Innovative superbug in line for industry award

A YORKSHIRE start-up company has developed new technology to weld together miles of oil, gas and water pipes.

IPWL, based in Cross Hills near Keighley, has invested 500,000 over the past two years to develop a machine called the firefly welding bug.

It has already been shortlisted for a high-profile industry award since being launched six weeks ago.

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Managing director Phil Wainwright said: "There are other machines out there but ours has unique patented features which make it more accurate than others.

The company plans to formally launch the welding bug to the industry next month at the international Subsea 2010 exhibition in Aberdeen where it has been shortlisted in the New Enterprise category at the 2010 Subsea UK Business Awards.

Mr Wainwright said: "The exhibition is the largest subsea oil and gas industry exhibition in Europe so to be nominated for an award is a real achievement."

IPWL was launched in 2007 by Mr Wainwright and the firm's technical director Pete Holt.

"I'm an engineer by trade and a couple of years ago I was working as a bug technician welding the gas pipeline between Goole and Morecambe," said Mr Wainwright. "I was working incredibly hard using a machine built by one of our competitors and the idea came to me that I could do better."

After establishing the initial idea, Mr Wainwright and Mr Holt set about designing and manufacturing a prototype.

He said: "A team of investors came on board and worked closely with us to develop the machine. It was a team effort to take it from an initial idea to a fully-functioning prototype."

Estimates suggest that up to 280,000km of oil and gas pipelines will be built around the world over the next 20 years. Mr Wainwright said: "That works out at about 11 million individual welds so we have the potential to take a large part of that market."

The company employs five people at its base plus six sales staff who work on a commission basis. "We are increasing our team to cope with the projected demand," Mr Wainwright said.

He added: "We have not had a single bad comment about the bug, which we are very proud of. We have had enquiries from all over the world, including America and Estonia. People are wanting to buy it for specific projects, agencies want to distribute it, and rental companies want to rent it out.

"The exhibition next month will give us more exposure and we'll be introduced to a delegation from Russia who are interested in what we are doing."

The machine, which has a retail price of 26,500, is designed to be operated by one person. A weld takes between half an hour and two hours.

Mr Wainwright said: "The bug will be used out in the field in a literal sense. These pipes have a very hard life so they need to be well-maintained. The bug is designed to be able to take the rigours of that environment and still provide welds of incredible accuracy without diverting from its programme requirement. It is designed to be abused and still function in the same way."

He added: "It has taken a lot of dedication by the entire team to get here. We were told in the early days that if it was simple to make a machine like this then everyone would do it and there are not a lot of these machines out there."

The world's longest subsea pipeline was completed in 2007 when the 750-mile Langeled pipeline was built to deliver gas from Norway to Easington in East Yorkshire.

The pipeline, which imports about 20 per cent of the UK's gas, then runs onshore to Nether Kellet in Lancashire and passes through the periphery of the Yorkshire Dales National Park in two places.

Mr Wainwright hopes to create new products using new materials as the industry develops.

He added: "We have a range of options but the first major priority is to get from where we are now to having a reputation that is recognised worldwide. Once we have reached that goal, then we will look at what we are going to do next."

Pipeline brings in gas from Norwegian field

Britain's gas supplies were bolstered in 2007 following the completion of a 5.5bn project to deliver gas from Norway to Yorkshire.

The 750-mile Langeled pipeline, which is the world's longest subsea pipeline, transports gas for commercial use from the Ormen Lange field, off the coast of Norway, to Easington in East Yorkshire.

It then runs onshore, above, to Nether Kellet and passes through the periphery of the Yorkshire Dales National Park.

The system of high pressure pipelines takes gas to major towns and cities. At least 20 per cent of the country's gas is imported through it.