Wales & West Utilities cut costs on ductile mains replacement

Wales & West Utilities has purchased 33 Rapid Window Cutters from Steve Vick International, to help boost the efficiency of their gas main replacement programme.

The gas emergency and pipeline service for Wales and the south west of England collaborated with Steve Vick in developing the innovative cutter for ductile iron mains and funded its design as part of the Network Innovation Allowance.

Wales & West Utilities plan to replace approximately 60km of ductile iron mains in next years programme. Until now, these mains have posed a challenge when the replacement is being done by live and dead mains insertion, as they cannot be broken out easily like cast iron mains.

Needing to resolve the issue, Wales & West Utilities worked with Steve Vick International to develop a fast, safe and easy-to-use machine which would dramatically reduce the time it takes to cut a window in ductile iron mains to gain access to the previously inserted plastic pipe.

Window cut using The Rapid Window Cutter

The Rapid Window Cutter is the fastest on the market, able to cut a window in ten minutes when traditional equipment would take significantly longer. The hand-held machine comprises a cutting disc mounted on a bespoke chassis assembly which has four small wheels.

Pneumatically powered, the operative guides the cutter, applying sufficient pressure to penetrate the pipe wall, and is able to pivot the chassis to change direction without removing the unit from the main. Depth controls allow the cutter to be used safely on inserted pipe.

Customer friendly Live Mains Insertion

Wales & West Utilities is proud of the work it does to replace iron mains using the customer-friendly Live Mains Insertion method. Live Mains Insertion is similar to the normal insertion of new plastic pipe into an old low pressure cast iron main with one major benefit.

By using a special gland box, the old main is kept live throughout the insertion process and the new plastic pipe is gassed up to maintain gas supplies to customers. Once insertion is complete, the main is still kept live to supply customers via the annular space until it is operationally convenient to transfer the services to the new plastic pipe main.

With Live Mains Insertion, customers are off gas for a minimum time and there are benefits too for commuters as there is less need for disruptive work and excavations in the road. With less digging and less spoil, the method also benefits the environment.

Comprehensive safety features have been incorporated into the Rapid Window Cutter including an automatic emergency cut-off on the trigger handle; the machine is quiet and user friendly. As the finely tuned motor operates at low torque the cutter is easy to operate and does not have a tendency to ‘run away’ or ‘kick back’. The slow cutting speed means that water is not required as a coolant when cutting, resulting in a cleaner trench.

The Rapid Window Cutter, suitable for use on ductile iron pipes in the size range 100mm to 200mm (4”, 6” and 8”), is small and lightweight and the compact design allows the cutter to be used close up to third party equipment.

NIA Funding

Wales & West Utilities used its Network Innovation Allowance to fund the development of the Rapid Window Cutter by Steve Vick International. OFGEM’s Network Innovation Allowance scheme allows GDNs to fund technical, commercial or operational projects directly relating to the network that have the potential to deliver financial benefits to the utility and its customers.

Lucy Mason, Wales & West Utilities Innovation Manager said:

“We’ve worked in partnership with Steve Vick International on the development of the rapid window cutters. As a company we are always thinking of new ways to improve the service we provide to our customers. The window cutters will allow us to replace more of our old metal gas pipes ‘live’, reducing disruption to our customers and the communities we work in, while delivering efficiency and value for money in planning gas pipe replacement work.

“The window cutters we have jointly developed can now be used right across the gas industry – delivering benefits to customers throughout the UK and abroad.”

The replacement of ductile iron mains is part of Wales & West Utilities multi-million-pound 30-year mains replacement programme across Wales and the South West, which began in 2002. Old metal pipes within 30 metres of buildings are being replaced with new PE pipes with a lifespan of more than 80 years.

The Rapid Window Cutter for ductile iron is part of an expanding range of pipe handling, cutting and cracking equipment designed by Steve Vick International to improve safety, reduce costs and increase efficiency within the utilities industry. For 35 years the company, now based in Bradford on Avon, Wiltshire, has been at the forefront in developing new techniques and hardware for the trenchless repair and replacement of underground pipes.

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