MIKE SMITH A gentle giant in the Ice Pigging world
His recent retirement as team supervisor was a cheerful yet bittersweet moment for him and his colleagues at a farewell get-together at the Ice Pigging headquarters in Pucklechurch, Bristol. Amidst bursts of laughter recalling fun times, the heartfelt speeches from Mike’s peers evoked a poignant moment for everyone present.
“Ice Pigging is my baby and I feel very sad to leave it,” says Mike in a quiet voice that speaks volumes about his experience and wisdom.
For the past 12 years, Mike had been at the forefront of the pioneering SUEZ Ice Pigging cleaning service now being successfully implemented across the UK, Europe, USA, Australia, and Asia. Unlike traditional pigging techniques, Ice Pigging is a highly effective, low-risk, no-dig process that can be used in a wide range of pipe network using ice slurry that is moved through the pipe systems to remove unwanted pipe residue and tackle water discolouration. A world first, this service is currently used in water, wastewater, industrial, oil, and gas pipe sectors.
Mike looks back on a notable 48-year career that spanned 36 years as trunk mains operator at Bristol Water, to 12 years in Ice Pigging. From having a steady ‘9-to-5 job’ and being ‘home every night’ routine, he suddenly found himself driving to Barcelona, Spain on his very first day with the Ice Pigging team!
“No two days are alike in SUEZ!” Mike exclaims, remembering his stints traveling around the UK, Ireland, Netherlands, Spain, France, Belgium, Germany, and Italy. “And the best part of all this is the places you go and the people you meet.”
Mike’s first introduction to Ice Pigging was in 2005 when he was selected to be part of the Bristol Water team that tested a novel water pipe cleaning technique invented by Prof. Joe Quarini of Bristol University. He thought it was a good challenge as it was less predictable and less repetitive from his regular job.
Although many people doubted this new technique would ever get off the ground, Mike was willing to give it a go, working closely with managers and academics. “It was a challenge developing something most people thought would not work,” says Mike.
One thing led to another and he welcomed the offer to join SUEZ when Ice Pigging was formally launched in 2011. By that time, the technique and equipment had already been fully developed, a far cry from the early days when Mike literally started with “ice in a bucket on a trailer, and a paddle to stir it with”.
A chat with Mike is an enjoyable trip down Ice Pigging memory lane. He will happily tell you of the ins and outs of the service, from using a demo rig to building a tanker, to the evolution of ice making. He and his team pretty much trained everyone offering the service worldwide. He is the unsung guru of the Ice Pigging world, if you will. Best of all, no one else in the UK has the experience that Mike and the whole team have.
One of his favourite stints was removing a manganese sludge from a raw water main from reservoir to source for Wessex Water. His scariest job? Cleaning a delicate 15” water main that crosses the main East Coast Railway line into Newcastle.
His favourite part was driving to operations all across the country and the continual refinement of the ice making machines, as well as the satisfaction of a job well done. He loves the sense of accomplishment seeing the water in the pipes turn from filthy to clean. The most hysterical? It was doing a job in a field when a herd of wild horses chased the team down. “While the others were quickly detaching the equipment, I left them and ran straight to the van,” says Mike with a smile.
He will always cherish the “connection and camaraderie with colleagues and customers on site” particularly on night shifts. What separates this pipe cleaning service from the rest is that it can be done in the middle of the night with minimal noise and disruption to customers.
“Ice Pigging is brilliant! The biggest advantage is that the process is so quick, it can be done in a few hours overnight, most customers don’t even know we’ve been,” says Mike.
While he’s looking forward to enjoying his retirement, don’t count him out of the Ice Pigging world just yet. Mike says he will still help the team if needed, while indulging in his DIY pastimes, looking after his grandkids, and keeping his dog, Caz, entertained. But one thing’s sure, Mike will retire knowing that his ‘baby’ is now making a big difference in the industry that made him who he is now.