Large pipe forming & welding machine
One of the most ambitious projects for Iraq was the purchase of a pipe forming and welding machine. The steel pipe forming process is highly technical. The actual specification was as follows:
- Self-contained pipe forming and welding machine for manufacturing tube/pipe for the use in communications and power towers, residential/commercial water and power systems and similar applications across Iraq.
- Machine shall produce seamless circular pipe continuously with diameters from 76 mm to 254 mm with wall thickness of 3 mm – 12 mm.
- Delivery rate shall be 80-120 meters/minute and meet welded steel pipe manufacturer and supplier standards for welded steel pipe standards GB/T13973 or comparable US ASTM standard.
- Machine shall be capable of uncoiling hot or cold rolled low-carbon steel ST-37 coils. Width 240-800mm, thickness 3-12 mm, Coil ID: 600-800 mm, OD 1300-1800 mm wit maximum weight of 10 tons.
- Machine and subcomponents shall operate on the power source of 380/22V 50 Hz.
- Machine assembled total length shall be less than 120 meters long, 4 meters wide, and 4 meters high.
- Run out table capable of holding 10 minutes of production at a maximum length of 12 meters.
- Machine dies necessary to satisfy pipe dimension range of 76-254 mm circular pipe should be provided.
- FOB destination.
How are such requirements created?
It takes a lot of work and collaboration. Incredibly difficult to sort out in a war zone with minimal communication available. Any meeting with the factory engineers or managers at the factory could not be more than 45 minutes long. When the engineers could meet me in the Green Zone at the Al Rasheed hotel we could spend a few hours over tea. The only email address for the factory was one general address used for everyone! A clerk was assigned to notify employees when they received an email addressed to them. The employee would then make an appointment to use the factory computer to reply to the email! Phone was possible but at the time a similar situation existed that there was only one phone number for the factory.
The specifications were derived from multiple requirements and constraints. The size of the pipe used in local construction and the factory’s communications tower business established the diameters and wall thickness of the pipe. Their electrical supply decided the electrical power specification. The width and length of their building to house the pipe forming process determined the size of the manufacturing line. Current capacity of building crane and structure determined the maximum weight of the coils. Trucking, fork lifts, and storage also impacted these dimensions.
Speed requirement for the pipe former was more of a wish but determined by the capacity of the factory’s galvanizing capabilities, demands for steel towers, and labor.
How do I find one of these machines?
My job, once requirements were finalized, was to find one of these machines that met the requirements while following the onerous US Government contracting rules and regulations. These requirements had to be posted on the government website FedBizOps. What happens after the government contracting office receives the bids is a project manager’s worse nightmare.
We were required to use the procurement selection process referred to at LPTA, Lowest Price Technically Acceptable. Once the contracting officer received what they view as qualified bids. The KO (contracting officer) usually doesn’t have the technical background to review the engineering details. Their role is to insure the bidders match the bidding rules for time and CLINS. (Contract line item number), CLINS refer to the individual items listed separately on the solicitation. In English, rather than government language, that just means item numbers.
The requirements listed earlier would each be a separate CLIN along with shipping and warranty items.
When the contracting officer finds the bids were acceptable to them, the prices and manufacturer/supplier names are redacted. A word government uses a lot during this election in the US related to emails! Just means, we could not know who the manufacturer was or what price they bid. That information is blacked out.
The purpose of our technical evaluation team is to evaluate each bid based on its merits and not price or original equipment manufacturer. Lowest Price Technically Acceptable was designed to save the government money. The same rules were used when purchasing equipment for Iraq factories.
There were 6 proposals in this instance that had to be reviewed.
Evaluation of bids.
The evaluation team ranks the offers using a set of evaluation criteria developed by the team to judge 14 – 20 separate criteria that we felt important for the equipment. This is without regard to price or manufacturer. At this point we don’t know that information.
Once rated, the evaluation forms are returned to the contracting officer. If the technical evaluations favor more expensive equipment there is another process to justify the difference from the LPTA offer. It is up to the contracting offer to determine if the justification is good enough to accept a higher offer. The offers ranged from a low of $2.5 million to $12 million. We preferred the offer at $8.5 million. One at $4.5 million was used equipment was our second choice.
We could not justify not accepting the lowest offer of $2.5 million. Given the strict deadlines for committing funds and total funds available we accepted the $2.5 million dollar offer reluctantly.
I had to work hard to convince the Iraqi factory engineers and management that this offer would meet their requirements. Have you figured out why, yet? The equipment manufacturer was from China.
Iraqis’ experience with Chinese made equipment had not been good.
Below is one of the pages from the resulting agreement I had the Iraqis sign off on before I would approve the purchase.
Then it was up to me to insure the US Government and the Iraq factory received what was promised.
Color of Money
One of the restriction of the US Government due to the “color of money” was I could only purchase the equipment. I could not allocate funds for installation or training. This became a huge issue with many projects. In some cases, projects were cancelled because the Iraqi factories could not secure funding to provide for installation and training.
In this case the Al Sumood factory agreed they would pay for installation and training.
To insure equipment met our requirements one of our team would visit the manufacturer’s facilities and witness testing and/or packaging the equipment prior to shipment. Factory engineers or production personnel would always participate in these types of visits. Witnessing the equipment tests and assembly would become part of their training. It also made it much easier for the factory engineers to accept responsibility for receiving and installing the equipment.
Having factory engineers accompany me on these visits was almost impossible in Iraq. The Iraqis could not get the necessary visas to leave the country. Many of the destination countries wouldn’t grant them visas due to the ongoing war. That left it up to us to bridge the gap in verifying the requirements and insuring quality equipment.
Even though some of the Chinese manufacturing was labor intensive the quality of the work was excellent. The hosts were gracious and incredibly hospitable. They went out of their way to insure I could see some of the equipment in operation at a Chinese factory. I hadn’t planned on site seeing, but was glad they took the time to show me some of the sites.
The problem with leadership decisions in US.
Our organization pulled out of Iraq before the equipment was delivered and installed. After 6 years, I am still in contact with one of the factory engineers and Iraq contractor in charge of installation and training. The equipment was installed and producing steel pipe as required. All of the credit goes to these engineers and contractor for successful completion of the project.
Success at last!
The last picture shows the principle Iraqi engineer, Thamer, on the project. Thamer recently sent me this photo of him next to a cooling modification he made to the machine. High frequency is used to heat and weld the pipe seamlessly.
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