Astra and Allison play an important role in the North European Natural Gas Pipeline (NEL) construction project.
TORINO, Italy – Never change a winning team. That’s why Astra and Allison Transmission have once again been chosen for a strategic infrastructure project: construction of a main European gas pipeline, the North European Natural Gas Pipeline (NEL).
The project is critical to energy supplies for all of Europe and worth an estimated 1 billion euro. The NEL is one of the two pipelines that transport Russian natural gas exported by Gazprom to Europe through the Nord Stream, another pipeline that lies on the bottom of the Baltic Sea, bypassing the Ukraine. Gas from Siberia goes to Northwest Germany and through its interconnections also flows to Belgium, the Netherlands, France and the United Kingdom.
The NEL runs 440 km from the Nord Stream on the German Coast in Lubmin, near Greifswald, to Rehden in Lower Saxony, linking Schwerin and Hamburg, towns that until now have been mainly supplied with natural gas from reserves in the North Sea. It will transport over 20 billion cubic meters of natural gas each year, the equivalent of a fifth of Germany’s annual consumption.
Bonatti Spa was awarded the contract to build four main sections of the project, worth about 100 million euro. Bonatti, a member of the International Pipeline Contractor Association (I.P.L.O.C.A), is a leading European company in the Oil & Gas industry with a strong record of thousands of kilometers of pipelines (approximately 56’’) laid around the world in some of the most extreme environmental, logistical and remote conditions.
The highest quality and absolute respect for deadlines during construction of a parallel pipeline, the Opal, made the Italian company an impressive candidate for the NEL.
The construction work, which began in April 2011, ended in August 2012 and the NEL went active as scheduled in November 2012. Astra and Allison played an important part in ensuring that everything ran smoothly.
Mr Giuliano Gelmi, Bonatti’s Fleet Manager, confirmed, “Ours is a huge and highly specialized job and reliable, qualified vehicles are crucial. Nothing is left to chance, starting with the choice of two Astra HD8 pipe trucks, fitted with an Allison transmission.”
The choice of the HD8 chassis was shared between Astra and Bonatti, who have been working together for 30 years. The trucks were chosen based on their renowned reliability, versatility and ease of transformation. The cab and the body were shaped so that the truck could carry the enormous pipes: 17-m long, with a diameter of DN 1400 (56’’) and a weight of about 14 tons. The customized vehicles allowed for greater mobility and reduced front-section dimensions.
The Astra HD8 is capable of carrying two 56’’ pipes at a time, during 10-hr daily shifts. Due to their robustness and reliability, the Astra’s were able to handle this challenge. Pipe transport generally involves carrying pipes for a short distance to a point for loading and unloading. The HD8 travelled mainly off-road, on muddy ground caused by frequent rains.
For their Astra HD8 pipe trucks, Bonatti requested an Allison fully-automatic 4700 Series transmission with retarder. This transmission is specifically designed to operate within the harshest conditions, ensuring unrivaled startability and smooth gear shifting because of Allison’s Continuous Power Technology™. Each transmission was specified with an integrated hydraulic retarder, given the very difficult ground conditions and the heavy weight of the pipes. The transmission was also chosen for ease of driving, so that it would be easier to find suitable drivers.
"The Allison automatic transmission is crucial for us," said Mr. Gelmi. "We cannot afford vehicles stopping on slopes, letting the heavy load slide forward or backward." Such heavy weight could seriously endanger the powertrain of vehicles equipped with manual gearboxes, leading to possible breakdowns and downtime.
When asked what was taken into account when selecting vehicles for new projects, Bonatti’s Fleet Manager said “robustness and reliability,” qualities for which both Astra trucks and Allison transmissions are well known. Bonatti also found fuel consumption to be particularly low compared to competitors' vehicles.
Mr. Gelmi also said, "Bonatti needed trucks suited to the very muddy and difficult terrain in which we operate. The Astra HD8 is a rugged and reliable off-road truck, perfect for transporting large pipes. Fitted with the Allison automatic transmission, it delivers great maneuverability, ease of driving and improved safety under heavy loads on steep grades. We chose the Allison also to give our drivers maximum comfort in addition to safety.”
Given the particularly short time periods for project implementation, another factor that Bonatti calculates is vehicle efficiency, based on operating hours and downtime. Vehicles should have low maintenance costs and no breakdowns, which lead to costly delays.
"What we really need to avoid is vehicle downtime as it puts our entire program at risk. It creates a domino effect, delaying other phases of the project," continued Bonatti’s Fleet Manager. The gas pipeline has been completed successfully and on time; Bonatti’s choice of the Astra-Allison combination proved to be a winning one.
Astra HD8’s are powerful trucks, able to carry heavy loads on any type of ground, even with a very high center of gravity. The Cursor engines provide high torque and high braking power, enhanced by the Allison retarder.
These vehicles deliver high performance combined with great flexibility and are designed for the construction and mining sector. Astra offers more than 250 different models, from two-axles 4x4 up to four-axles 8x8 configurations, all available with different chassis lengths and all customized, as in the case of Bonatti’s pipe trucks. Comfort is at a maximum, with four shock absorbers (two at the rear, and two at the front of the cab). The frame is made of high-strength steel for the utmost ruggedness.