Case study: Volvo pipelayer gets to grips with desert conditions

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  • Earthmovers & Exacavators

The first Volvo Construction Equipment rotating pipelayer to get to work in Saudi Arabia is helping to build a pipeline extension through the vast Khurais oilfield.

Case study: Volvo pipelayer gets to grips with desert conditions
Volvo's PL4608 rotating pipelayer at work on Saudi Arabia's Khurais oilfield.

Saudi Arabia is home to the world’s second largest oil reserves, spread over approximately 100 major oil and gas fields. The Khurais Megaproject is a recent addition to the kingdom’s vast production facilities, comprising of the Khurais, Abu Jifan and Mazalij oilfields.

The project is coordinated by Saudi Aramco, the world’s largest oil company in terms of production, and is set to raise Saudi Arabia’s already enormous oilfield capacity from 11.3 million to 12.5 million barrels per day (bpd).

The largest of these fields, the Khurais oilfield, covers an area of 2,890 square kilometres and measures 127km in length. It is situated approximately 250km southwest of Dhahran and 150km northeast of the capital Riyadh.

Development of a new pipeline extension through the Khurais field is now underway, supporting Saudi Aramco in maintaining a reliable supply of gas to meet the demands of domestic customers in the central and western regions of the Kingdom.

A PL4608 rotating pipelayer from Volvo Construction Equipment (Volvo CE) — the first machine of its kind to get to work in the region — is being used to ensure the project runs smoothly. The pipeline extension will cover a distance of 150km, and is scheduled to take 27 months to complete. The PL4608 will lay 56-inch (1.4m) pipe, starting at the east-west pumping station number one and running to pumping station number three.

Working in the extreme conditions of the Arabian Desert presents several unavoidable challenges. Summer temperatures average around 45 degrees Celsius, and highs of 54 degrees are often recorded. Regular sandstorms also prove problematic for the equipment working on the project.

Winter brings a different challenge: although the temperature seldom falls below zero, the almost total lack of humidity and the high wind-chill factor can make it feel incredibly cold. Volvo says the PL4608 has been built to withstand these extremes.

This machine is also suited to the type of pipe used on the project. Its hydraulically variable undercarriage, which expands by 500mm, provides a highly stable operating platform when working with 56-inch pipe.

In difficult conditions, the PL4608’s 80-tonne tipping capacity and the on-board Load Management System (LMS) means the operator is always aware of which loads can be lifted safely. Similarly, the hydraulically elevating cab provides excellent visibility into the trench and improved lateral visibility to other machines on the line, it also offers a better view of personnel on the ground — an important site safety consideration.

"We are proud to be the first pipeline contractor in Saudi Arabia to have a Volvo pipelayer in our fleet," says Yousef Abu Gafra, manager of equipment operations at Gulf Consolidated Contractors (GCC), the contractor for this project.

"No competitor machine is capable of matching the Volvo’s features and performance in terms of safety, operator visibility, stability and the length of the boom."

Safety is a key consideration at the site. There are about 900 people working on the project with a total of 330 pieces of equipment, including fully and semi-automatic pipe welding machines. GCC recently announced that two million man-hours had been achieved without any lost time due to incidents.

Volvo says the PL4608 is designed to work safely next to a variety of machines, including traditional sideboom pipelayers and the crawler cranes which are often used in this type of operation.

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