FORT MCMURRAY, Alberta—Trelleborg Industrial Solutions' unique expansion barrels are being used as part of a miles-long pipeline system in one of the world's largest oil sands mining and refinery facilities in the world, located in the Athabasca oil sands in Northern Alberta.
Trelleborg said the barrels' unique design—most importantly their ability to flex with the heat generated by slurry as it travels great distances—is reducing downtime for oil producers like BP, Marathon Oil and Chevron Corp., three of the five partners at Athabasca.
"Testing proved that slurry was able to travel for 24,000 hours in the pipe without maintenance, equating to approximately three years, as opposed to around 4,000 hours, which non-expanding barrels often provide," said Richard Hepworth, president of Trelleborg's marine and infrastructure operation, which designed and produces the barrels.
Because their flexibility and harsh temperature resistance reduce wear, maintenance is reduced and production has increased, Trelleborg said.
Tested over four years at the mine before being put into full operation, the barrels are flexible in all directions, compensating for lateral deflection as well as heat. This flexibility protects the pumps, which circulate the slurry throughout the system, from load forces, according to Trelleborg.
"With temperatures across certain parts of our mine reaching as low as -46° Celsius, downtime can compromise the safety of our people during maintenance," Hepworth said.
Trelleborg's barrel can span from -46°C to 90°C, according to Trelleborg, and can flex by 910 millimeters. The barrel also provides an installation hydraulic ram for simpler maintenance and rotation.
The barrels were patented successfully in Canada in 2012.
"With our in-house expertise and mining knowledge, we knew we could supply equipment to meet the demands of the mine's environmental and business challenges, while providing a solution that can compensate for two or three expansion joints and allow for easy mounting and inspecting," Hepworth said.
The mining and refinery operations being serviced by Trelleborg are just some of the many operations at Athabasca, which contains large deposits of bitumen and extremely heavy crude oil and is centered roughly on the boomtown of Fort McMurray.
Trelleborg, based in a Swedish city of the same name, is a 24,000-employee, $3.5 billion producer of polymer-engineered seals, dampening equipment and tires.
After a recent restructuring, the company now comprises Trelleborg Industrial Solutions, focusing on polymer products for niche applications and infrastructure; Trelleborg Sealing Solutions, with its focus on polymer-based seals; and Trelleborg Wheel Systems, which makes tires for off-road vehicles.
Trelleborg's marine and infrastructure operation, manufacturer of the expansion barrels, falls under Trelleborg's Industrial Solutions segment.