Crawling Along: Talking to PipeLine Machinery Expert Ralph Hendricks About Crawler Carriers

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In some circles, the skid steer is considered the “Swiss Army knife” of construction equipment. In the oil and gas pipeline sector, however, such a title might better apply to crawler carriers.

Crawler carriers are rubber-tracked prime movers that can be customized for multiple applications and outfitted with a wide variety of beds or support equipment to suit a project. Flatbed crawler carriers are often used on pipeline jobsites to haul mats to be laid down in preparation for heavier equipment to come through, while dump bed carriers can be loaded up with materials for transport around a jobsite while exerting a very low ground pressure. The bed section can also be rigged up with welding equipment or a crane to help with support duties, or an extra-large cabin to transport personnel. The variable bed configurations possible with crawler carriers allows users to conquer all sorts of jobs — just like those red-clad pocket knives made by Victorinox.

I reached out to Ralph Hendricks to discuss crawler carriers in the pipeline sector, how they’re used and how to choose the right model for the job. Hendricks is product support coordinator with PipeLine Machinery International, which is the global Cat dealer and also distributes the Panther line of crawler carriers by Canadian manufacturer Prinoth Ltd. We discussed a wide range of topics, including popular applications for crawler carriers on pipeline jobsites, the popularity of the machines in the market and how to choose the right machine for the job.

Crawler Carriers

Crawler carriers can be outfitted with a variety of bed configurations, such as this
Vanguard Weld Deck on a Prinoth Panther. The platform provides a mobile platform for
automatic welding operations in the field.

What defines a crawler carrier?

Hendricks: “[They are] tracked vehicles that can reach jobsites where other vehicles cannot regardless of the terrain or conditions of the soil and that carry anything the job needs.”
What is the role of a crawler carrier on a jobsite? What other equipment does it compare to or replace?
Hendricks: “The Panther is versatile. It can perform a number of duties, from carrying job supplies, such seeding and mulching material, to refueling other equipment that fuel trucks can’t get to, as well as jobsite cleanup with low ground pressure and minimal ground disturbance. It can be used for site reclamation, taking the topsoil back as a dump truck would do, or for hauling mats like a large truck would do. The crane and flat deck configuration lifts items such as heat rings and welding shacks while
carrying the accompanying equipment at the same time. The Vanguard Weld Deck configuration provides onsite automatic welding.”

Cranes

Cranes are another popular option for crawler carrier beds. They can be used for pipe support applications and for lifting heavy equipment on a jobsite.

Describe the ideal jobsite conditions to get the maximum utility from a crawler carrier?

Hendricks: “Flat, dry ground like all other equipment but the Panther has a patented patterned rubber track that will grip on a slope and in the snow and in rainy and muddy conditions. It will always operate optimally giving you maximum utility service no matter the conditions.”
What benefits do crawler carriers bring to pipeline jobsites compared these other machines?
Hendricks: “It goes where other trucks cannot go or access, along with fact that it has the Cat ACERT engine that is Tier 4 Final emissions complaint, which means we have the support from Caterpillar and local dealers, and that it is fuel efficient. PLM carries all of the purpose-built parts in stock for maintenance.”
What are some limitations to keep in mind when choosing a crawler carrier?
Hendricks: “Always research machine specifications and load capabilities compared to jobsite requirements. There can be limitations on anything depending on the job.”

What are the top applications that pipeline contractors use crawler carriers for?

Hendricks:“[They’re used for a] wide range of configurations. Our welding package carrier has been the most popular.”

How do you recommend a pipeline contractor size the crawler carrier to the job?

Hendricks:“[It] depends on what they need to carry. There is a load specification that will determine what size machine [to use]. Comply with project parameters.”

How are crawler carriers viewed in the pipeline market? Is their popularity growing?

Hendricks: “The Panther is viewed as a positive alternative to other carriers because of service capability, parts, etc. Yes — [popularity is]absolutely growing. With the success that we’ve had with Caterpillar’s support, PLM parts support and Prinoth support — because the contractor can get ahold of someone quickly and take care of any issues.”

What unique maintenance concerns do end-users need to keep in mind when renting/buying a crawler carrier?

Hendricks: “Follow manufacturer’s recommended maintenance intervals and refer to OMM and concerns shouldn’t arise.”

Are crawler carriers a popular rental item? Or do customers look to purchase?

Hendricks: “[Crawler carriers are] popular in both, depending on the size and duration of the project — it just depends.”

Bradley Kramer is managing editor of North American Oil & Gas Pipelines.

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