Oilfield service companies and the supply chain alike are signalling their confidence in the UK, as evidenced by a string of multi-million pound investment programmes. Wireline explores the significance of some of these world-leading facilities…
The evidence suggests companies are thinking big when it comes to bolstering their UK capabilities to support customers internationally. Two major investment programmes completed in Scotland in recent months exemplify how organisations are not only identifying new ways to help energy operators address modern-day challenges and opportunities – but are committed to acting and investing to make it happen.
These investments, however, are about more than just infrastructure. Highly skilled employees, technological advances, public sector partnerships, positive local community relationships are all part of the equation for businesses which commit to new, long-term operations in the UK.
“It’s not just about the buildings – it’s about our great partnership with the Scottish government, our links with the local community, and our people that work with us,” says Baker Hughes vice-president of oilfield equipment global supply chain Rich Morin. The company opened a new £31 million enhanced centre of excellence (CoE) facility in Montrose earlier this year to support engineering, test and assembly services and advances in deepwater technology.
“Investment is one thing, but at the heart of any operation is the people. We have world-class people, and everyone works together to drive solutions,” he continues.
Meanwhile, TÜV SÜD National Engineering Laboratory officially opened a new £16 million Advanced Multiphase Facility (AMF) in October at its site in East Kilbride. With a test range beyond anything currently available in the world, the high-pressure, high-flow rate AMF is a globally significant project and marks the largest capital investment to date by German-based TÜV SÜD in its UK business.
“The investment is seeing us bring even more high-calibre people on board and represents a positive endorsement of the existing capabilities here,” says head of infrastructure Muir Porter, who led the development project.
The AMF’s capabilities allow for the development, testing and verification of multiphase flow components in real-life operating conditions and with full-scale flows. Muir says its capabilities will underpin the effective performance of flow technologies in conditions with high operating pressures and flow rates – and therefore support the production objectives of operators in extreme, deepwater environments. Possible functions include reviewing the performance of flow meters, the development of measurement technologies and advanced modelling of everything from multiphase to wet gas conditions, remote testing and new flow imagery.
“Those kinds of issues call for a very high performance facility with a broad range of process flows,” he adds. “There are a number of flow facilities at present, including our existing multiphase flow facility which operates at a lower pressure. Those have served the industry well, but over the years our understanding of multiphase flow and the associated technology have moved on.”
Although the industry is very much global, the challenges posed by UK developments and the strategic demands of the basin have also spurred interest in the AMF and its capabilities. “Maximising economic recovery, and the demand for solutions which realise that, is one of the big drivers behind the investment,” Muir continues. Scottish Enterprise supported the AMF’s development with £4.9 million of research and development funding, alongside £11.1 million of investment by TÜV SÜD National Engineering Laboratory’s parent company.
Similarly, Baker Hughes’ upgraded and expanded CoE at Montrose was supported by a £4.9 million grant from the Scottish Government through Scottish Enterprise. The campus, spread across more than 35 acres, supports the design, manufacture, test and assembly of advanced subsea technology and solutions in one location. Equipped with a range of advanced tools and processes, it represents the largest footprint of Baker Hughes’ oilfield equipment division.
“With the large advances we’re going to need in technology and equipment – and given the challenges our customers are seeing in deepwater operations – we saw an opportunity to relocate our strategy and how we support our market and our customers,” explains Rich. He says Montrose represents the global hub for Subsea Systems operations and is now set to deliver everything from design and development to shipment and servicing.
Features of the new-look facility include an indoor system integration test (SIT) area which, he says, has prompted positive feedback from customers because of the way it has further improved quality and customer delivery standards. The site is also now home to Baker Hughes’ Aptara Design Centre, focused on its Aptara™ Totex-lite solution – a family of modular, technology-focused products designed for the life of field.
Baker Hughes has had a presence in the Angus port since the early 1980s and Rich says the enhancement of the facility is a logical extension of that relationship: “The level of investment is a vote of confidence in the UK and in our operations, and equally signals to customers how we are going to drive solutions for them – not just in this area of the world but globally,” he adds.
“The work of this site feeds around the world – we’ve had shipments to the APAC region and to Egypt recently, for example. It’s the hub of our network within subsea and offshore as well as within our services footprint, and it partners with other sites around the world.”
He believes that those capabilities – and flexibility, in manufacturing terms – help customers to achieve greater productivity: “Just as important is the way it supports collaboration with our customers, who can come and work with us. Many modern-day fields are very complicated, and the technology needed to support them is much more complex.”
“We believe we’re building the future of metrology here in Scotland.”
Grow with the flow
One of the core features – and core benefits – of the AMF at TÜV SÜD National Engineering Laboratory is the three-phase gravity separator system, which Muir says has been conservatively designed to allow for the separation of components at very high pressures and flow rates.
The closed-loop flow circuit operates at pressures of up to 140 bar and temperatures of up to 43°C. “Various closed-loop flows exist around the world but none with this scale and capability,” says Muir. “Overall, this new facility is a really good fit for our business, creating a proposition with capabilities and flexibility not available anywhere else.”
It represents another transformational move for the National Engineering Laboratory, which was established in the 1940s and has seen its role evolve considerably over the decades. In recent years, explains Muir, its focus has primarily been upon fluid flow measurement and fluid mechanics, and it has a formal designation as the UK’s National Measurement Institute, responsible for managing the national standard for flow measurement.
“The AMF also gives us an opportunity to develop our understanding of the physics of fluid flow at higher pressures and temperatures,” adds Muir. “Previously we had flow maps developed at lower pressure but, now that we are operating at up to around 140 bar, we are able to move that work on as well.”
He says the centre’s existing multiphase flow customer base is already global, “but we expect it to grow further now that the new facility is up and running. Not only are our customers global – the staff we have brought in also come from all parts of the world.”
Hosting a site of global excellence offers opportunities for staff as well. The completion of the AMF has resulted in 17 new jobs at the centre – “All highly skilled – metrologists, engineers, specialist technicians,” Muir says. “Bringing these new people in was part and parcel of the investment programme. We believe we’re building the future of metrology here in Scotland.”
TÜV SÜD National Engineering Laboratory also runs a Modern Apprenticeship programme. It currently features around nine participants, and the AMF will feature in their overall training experience.
There is work at postgraduate level too; the centre has its own programme of flow research doctorates, with five metrologist colleagues finalising PhDs into fluid flow. “It supports the personnel development agenda but also reflects our research effort,” adds Muir.
Expanding capabilities also offers a route towards greater diversification. “Our customer base is primarily oil and gas,” notes Muir, “But because of our capabilities it extends into other sectors, including clean fuels, and also encompasses technology development projects by organisations looking to develop instrumentation for operation in hostile conditions, as well as academic research and joint industry programmes.”
“Investment is one thing, but at the heart of any operation is the people. We have world-class people, and everyone works together to drive solutions.”
At Baker Hughes, Rich says the strategic decision to invest at Montrose reflects not only the capabilities of the workforce there, “but also about where we are as a company.” He adds: “We’re part of the communities where we operate and we have a responsibility to support those. We’re happy with the work we’ve done with the Scottish government in terms of investment, developing our workforce and supporting employment in the region – in short, being good corporate citizens.”
Baker Hughes too has increased the size of its local apprenticeship programme – it now typically features over 40 trainees – and it also encompasses around 10 internships through partnerships with universities. “I visited the site recently and saw the work we’re doing in additive manufacturing, artificial intelligence, data analytics and other areas. It’s clear we need young talent to support us in that work,” adds Rich.
The investment programme at Montrose has also led to an enhanced learning and development capability at the site, encompassing not just subsea training but also leadership, customer and wider group training.
“It’s all about driving the technology and the solutions forward for our customers in the ever-challenging space in which we work,” he continues. “This centre allows us to develop the technology and the people. We have the capability to work in conjunction with our customers to take this space forward. With that, clearly, comes additional growth. I feel very optimistic about our ability to take energy solutions forward through this site.”
Muir shares that optimism with regards to TÜV SÜD’s confidence in its site and its skilled people: “The development is a positive message to our staff in terms of securing the future, but it’s also very positive for Scotland and the UK. On a global basis it anchors the future of multiphase flow testing in Scotland.”
Anchoring expertise in the UK is vital to the future of the domestic supply chain, and by extension, the UKCS as a basin. OGUK supply chain director Matt Abraham notes that: “These are great examples of how the supply chain is fundamental to pioneering the cutting-edge technological solutions we need to deliver safe and secure energy from the UK North Sea, developing expertise that is highly exportable and contributing to the creation of a net-zero carbon economy.” It’s therefore encouraging to see commitment from government and companies to centres of excellence such as the AMF and Montrose subsea facility, particularly as the industry works to double its export opportunities as part of the strategy set out in Roadmap 2035. Moreover, the training and upskilling of new generations of staff will help secure that expertise for many years to come.