How a battle of minds helped improve
the quality of Ukrainian's gas consumption
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Rumors about a special project had been spreading through the corridors of Lvivgas. "They're trying to domesticate and train robots." That was one of the wilder theories – others involved 3D printers being used to create outlandish new equipment.

But it wasn't robots taking charge – rather, employees of the Regional Gas Company were simply implementing a vision developed during a battle of ideas. One of their goals was to build a next-generation gas control cabinet – a critical piece of the gas distribution infrastructure that helps manage pressure in the system, reducing risks of explosions, but also leaks that drives prices up.

Not only is this story remarkable for the fact it resolved a particularly pertinent problem for Ukraine's gas distribution system, but also that it did so by using one of the nation's most underutilized natural resources – its creative and technically gifted minds.


Ukraine has long suffered from a derelict gas infrastructure.
The notoriously energy-inefficient country is heavily dependent on natural gas since Soviet days, but there haven't been enough investments to replace or modernize the creaky gas infrastructure.

One of the weak points of that infrastructure are so-called gas control points or cabinets, metal boxes about the size of a large wardrobe that are used regulated pressure on the retail end and ensure the safety of the system. The pipes and valves within each cabinet can carry out such functions as maintaining pressure in case of uneven inflow rate, gas purification, or automated shut-off in case of an emergency increase or decrease of pressure.

The old, rusty control cabinets being used in Ukraine come at a price. Difficult to maintain, mostly past their operational life, they create inefficiencies that are both a hassle and a financial burden on ordinary citizens.

That's why RGC decided to put the challenge to some of the most promising technical minds – to invent and deliver the gas control point of the future.


In late 2018, students attending courses at the prestigious Kyiv Mohyla Business School and Lviv Business School were presented with a series of technical challenges.
Their task – to develop a plan that would address them from both a technical and business perspective.

Participants came from different DSOs (distribution system operators). Alexander Volovich's group was presented with the challenge of creating a production process of gas equipment. From November through February they worked on developing their business idea.

One of the processes driving this was the idea that DSOs should work together to innovate production and processes. More directly, an earlier audit had found that much of the equipment being used was old and outdated.

As a result, Volovich's group jumped into action looking for ways to increase the effectiveness of Ukraine's gas market. They came up with the concept of building innovative gas control points, and ended up winning first prize in the national battle.
All the elements are welded together using robots - more efficient , and precise than people could ever be (RGC)


The new approach to building gas control points was a direct result of the students' work – and the solution implemented is a real feat of technology.
Plasma cutters are used to get the right shapes, advanced robots welded pieces together, and an innovative technique of using polymerplastic paint employed to improve the resistance (and look) of the cabinets (see box for details).

Importantly, the innovation was in many ways Ukraine-born and bred. RGC initially considered importing foreign parts but found that they were either too expensive of just couldn't get the job done. Instead, they decided to build many of the parts themselves.

The main function of gas control points is to clean gas from impurities and moisture and to reduce gas pressure to the level required for client equipment: stoves, boilers, water heaters. Two complete lines are available to carry gas.

"The valves are Ukrainian, but the relief valve and the pressure regulators are Italian - from Pietro Fiorentini," says Petro Serban, technical director of Lvivgas. "There are two competing lines to ensure that gas supply is not interrupted in case of repair or replacement of the filter."

According to technical director Pavlo Serban, the end result is about 50% composed of Ukrainian parts, with the rest coming across the world. But, importantly, the spirit and creativity behind is all Ukrainian. "Every moment of the project will be remembered forever", Volovich recalled.

It was a truly unique experience. A simple student idea turned into a real project and was then implemented.

Alexander Volovich
Head of RGC Production

Mural at one the RGC Production facility


The "yellow dressers," as some of the RGC specialists affectionately refer to the gas control cabinets, are built in a closed production cycle using some of the most modern equipment in Ukraine.
The construction involves two parallel processes: build the structures (the box itself), and production of the gas control equipment (sometimes called stuffing the box).

The process is heavily automated to ensure the quality and consistency of production. Once bent into the right shape, a plasma cutter is used to cut the metal sheets according to the desired scheme within a margin of error of just 0.2mm. Then, robots are used to weld the joints – a faster and smoother process than any human could manage.

One of the innovations of RGC production is the use of polymer-plastic dyeing, which no one else in the industry does. Similar to the way cars are painted, this allows the metal to retain its qualities longer and not sustain damage. The longer it can withstand damage – the longer the cabinet is operational, which in the end translates into lower costs for consumers.

Moreover, by spraying rather than brushing the paint, the coat of pure metal powder paint is evenly spread and produces a pleasant, plastic effect, argues Pavlo Serban, the technical director of Lvivgas.

Then, the cabinets are fully ready to use. "They just need to be installed and they work. Customers no longer have to worry about setting them up," summed up Serban.