Floating nuclear power in the South China Sea
/ Quality standards once associated with the pharmaceutical world are fast becoming the norm in the power generation industry. Increasing expectations with regards to cleanliness, inspection and documentation have meant that metal finishing companies have had to raise their game to meet the challenge… /
Vecom are specialists in metal surface treatment. Offering a range of treatments such as chemical pickling, passivation, electropolishing and mechanical polishing of stainless steel, more recently, they have introduced the SUBLIMOTION-process®; a wet-blasting operation that improves the topography of the steel leaving a smooth and hydrophobic surface. When the work is too large to transport, or is a fixed installation, Vecom will travel worldwide to carry out the pre-commissioning chemical cleaning of pipework, boilers and other large systems.
With 16 locations in Holland, Belgium, Germany and the UK, they have witnessed first-hand the gradual shift in emphasis towards quality and the need to specialise in order to meet the job requirements.
Vecom Metal Treatment (UK) Director, Neil Brook says:
“It started with our nuclear customers. Things like ferroxyl testing on less than 10% of their components became obligatory on 100% of them. Then passivity testing. Then salt-testing.
The acceptance criteria also narrowed. Where once a certain amount of straw-coloured discolouration was permissible around the heat-affected zone, now it has to be fully removed. We’ve bought borescopes costing tens of thousands of pounds in order to provide high resolution images to support our inspection documentation.”
Everything that came into contact with the work-piece during processing was scrutinised and subject to approval – from the purity of the deionised water used for rinsing to the chloride content of the packaging materials.
“Of course, this level of quality comes at a cost. The job started to take little longer to do, and as we’re normally at the end of the manufacturing chain, that was the last thing our customers wanted to hear. We’ve had to make significant investments and innovations in our facilities, chemical solutions and staff in order to minimise any down-time that can exacerbate the delivery date.
It may sound obvious, but if you’re being asked to produce work to such a high level of cleanliness to what are invariably urgent deadlines, your facility needs to be scrupulously clean and your staff well-trained in order to avoid any mistakes or rework. Most metal finishing shops do not fit this description.
Our nuclear clients wanted a clean facility with no chance of cross-contamination. Obviously, this arrangement is attractive to everybody else, so these investments have helped us to pick up work from companies further afield who are willing to pay the extra transport just for the reassurance that their work is being handled in the right manner.”
This attention to detail and increased quality demands is spreading. Companies specialising in sub-sea components were next. Now it has become the norm in the power generation industry.
“We’ve just finished a large job for one of our oil and gas clients. They had a number of super-duplex pipework systems that needed pickling and passivating in-situ. Some of the systems were quite large; Pipe diameters ranging from 1” to 24”, volumes in excess of 30,000 litres. Most of them were what historically, would have been deemed as non-critical and as such wouldn’t have been chemically cleaned. Service lines such as instrument air or process water and the like.
This client wanted everything chemically pickled - white. No discolouration. No concessions.”
More and more industries are recognising the benefits of these processes. The increased corrosion resistance and significant reduction in maintenance during the lifetime of the component are factors that are coming to the forefront during the design stages and now pickling and passivation is specified as an essential part of the project, rather than a “nice to have”.
“There’s been a significant increase in the volume of enquiries we now receive for pickling and passivation. For years, we saw businesses on the European continent sending work into our facilities in Holland and Germany from industries that were impenetrable to us in the UK. Pickling and passivation weren’t seen as value-adding operations. Now that seems to be changing – along with the expectations.”
The knock-on effect has been significant for Vecom. In the first quarter of 2018, in the UK alone, they have chemically cleaned four new-build biomass boilers (185,000 – 200,000lt volume each), more than thirty super-duplex pipework systems in the oil & gas sector and pickle passivated over 100 tonnes of stainless steel fabrications in-house for the nuclear industry.
“We’ve just been accredited to ISO9000:2015, started implementing a new ERP system and are now planning the second phase of our building renovation. We’re very busy. It is, quite literally in some cases, all hands to the pump.”