Pipeline Engineering Quality Management System

December 2014, Vol. 241, No. 12

Daryl Zebrasky, Quality Manager, Lake Superior Consulting, LLC

I’ve only been working in the pipeline engineering business for a short time, but have noticed a disparity between how the quality systems of the two main portions of the business are structured. This, even though corporate quality and construction quality systems both follow the International Standards Organization (ISO) 9001:2008 format of quality standards.

Part of the issue is applying corporate quality management system (QMS) to pipeline construction environments. The Interstate Natural Gas Association of America (INGAA) has addressed this issue by implementing construction QMS (CQMS) for installation of the pipeline and supporting facilities.

Therefore, why not follow an encompassing QMS for everything from putting “pencil to paper” in the office – to laying the pipe in the ground? I would call the concept pipeline engineering quality management systems (PEQMS).

Design is the corporate piece that takes place in the office, and construction, of course, occurs in the field. Both disciplines are inherently interconnected. What is being “designed” requires the corresponding application of classic quality management principles. Later, the design, as applied in the field, will need to be inspected, commissioned, etc.

From my perspective, it appears companies in the pipeline engineering market sector often have the construction aspect of quality well-developed and in place, and the corporate aspect of quality underdeveloped, or vice versa. One plausible explanation for this situation is that pipeline engineering companies specialize in a particular aspect of the business, either design engineering or pipeline construction.

Just the same, reliance on the counterpart service still exists; no matter the situation, interconnectivity between service aspects should not be overlooked. Let’s make the preceding statements an assumption for the sake of argument, as I am speaking from limited exposure to the engineering pipeline industry.

We also have standards from the American Petroleum Institute (API) that defines QMS. So, what are the API standards? API and ISO joined together to develop the ISO technical specifications (TS) 29001 standard, and ISO seems to have quite an influential reach when it comes to the pipeline engineering industry.

Coming soon will be ISO 9001:2015. There will be droves of differing types of industries changing quality documentation methods to accommodate the new standard. By the way, it is quite evident the ISO standards fit the business structures of many different types of real-world applications.

Obviously, the ISO standards are applicable to the pipeline engineering sector. We just need to tweak them somewhat, as I proposed earlier, to fit our requirements. Think of it as melding pipeline design quality with pipeline construction quality. Let’s also include pipeline integrity and corrosion requirements for managing pipeline degradation and durability. How do we go about setting up a PEQMS?

Briefly, let me propose a hypothetical scenario. Keep in mind this is an oversimplified dissertation. Why not add the “construction” quality parameters to your “corporate” quality manual?

First, make a list of the many different aspects of pipeline construction that require inspection, examination and commissioning. Next, address the pipeline construction documentation requirements and all other requirements needed for pipeline construction quality. Make a master list and categorize all of the construction requirements by related phases of construction activities. Solicit input from the construction management team regarding which key quality construction parameters should be included.

Now, let’s also add another section in the corporate quality manual that concerns how individual project quality management issues will be addressed, as specified by your client for project. (Clients place emphasis on certain quality aspects for execution of their projects).

We are now in a position to reference our newly inserted section on pipeline construction quality requirements to define individual client project requirements as needed. This, without appearing as though we pulled them out of thin air.

So, why worry about any of these topics? In recent years, client requirements have forced pipeline engineering companies to have an officially implemented QMS. What has driven this requirement? More than likely it is the exponentially growing safety requirements for preventing catastrophic accidents.

Quality management systems define every requirement for construction of a theoretical flawless pipeline. A construction quality system was implied and operational in the past, but not in the official format. Now, the client requires written documentation that defines the quality requirements for every aspect of the new pipeline – from design to construction.

This approach really is beneficial to all entities involved in the process. The QMS dictates upfront that the engineering company has incorporated all the parameters essential to flawless pipeline construction.

As a bonus of the quality system, dialog and feedback is generated during scheduled design reviews, which is taken back to the respective camps, driving continuous improvement initiatives for current and future projects. Another key feature of continuous improvement initiatives would be maintaining a “lessons-learned” logbook, designed to bolster tribal knowledge.

Quality flows downhill; we must ensure that all subcontractors have an implemented QMS. Maintaining downstream quality compliance is key to a successful PEQMS. It’s unreasonable to think your QMS will yield consistent quality results if subsystems feeding into it yield inconsistent results.

Subcontractors need to be audited to ensure their QMS is intact and functional. Audit reports will indicate to the subcontractor areas of inadequacy and a time period to make corrections. If the company wants to continue doing business with a deficient subcontractor, it will need to expend resources to help them comply with the QMS.

There are countless other components, principles and processes of a quality management system that could be listed. If your QMS is well thought out and successfully implemented, the rewards will be many (and ultimately impact the bottom line).

Will management and the rest of the company buy into the QMS you have devised? After all, how many times have we heard complaints about new initiatives? New quality programs often flounder in a sea of misunderstanding and delusion. Trying to get the seeds of a quality culture to grow and flourish can seem unattainable. If management doesn’t stand behind the quality initiative, the whole scheme doesn’t stand a chance of being successful.

However, as with any new initiative, it takes time to gain a foothold. Try to be creative in getting the general population of the company to embrace the basics of your quality management system. Maybe that’s part of the motivation for writing this article. I am hoping to gain some momentum for implementing our QMS.

Sometimes bringing new initiatives online takes a boots-on-the-ground type of approach. This, in addition to training programs, presentations, etc. Encourage your company’s management team to enlist tenured employees to take the extra step and offer to become a mentor, directly or subtly. The gist of the mentorship need not be focused on quality. Just let the basics of quality principles happen.

The natural affinity for bonding with someone for the purpose of teaching (or learning) is truly an awesome workplace relationship that can only result in success. Mentors can take it a step further and set up a formalized teaching curriculum to achieve incremental milestones of learning successes. The benefits for all involved are numerous, not to mention the quality concept is planted at the grassroots level and is passed on to others.

When I first started working for my current employer, I was told a quality system was needed. Having come from the manufacturing world, I set out to draft a QMS much like my experience dictated; now it is written and implemented.

Does it work? Yes. But I still think it could be much better. When ISO 9001:2015 rolls out next year, I will be rewriting our QMS into a PEQMS to incorporate both worlds, corporate quality with construction quality.

I haven’t attempted to rewrite the book on quality management systems or define all the quality principles. The major motivation for sharing my thoughts is to open up dialogue and spur some thought about applying quality management to the pipeline engineering world. I would consider myself a hands-on type of quality professional, just trying to make a difference one company at a time.

Author: Daryl Zebrasky is the quality manager at Lake Superior Consulting, LLC, headquartered in Duluth, MN. He has done quality control systems work for 25 years, earning a bachelor’s degree in chemistry from University of Minnesota, Duluth.

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