tolerance of
0.15mm (0.0006in). If the length of the nose is too short, penetration is not assured; if too long, "suck
back " is probable at the 6 o'clock position and overpenetration, or even blow through, at the 12 o'clock[3/26/2011 9:25:01 PM]

Magnatech: Welding the Maui A-B Pipeline - Orbital Welding Systems

The joint fitup also affected the weld penetration. Pipe alignment had to be tightly maintained in any
case to provide continuity of the clad layer.
The welding procedures were finally tested and qualified in New Zealand and the pipe lay vessel, SSCV
Balder, readied for production welding.


A local New Zealand company was awarded the contract to make the 72m (240ft) pipe strings. This
was done at a dockside facility also using GTAW for the entire weld. A production line was set up using
eight Magnatech Series 500 systems to complete some 1200 welds. The pipe strings were placed in five
specially constructed racks, each containing 42 strings, which were loaded onto a cargo barge for
transport to the SSCV Balder. The racks were lifted onto the SSCV Balder in sheltered waters before
sailing to the Maui field.
Pipe laying operations were begun in December 1991. Initial progress, hampered by weather,
equipment teething troubles, and the learning curve of a New Zealand crew that had been trained from
scratch, basically wrote off the first month. In early January 1992, production settled into a routine
which began to achieve optimum cycle times. This is not to say that no further problems occurred. In
the early stages of production a number of weld repairs or cutouts were made due to equipment
malfunctions. These incidents were shared among the welding equipment, the internal tools string
which lined up the joint and provided the argon purge, and the overall pipe lay system. Toward the end
of the pipeline weld discontinuities were attributable to welding operator errors. Most typically these
were short lengths of lack of interpass fusion and tungsten inclusions. Tungsten inclusion occurred
from stub outs not completely ground out and from the use of wire cutters to grip the tungsten
electrode (the fine nicks causing flakes of tungsten becoming detached during welding).
The workstation was enclosed to prevent disruption of torch gas shielding by wind. Preparation of
pipe ends for welding was done on the deck using regular pipeline equipment. this equipment could not
be used in the welding station due to its size and the 6G pipe orientation. The internally clad pipe could
not be cut by thermal methods, so any cutout in the welding station had to be done by a machine tool.
The tool selected was of the rigid bracelet type with separate form tools for parting and beveling.
During welding trials and procedure development high levels of residual magnetism were
experienced. At these times a degaussing unit was used which generally prevented the simultaneous
use of two welding heads and thus halved the production rate. From the onshore experience it was
anticipated that the level of residual magnetism would increase over the length of the pipeline. The
degaussing unit was ready to be used at all times during welding. However, in production, while
individual joints exhibited residual magnetism, there was no general trend of increasing magnetic field.
This is thought to be attributable to the austenitic filler metal breaking the magnetic continuity of the
pipeline. When magnetism was encountered the influence on welding in the clad layer was minimal
compared with the effect on the fill passes. A further precaution against magnetism and arc blow was
the use of multiple welding current return cables attached to the feet of both guide rings.

Internal Tool String

During J-lay operations the open end of the pipe was some 240ft from the welding station and there
was no access to the open end when the pipe ramp was raised. Thus, any equipment required inside the
pipe had to be suspended from the open end. To overcome this problem an integrated tool string was
developed to combine a joint alignment clamp, complete with argon purge system and an x-ray system.
A buckle detector could also have been added if required. These items were linked by a single umbilical
cable to a winch at the top end of the pipe ramp. The umbilical cable provided all services to the tool
string, with a tension member included to support the weight of the tools string and the resistance of a
buckle detector.
The layout of the tool string kept all hydraulic units below the weld zone, thus avoiding risk of
contamination in the event of oil leakage. The line-up clamp was a commercially available item to which
some modifications were made in order to integrate it with the other components and remote control
system. The x-ray system was based on "crawler" technology, with the tube powered and switched via
the umbilical cable. A positioning system was designed to align the x-ray tube with the finished weld. A
fail-safe clamp was placed at the bottom end to prevent accidental loss of the tool string. The x-ray
tube was mounted between the line-up and fail-safe clamps which, when both were energized, held the
x-ray tube centrally within the pipe for good panoramic exposure.
All instrumentation and controls for the tools string were located in the welding station.

Nondestructive Testing

The Maui project specification required both radiographic and ultrasonic inspection to very high
standards. All NDT was conducted in the welding station and it was essential to minimize both test time
and interpretation.
Radiography had to be performed by the panoramic x-ray technique due to both technical and safety
requirements. Radiation safety in the welding area was a major concern because the stinger control
station was located in the same area. Only essential personnel remained in the welding station when
the x-ray tube was in use, and were monitored for radiation dosage. In practice, radiation levels were
very low as a lead shield was deployed over the weld area during x-ray exposure.
Most conventional pipeline radiography is done by battery-powered crawlers which have a limited
amount of power available due to the capacity of the batteries. Because of the need to conserve power
and reduce downtime due to battery replacement, rapid cycle radiographic film is normally used. The[3/26/2011 9:25:01 PM]

Magnatech: Welding the Maui A-B Pipeline - Orbital Welding Systems

Maui specification did not permit the use of rapid cycle film because of the required image quality. Fine
grain, high contrast film was used to provide the clarity needed to detect discontinuities in the clad
layer. The longer exposure times were made possible by supplying the power through the umbilical
cable to the x-ray system.
It was decided to use mechanical ultrasonic inspection because of the speed and assured inspection
coverage. Welds from the trials were made available to two companies offering different ultrasonic
inspection systems. A choice had to be made between the traditional pulse-echo technique and the
newer time-of-flight technique. It was decided to use the pulse-echo technique because it was
imperative for all parties involved in the acceptance of the welds to be able to readily understand the
output and seemed less susceptible to misinterpretation.
An order was place with Rontgen Technische Dienst b.v. (RTD), a Dutch company, for the supply of
their Rotoscan ultrasonic testing system and all NDT technicians required for the work offshore. Welds
made during the offshore trials were used by RTD to make calibration blocks and to assess the signal-tonoise ratio of the stainless steel weldment. It was found that the signal-to-noise ratio was well within
the limit set by the project specification and that there was significant variation around the weld.
Careful selection of probes and probe arrangement eliminated most of the spurious signals resulting
from the carbon steel/stainless steel interface which has been recognized to be the cause of difficulties
experienced previously.
The Rotoscan system produces a printout which gives an immediate impression of the weld
acceptability. The scan is made in zones, each of which is aligned on the printout with the other zones.
The printout was used directly for general acceptance purposes, with further investigation manually
used to define areas for repairs. Closer analysis of the traces for zones at the clad layer interface was
required to substantiate whether any indications actually extended into the clad layer, thus requiring the
weld to be cut out.
Welds from the offshore trial were sectioned at apparent defects identified by NDT, and the
macrosections were compared with the radiographs and Rotoscan printout to provide comparative data
with respect to the interpretation of poorly defined indications. It was found that the stainless steel
filler metal in carbon steel pipe, plus the influence of the clad layer, gave rise to signals which required
more sophisticated interpretation techniques to be developed. This work enabled the test procedures to
be refined prior to the start of production. A dossier of radiographs, photomacrographs and Rotoscan
printouts was prepared for use during production to assist with the interpretation of radiographs. This
avoided weld cutouts due to overcautious interpretation in the early stages of production.


The pipeline was successfully welded and inspected to a high standard using sophisticated equipment
and techniques in an aggressive marine environment for which they were not originally intended. Much
of the work done during the project has gone toward the overall improvement of the equipment used
and contributed to the understanding of welding and inspection of clad pipe.
The SSCV Balder was able to continue laying pipe in the severe weather conditions of the Tasman Sea,
where waves of 23ft (7m) did not stop production. In laying the Maui A-B pipeline, Heerema proved the
operability of an innovative pipelay technique and in so doing has provided the pipeline designers the
means of specifying pipelines in previously inaccessible locations. Not only does the J-lay enable the
laying of pipelines in deep waters but also, due to the low horizontal component of tension in the
pipeline, across sea bed of uneven topography. For the development of oil and gas resources in remote
areas the SSCV Balder represents a single economic solution to both the platform installation and the
pipelaying.[3/26/2011 9:25:01 PM]