North American Oil & Gas Pipelines

MAY 2018

North American Oil & Gas Pipelines covers the news shaping the business of oil and gas pipeline construction and maintenance in North America, including pipeline installation methods, integrity management innovations and managerial strategies.

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napipelines.com MAY 2 018 | North American Oil & Gas Pipelines 19 At first, it was only he and his wife Christy, who worked tirelessly with him in the early days as they attempted to crack the pipeline market and build the Tulsa-based company for the future. Now, Vacuworx enters its 20th year in business with 48 employees in the United States and a global presence. Getting a Lift The pipeline market was the initial target for Vacuworx lifters. However, the industry isn't always quick to adopt new technologies. Taking the product from an idea to something actually used in the field took a lot of convincing. "For a lot of people working in the pipeline industry, they're creatures of habit," Solomon says. "They found a way to make it work, and that's the way people did things since the dawn of time, so to speak. That's the way my granddaddy did it, the way my daddy did it, so that's the way I'm going to do it. Getting them to change took at least three years." Fortunately, an opportunity arose around 2002-2003 in the form of a major big-inch pipeline crossing the middle of the United States. This also coincided with the introduction of a new kind of coated pipe. "It gave us an opportunity to show contractors a new way to handle pipe, in particular coated pipe," Solomon says. "We were able to show how we could handle pipe without damaging the coating, because it was clear that chains, slings and hooks would not be kind to it." Solomon demonstrated the capabilities of the Vacuworx lifters and allowed contractors to experience it themselves. "From the beginning there were a lot of skeptics," he says. "People didn't understand how vacuum worked, how strong it was, the physics of it and how safe it would be. But they knew they had to do something different." Solomon had to adopt a "never give up attitude" to get the pipeline industry to accept vacuum lifting technology. "We were diligent in terms of staying in contact with customers who had projects," he says. "We never let go because I felt we had very good solution for what they needed. We were just very persistent." Just like when Solomon would talk to his father back home, once he started talking to the contractors, the same problem with injuries would crop up. Now, he had an answer. "All you had to do was spend some time with contractors, start sharing stories and people start talking about how so and so got hurt," he says. "My whole answer was, what if you had a product that would get people out of those situations? Let people get out of the way and let the equipment get damaged instead of the person." In some cases, Solomon would even let contractors use the Vacuworx machine for free. "I would say, here, try it for yourself," he says. "If you don't think this is a better way to do it, then I'll come and get it. If you like it, keep it, and I'll send the bill." Once the contractors used the vacuum lifter, Solomon says it usually didn't take long for them to see the benefit. "Once they used it on a project, they saw that they didn't need to have people by the load," he says. "They could put them where they were needed, and they saw the speed and efficiency of the machine. For a lot of contractors, it was a very easy decision." That doesn't mean there wasn't resistance. The idea flowed from a conversation with his dad. Bill Solomon would come home for the holidays and talk shop with his father Jim Solomon, who worked for a Caterpillar dealer in Oklahoma. Bill had grown up around heavy equipment but spent 15 years in sales and marketing at Johnson & Johnson. His introduction to the pipeline industry came from those talks with his father. Inevitably, the problem of injuries on the jobsite would always come up. A common cause of injuries was from loading and unloading pipe, from the yard to the trailer to the jobsite. Traditionally, sidebooms used chains, slings and hooks to secure pipe. Solomon says that people were getting hurt or even killed by getting caught in the way when a load shifted. "My question was always, why did they do it that way? Did they ever think of doing it differently? It seemed to me obvious that they needed a way to do it differently to solve the issue of people being in the wrong place at the wrong time," he says. "You had to get away from chains and slings and hooks." From there, Solomon's idea grew into a plan to form a company that focused on a safer way to move pipe. Landing on vacuum lifting technology as a solution to pick up pipe from the top and not damage the coating, he left Johnson & Johnson to start Vacuworx in 1999. Pays Off

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