Pigs Unlimited International President Allen Pennington speaks to Pipelines International about the changing pipeline pigging market.
After entering the pipelines industry at just 15 years of age as part of a pipeline welding crew, Mr Pennington has gained a wealth of knowledge and experience in the pipeline inspection and cleaning industry.
Here, Mr Pennington talks with Pipelines International about the changing pipeline pigging market, including advances in technology, Pigs Unlimited developments and the future of the industry.
How has the pigging market changed over the years?
There have been obvious advances in the smart pigging and inspection side of the market with a lot of new technology and new players joining the market, but most of the improvements and innovation on the cleaning pig side have to do with improvements in the background that are not as easily identifiable.
Advances in polymer science that allow us to, at least in some situations, tailor the chemistry of the urethane to meet certain conditions that we encounter, including high temperature urethanes and new processing and manufacturing equipment that can make higher quality pigs faster, while reducing human error, improving product quality and processing times dramatically.
What changes do you foresee in the future?
Pigging is becoming more common in other industries and in general. Food and beverage, cosmetic and other process facilities are beginning to see the value of pigging for more applications, especially as the technology becomes more ubiquitous, cost effective and intuitive.
Countries such as Thailand, India and Bangladesh are now passing legislation requiring the inspection of high risk, high volume and high impact infrastructure.
Especially in developing markets and countries such as Africa and Asia, we are seeing an explosion of interest in pigging for both the cleaning and inspection.
Not unexpectedly, this is also leading to an influx of new players in almost every segment in the market, domestically and internationally.
That, in combination with the US’ record high production levels, thanks largely to the fracking industry, we expect to see a period of steady performance over the next few years, and an increasing need for the products and services that pigging companies offer.
How was Pigs Unlimited established, and how has it grown?
When we first started out, the office only had one shared computer, equipped with an internet connection; at those times, fax machines were the most common way to send and receive paperwork.
We occupied roughly 140 m2 and had just a few persons on payroll and our accountant/secretary would sometimes help us with production during either slow or busy times.
As of January 2019, the company occupies a brand-new purpose built 9,290 m2 facility on a 64,750 m2 campus, employs roughly 50 people and order management is now done on an enterprise resource planning system with screens in every shop and barcode scanners to keep track of all the moving parts.
International sales have been something we have been a part of since our inception; we have stocking distributors on four continents outside of North America, and we sell pigs to almost every market or country that participates in pigging operations.
Many contractors are multinational, so on top of our established distribution network, we go wherever they go.
How do you prepare for change in the industry?
We work closely with our chemical suppliers to stay on top of where polymer science is heading.
Together with some of our key customers, through helping those hard cases find a solution to difficult pigging problems that many others often avoid, we stay sharp.
As a full manufacturer, we build a lot of custom and one-off models to solve some of the more difficult or unique problem lines we have encountered.
We are always active and searching for better ways to accomplish our goals, including several trips a year by staff members to industry gatherings and trade shows to keep an eye out for up and coming ideas.
Our newest piece of processing equipment comes equipped with troubleshooting glasses so that technicians in Europe can see through the eyes of our production personnel here in the US to troubleshoot issues we are having on the production floor.
How have we changed? In one word: technology.
Has Pigs Unlimited recently introduced any product developments?
We have advanced the quality of our foam pigs to a level such that it is now possible to pig multidiameter lines with full body pigs and maintain relative certainty that the pig integrity will not be compromised.
We recently ran 30 inch (762 mm) medium density coated models through a pipeline that transitioned back and forth between 24 inches (610 mm) and 30 inches in diameter, not once but multiple times. All models were successfully retrieved without major damage.
There is also new urethane available to us, including high temperature – good to 150°Celcius – and other specialty urethanes, such as those with extended shelf lives that work better when shipping and storing materials overseas in hot and humid environments.
What do you enjoy about being involved in the industry?
Pipelines and pipeline projects are a bit like snowflakes, similar in some ways but every single one is also unique; no two jobs are exactly the same and that helps to keep it interesting.
We are always amazed by the advances in the industry, the advances in materials and the applied science of pigging itself.
We also enjoy our industry because of the people involved in it. The overwhelming majority of our customers are great people who we enjoy talking to and working with.
Industry wide, pipeliners and those around them tend to be good, old-fashioned and hardworking patriots.
For more information visit the Pigs Unlimited website.
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