Meeting insulation requirements: 'on demand'

1st February 2013

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As energy costs drive up the demand for insulation, automated profiling systems give insulation fabricators the ability to deliver customised pipeline and equipment coverings on a just-in-time basis. Ed Sullivan reports.

As energy costs continue to spiral upward, so does the demand for rigid polyurethane-type insulation for the oil and gas industry. However, as the demand grows, the requirements for supplying insulation to those sectors in some ways become even more stringent.

For example, producers, petrochemical companies and processors of all sorts have a continuing need to insulate pipelines, valves, electromechanical equipment and storage facilities in order to control temperatures. And when new pipelines or structures are under construction, there is usually a tight delivery window for insulation suppliers to provide the large volumes of materials that are often required.

"Those types of installation, whether offshore or at a processing plant, usually have firm delivery requirements," says Daniel Desbiens, co-president and director of marketing at Pol R Enterprises, Inc, a Montreal-based distributor/fabricator that specialises in insulation products for commercial and industrial installations throughout eastern Canada. "They also require quality insulation products - such as pipeline, valve and equipment coverings - that are competitively priced, uniformly precise in dimensional tolerances, and are consistent in density," he adds.

Oil, gas and petrochemical applications often require miles of pipe insulation at a single installation. They usually require rigid insulation in specific shapes, sizes and densities. To meet those requirements quickly and efficiently, the fabrication of rigid insulation such as foam products has evolved into an automated production business that can satisfy customer delivery schedules on demand.

On-demand fabrication of rigid insulation for pipelines and many other applications has resulted from advancements in the CNC-automated foam cutting machines that enable fabricators to quickly and efficiently trim and shape a wide variety of foam-type materials, including the rigid PU polyisocyanurate (PIR), and Foamglas, as well as various mineral fibre compositions.

The benefits of this advanced, automated production equipment are quite compelling at all levels, including the fabricator, distributor/specialist and end-user.

"We transform foam block products into customised insulation shapes for the petrochemical, offshore drilling, and LNG industries," Desbiens explains. "The automated foam cutting equipment we have been using for the past four years has changed our business in terms of our ability to produce custom shapes much more quickly and accurately, improving productivity and reducing waste in the process."

The equipment to which Desbiens refers is a ProfileMatic, a CNC-based, horizontal foam saw manufactured by Edge-Sweets (ESCO), a Grand Rapids, MI-based developer and manufacturer of PU fabrication and dispensing equipment.

In the past four years Pol R has acquired two of these systems, which provide the firm with just-in-time efficiencies that were never before available to insulation fabricators. Both machines are dual wire, with both vertical and horizontal cutting (typically the vertical wire performs block trimming; the horizontal wire does top trimming and CNC profile cutting).

Efficiency and payback are also optimised when foam usage maximized by cutting in 'nested' configurations. Nesting is achieved through system software that enables you to get multiple items out of a foam block or bun that might otherwise produce unnecessary waste.

According to many ProfileMatic users most of their work done is now done on demand. When their customers place orders, the insulation cutting plant processes them as required. This is not only more efficient, but also saves on warehousing space and other costs.

Although Pol R Enterprises primarily uses Foamglas and Polyisocyanurate (PIR) foam for oil & gas insulation, the firm also cuts mineral fibre shapes on the ESCO equipment.

Friendly flexibility

Among the important considerations in choosing automated insulation fabrication systems are equipment flexibility and user friendliness of the hardware, software and human machine interface (HMI) interface.

Another powerful feature of ESCO's nesting software is the ability to select common ASTM pipe sizes directly from the HMI interface. This functionality eliminates the need to draw each pipe size and joint type. Users select the desired pipe size from the predefined ASTM chart or custom data supplied by the customer, enter the quantity desired, and click 'nest'.

It is also possible to generate common cutting line pipe profiles with ESCO's EscoDraw Pro (APM software) further adding to the systems powerful suite of industrial pipe insulation generating tools.

Dean Seidler, Fabrication Manager at Crossroads C&I, the leading fabricator and distributor of commercial and industrial insulation products in Canada, says the ProfileMatic is ideal for cutting a variety of shapes out of Foamglas and other PU materials with a high degree of flexibility and accuracy.

"In addition to pipe coverings, we're cutting a variety of rather complex insulation shapes for the oil and gas industry, such as an elliptical curve. So, when we're doing elliptical vessel heads, we know we'll get a true fit."

Seidler adds that ProfileMatic has enhanced Crossroads' productivity.

Ed Sullivan is a Hermosa Beach, CA,USA-based writer. ESCO is a division of Edge-Sweets Company, Grand Rapids, MI, USA.

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