September 2017, Vol. 244, No. 9


Welding is Literally Brian Laing’s Middle Name

By Jeff Share, Editor

It’s been exactly 35 years since Brian Laing began work at CRC-Evans, a global leader in pipeline construction technologies, equipment and services. Since that time he has overseen the company’s growth into managing subsea services, field joint coating, weighting systems and non-destructive testing for onshore and offshore project.

Laing has helped develop and market new technologies such as automatic welding which has helped revolutionize pipeline construction. He has also been involved in significant merger and acquisition activities, such as the sale of CRC-Evans to Stanley Black & Decker in 2010 and the representation in 2014 of LaValley Industries, known for its  DECKHAND® pipe-handling product line.

Today, Laing is chief operating officer of CRC-Evans Pipeline International Inc., a subsidiary of Stanley Decker & Black. In this interview from the company’s Houston headquarters, he discusses his career, his company and the art of welding.

P&GJ: Brian, where did you grow up and what were your interests?

Laing: I was born and raised in Toronto, Canada. As most Canadians, I was an avid hockey player from age 4 to the completion of college. In the summer, I enjoyed water sports like water skiing and fishing as typical summer pastimes in Canada. As an adult, I have migrated to golf as a year-round activity in Houston and snow skiing for a winter pastime.

P&GJ: How and why did you get into the welding profession?

Laing: My father was a welder and worked for the largest steel structure fabrication company in Canada. However, it wasn’t until high school that I took an interest in welding. I credit my high school welding teacher (Ken Pattison) with guiding me to a college and master’s degree in welding engineering. While I didn’t know it at the time, he framed my entire education when I was in grade 11. I have kept in touch with Ken since my high school days and visited him in Toronto last March.

P&GJ: What was the career path that brought you to CRC-Evans?

Laing: I was offered a job at NOVA, an Alberta corporation (now part of TransCanada Pipelines), in 1979 in Calgary as a staff welding engineer. One of my first tasks was to assist CRC-Evans to qualify welding procedures for a pipeline project in Canada. Nova had made the transition to X70 pipe only to discover manual welding couldn’t satisfy the mechanical testing requirements. CRC-Evans Automatic Welding was the solution to this problem. My first trip to Houston was in fall 1979.

P&GJ: What were the most difficult conditions or situations that you worked under?

Laing: At the time, the CRC-Evans welding system had a track record welding offshore and in summer climates. The first project in Canada was in fall 1979/winter 1980. It soon became apparent that Canadian winters required significant changes in the CRC-Evans equipment. The most difficult situation for me was convincing CRC-Evans that the changes were necessary and that engineering and manufacturing had to respond to feedback from the field.

It took a lot of meetings and discussions to get the CRC-Evans team to address all the issues. I became their QA/QC department, not allowing equipment to leave Houston until every piece was tested and signed off. It often resulted in late deliveries. However, by 1981, field problems were resolved and many projects were completed with record production. CRC-Evans became the sole provider for automatic welding soon after.

P&GJ: How have you seen the welding industry change since you began your career?

Laing: There are many changes in the industry. First and foremost is the safety culture.  Second, environmental standards and performance are much improved since my early career.  Pipeline designs, location, materials and standards for construction have all changed and are more challenging.  In addition, the owning companies have become more sophisticated and better understand the welding process as well as the importance of the starting integrity of the pipeline.  In other words a pipeline with minimum weld repairs will be more reliable than one with significant repairs to production welds.  In the past, the cost of construction was paramount.  Today, it is not only price, but quality of the weld and emphasis on low repair rates.

P&GJ: If I’m correct, the Alliance pipeline project was the first to use automatic welding on a major scale. What was CRC-Evans’ role in the project, and how has it ultimately changed the pipeline construction business? Was or is it still difficult for the unions to buy into the process?

Laing: Yes, Alliance was the first use of automatic welding in the U.S. However, CRC-Evans had been proving welding services since 1969. CRC-Evans provided all of the welding systems for Alliance for both the Canadian and American contractors. Since Alliance, CRC-Evans has enjoyed a steady increase in the number of projects we assist our clients with. Recently, we have worked with owning companies and contractors to use low-hydrogen techniques for all welds on a typical pipeline, automatic welding of the mainline as well as tie-ins and fabrication.

We have enjoyed a long and beneficial relationship with the union. Most contractors have experienced welder foremen who, in turn, hire experienced automatic welders to work with our systems. As a result, projects are achieving high production rates and repair rates are often less than 3%.

P&GJ: What have been some of the other major technology developments engineered by CRC-Evans, and what are you looking forward to from future R&D?

P&GJ: Since I joined CRC-Evans in 1982, there have been many significant improvements. The internal welders have become more productive as we changed our drive systems from electric motors with CAT-type batteries to air drives. We increased the number of welding heads to as many as eight on 36-inch and larger machines. We have changed the welding process from gas metal arc welding (GMAW) to pulsed GMAW. This change greatly improved the mechanical properties of the weldment.

A very important development was through the arc tracking. This reduced the workload on the welder and virtually eliminated lack of sidewall fusion – our most common defect prior to tracking technology. Another quantum leap was developing a dual-torch system that increased productivity on all sizes of pipelines. The use of automated ultrasonic inspection, in conjunction with the defect-acceptance criteria determined by  using engineering-critical assessment, has also contributed to much lower repair rates.

In addition, we have developed a family of tools and techniques for small-diameter pipe, primarily for the offshore business where the pipe is fabricated at a spool base and then reeled and installed offshore. Many of these infield flow lines are corrosion-resistant materials such as 13% chrome, duplex and incoloy clad. We developed lineup clamps that incorporate purge chambers, lasers and CCD cameras for root inspection to ensure the root pass meets stringent criteria.

The future developments will include automated lineup and welding system for large-diameter tie-ins.  For many pipeline projects today the critical path is tie-in welding. Working with our partner, LaValley Industries, we have developed a tie-in system that aligns the pipe and then re-rounds the pipe to achieve a pipe-to-pipe alignment of +/- 0.040-inch. The weld is then completed using mechanized welding technology.

P&GJ: What are some of the challenging construction projects CRC-Evans is involved in?

Laing: We recently completed the 56-inch portion of the TANAP pipeline in Turkey. The construction was not only in a mountainous region but also completed during both summer and winter seasons. We are in the final phases of loadout of 98 km [60 miles] of 8-inch, 10-inch, and 14-inch pipe – both carbon steel and clad carbon steel – for Total and Technip in Angola. This project required 70% local labor; we trained local welders and helpers specifically for this project.

We are working on the Valley Crossing pipeline that is 48-inch-by-0.833-inch wall with a crack arrestor every 11 joints that is 1.125-inch thick. This has required special modification to our internal welders to align the pipes of difference wall thickness. We are providing all of the welding systems for the Rover pipeline. In areas of rough terrain we are using our copper back clamps rather than the internal welder.

P&GJ: It has been seven years since CRC-Evans became part of Stanley Black & Decker. What led up to the merger, and how has it changed CRC-Evans’ business strategy?

Laing: Stanley Black & Decker sought to enter the infrastructure sector of construction. CRC-Evans was the anchor acquisition. Stanley Black & Decker has provided tremendous support in developing the pipeline service business on a worldwide basis and has sponsored technology development in all of our business lines such as pipeline equipment, field-joint coating, inspection and metallurgical consulting.

P&GJ: What additional services has CRC-Evans been able to offer since the merger, and will welding always be the biggest earner for the company?

Laing: Since the merger, we have been broadening our offerings with the objective of bundling our services to the contractors. Today, we can provide: pipe-handling equipment, pipeline equipment, automatic welding, inspection services (both RT and AUT), field-joint coating, and ditch padding. This has been a successful formula offshore and onshore in Europe, the Middle East and North America. While automatic welding continues to be the cornerstone of our services, developing our other services is critical to our growth.

P&GJ: What are the challenges for companies in retaining and training welders in today’s volatile business environment? What would you tell those who may be considering a future as a welder?

Laing: CRC-Evans does not have a team of welders. Our clients hire and manage the welding teams. However, we recognize the welder is essential to our success in the field. Therefore, we take their input and suggestions very seriously. For many years we have designed and modified our systems to be welder-friendly. They also have to be reliable, so we have to work with the welders and helpers to treat them with care.

A career as a pipeline welder is a nomadic lifestyle. The most valuable welders are capable of cellulosic manual welding as well as operating automatic welding systems for mainline and tie-ins.  On the positive side, pipeline construction is never boring and is always challenging. For welders, a perfectionist personality is a benefit. Most contractors and owning companies have a low tolerance for poor workmanship.

P&GJ: What is your perspective of the opportunities in the pipeline construction business, both in North America and globally?

Laing: Assuming our business is typical, we are enjoying an increase in land-based construction – primarily natural gas pipelines. Oil lines and offshore projects are the opposite, with a drastic reduction in projects. There is an optimistic view that deepwater projects will be the first to recover. Most owning companies have to replace their reserves. Currently, most design and construction services could be retained for significant discounts compared to 2015 prices. At some point, the owning companies will harvest these cost savings. When that happens, most likely other owning companies will follow.

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