Important Skills

At the YPF10, in Canberra back on Aug19-20, we had short workshop sessions where a number of topics were discussed amongst small breakout groups.

One of the sessions was “Evolving technical and skills requirements”.  A round-the-table poll of the participants asked “what 1 skill is most important in your mind?”

Here are the results:

Technical competence
Learning from mistakes
Stakeholder engagement
Time management.

Recall the group topic:  “Evolving technical and skills requirements”.

Would it have been fair to expect responses like “online design review techniques”, “blowdown calculations”, “charpy test results interpretation”, “reading material certs”, “weld design”.  I thought so.  Yet only one response referred to technical skills.  Thirteen of the 15 participants were engineers.

So either they (we) are comfortable with our technical skills and therefore they don’t need a mention, or, only one of those 15 people are actually doing technical work?

It is often suggested that universities should add more ‘soft skills’ to their degrees.  If that happens, which technical/higher learning courses should get bumped?

Another comment made was that hardly any of the topics learned at university were actually used in their day-to-day jobs. And only one of them had been exposed to P&IDs (Process and Instrument Diagrams) during university.

So is there an opportunity, or a need, to change university engineering degree content?  Should we put more credence on technical colleges and TAFE (Technical and Further Education)?  Or are we worrying about the wrong thing – that uni education is fine (its purpose is to teach us how to solve problems), and we should focus on providing enhancement information in the first 5 years of a grad’s working career?

The APGA Competencies go a long way to introduce structured learning for pipeline engineers.  They have purposefully not addressed the ‘soft skill’ requirements, because (we assumed) there are other resources available, like the AIPM (Australian Institute of Project Management) which will cover those areas.

Are we wrong?



Eastern Standards Time

Ha – this post is not about daylight savings time; fooled you with that header.

The past two weeks have seen an extraordinary amount of my time being spent on ‘spinning the plates’ in regards to Australian Standards, in particular AS2885.

It started with a day spent a couple of weeks ago with the Part 5 committee and all things pressure testing, and after that a stream of emails came in with further detail discussions on trying to resolve a few of the technical issues there, so it’s always encouraging to see those discussions run to ground.  I have visions of some excellent companion papers coming out with these latest revisions.

The next week was spent mostly on Part 1, and development of the new Part 6 – Pipeline System Safety Management. Earlier today I was scrolling through Peter’s blog and found his post announcing the commencement of Part 1 revision with this committee, back in October 2013.  He concluded that post regarding timing with “Suffice to note that holding your breath for a couple of years is bad for your health.”….  It’s now been three years, but we’re getting there.

Last Thursday, I attended the free seminar by Standards Australia on “How to write an Australian Standard” – it used to be called “Drafting Leads Seminar”.   These seminars are not well publicised; I became aware of it because I receive the monthly Standards Australia update, but even then it is buried deep down in the newsletter.   The seminar was well presented and useful for a refresher on some of the rules around Standards terminology.  Another way to gain that knowledge is to read their guideline SG-006.

On Friday last week, I listened in on a teleconference set up to discuss the Materials section and how to accommodate – and communicate – the differences between the requirements for line pipe (the straight stuff between points) and everything else.  This is proving to be extraordinarily difficult to get right.  There was a summit-discussion on this in April 2014 – I remember because back then I hosted it, in the Nacap meeting room! – and at that time we thought we had it sorted.  The issues are around the definitions of mainline pipe, and when is it an assembly, and what about tees and elbows, and components, and complex components… it’s a discussion fraught with interpretations and preferences and what the industry is already used to.  We’ve gone back and forth on the term “Station” vs “Facility”, and “Pipework”, “Pipe” and “Piping”.  The technical details behind fracture toughness requirements – and hydrotesting requirements – for “everything but the pipe” is causing much discussion.

This week saw more time spent on Part 6 and forging it through ready for another review within the committee.  We are aiming for a Public Comment version in Q1 2017.

Part 3 (Operations) committee is also underway with revisions in progress.

2017 is going to be a big year for Australian pipeline standards.


Pressure Testing

Pressure testing for hydrocarbon pipelines is a science, and it is also an art.  The ‘art’ and the interpretation of the results, makes is more difficult to put into words what the minimum expectations are or should be for a successful pressure test (ie a Standard).  Last week I spent a day with the eminent testing gurus of our industry, meeting to discuss the upcoming planned revision of AS2885.5 Field Pressure Testing.

The Australian pipeline industry developed its first pressure testing standard in 1977.  Even back then there were strong differences of technical opinion on the merits and techniques for testing pipelines.  That hasn’t changed!  It was enlightening to hear deep discussion about some of the issues the testers face when they set out to prove the safety of our hydrocarbon pipelines.

The 1977 version was revised in 1987, and again in 2002 when it was redesignated as part of the AS2885 suite, AS885.5.  In the mid 2000s, the design and construction standard AS2885.1 was considerably revised, including the allowance to increase a pipeline design factor to 0.8 (80% of SMYS, specified minimum yield strength). By the nature of the testing requirements, a 0.8 design factor pipeline requires a test pressure that is at or above the nameplate pipe strength, something that requires more thought and planning.

Therefore, in the 2012 editions of both AS2885.1 (Design) and As2885.5 (Testing), a rather radical change to the process of pressure testing was introduced:  field pressure test design was required to be considered during the design process (regardless of the design factor for the pipeline; all designs must consider the pressure test requirements).

I keep hearing stories and rumours that this is not occurring.  That the entity (person) responsible for the pipeline design, is not thoroughly considering the pressure testing requirements while doing design, even though it is a requirement in the Standard (AS2885.1-2012 Section 5.12).   So that leaves the test design in the hands of the construction and testing crews. Which is the way it ‘has always been done’, so I suppose those processes and habits are well established and followed.  And those habits may be hard to break, particularly when it may only be the testers who actually see the issues that are raised by these established processes (ie lack of material certificate information, additional tests required due to illogical stringing, mysterious test results that are difficult to interpret).

Another new factor for the Australian pipeline industry to consider is that the source of our steel and pipe is no longer local Australian products with local Australian support in meeting the quality and specifications required.  But, this situation has been going on long enough (several years now already) that we should now have processes in place to protect our industry from the shortcomings that this arrangement may introduce.

Now that we are receiving pipe from overseas, there is an extra added requirement for designers and testers (and everyone) to pay more attention to the material characteristics of the pipe steel that is responsible for keeping the product inside.  This simple sentence means a lot of things:  a proper material specification, proper inspection, and proper testing.  There’s a lot of work implied by that sentence too.

Some of the more heavily discussed issues being addressed for this revision include:

  • A more definitive requirement, or at least guidance, around the amount of above ground pipe allowed for a valid test (due to the temperature impacts on the results)
  • Better definitions of the Test Types (Type 1, 2, 3) – in particular to better address assemblies and fittings
  • Recognition (somehow) that testing of legacy pipelines (old pipelines and pipelines without proper documentation available) is, in essence, out of scope of this standard
  • Test headers design and their required test factor
  • Definition and application of sensitivity/repeatability/stability
  • Enhance (in Part 1) the requirement for pipeline design engineers to develop the pressure test plan – to address material/logistical/stringing/traceability issues.
  • Calibration requirements
  • Exclusion zones


We have a very, very good record for pipeline safety in Australia.  Let’s keep it that way.