It’s Good to Talk

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Proactive engagement with clients and responding to them with creative solutions are the priorities for supply chain companies looking to sustain growth, particularly through the downturn. Wireline talks to Bilfinger Salamis UK and Proserv who are determined communication won’t let them down.

Maintaining a positive and proactive approach is proving to be a winning formula for both Bilfinger Salamis UK and Proserv.

The former – a long-established provider of multi-disciplinary maintenance, modifications and operations (MMO) services in offshore oil and gas – has successfully extended several existing contracts and secured additional deals. This includes contracts on significant developments such as Culzean (creating 300 jobs) and with operators like Repsol Sinopec Resources UK for many of its assets (sustaining 200 jobs).

It’s a not-dissimilar tale for Proserv, which provides a range of technology-led services and products for drilling, production and decommissioning and has announced over £12 million in contract awards in recent times.

“Rather than be negative, we’ve wanted to be a source of encouragement in the market,” asserts Bilfinger’s UK managing director Sandy Bonner. “We’ve taken every opportunity to keep the dialogue going with clients and set out clearly how we can help them. It’s been tough for the sector but, equally, we believed that some supply chain companies would emerge stronger – and we’ve always planned to be one of them.”

He believes the nature of the relationship between client and contractor is changing for the better. “We’re finding clients are more prepared to listen to us and are receptive to our ideas. It’s refreshing and encouraging to hear them talk about us as service partners instead of contractors or suppliers.”

Proserv’s subsea services vice-president, Sam Hanton, agrees and says the company has also met with clients early to help them make informed decisions. “We spend a lot of time talking to customers early in the project planning process to understand their challenges and consider what we can do for them. We are ready to respond ourselves or to collaborate with clients or other companies to come up with solutions. At the end of the day everyone is in this together. Of course, no-one would have voted for an industry downturn, but at the same time, you can see some positive changes from it – companies are working together towards improving efficiency.”

“We’re finding clients are more prepared to listen to us and are receptive to our ideas. It’s refreshing and encouraging to hear them talk about us as service partners instead of contractors or suppliers.”

Communicate not complicate

Having originated as a small independent business in the 1960s, the Proserv business of today emerged in 2011 following the amalgamation of five specialist companies and has since developed through organic growth and acquisitions.  The merger represented the first in a series of major milestones for the ‘new’ Proserv and underlined the company’s ambitious vision for global growth. In the UK, it now employs around 600 people across a network of seven offices and facilities in Great Yarmouth and Glasgow.

It has four divisions – subsea production, surface production, drilling and decommissioning services. Sam explains: “We are different things to different people with more than 80 service and product lines across the market, but our philosophy has always been that there is only one Proserv. Other organisations take a different approach and have various brands under one umbrella, but we have always been about integrating and maintaining a one-company, one-team approach.”

He says that philosophy helps to ensure all parts of the business are talking to one another and supports the common effort to present integrated and ultimately more cost-effective solutions through a single-sourced partner.

“That’s not limited to what’s inside our business,” Sam continues. “Where we don’t have the internal capability, we have built relationships with other companies – in the provision of remotely operated vehicles, for example – and we work with them to create a package.

“We are also keen not to over-complicate things. Although we want to be rigorous and do things the right way, we avoid proposing anything that is unnecessarily complex. That’s the principle behind our brand philosophy – ingenious simplicity.”

Proserv’s market confidence is supported by its investment strategy, which includes a focused R&D programme. One of the most recent products coming out of this activity is a tool for subsea communication called A2G, which earned the innovation and technology title at this year’s Subsea UK Awards. It is a piece of hardware that sends detailed information from the subsea well back to the surface to provide companies with the data they need to optimise production in ever more challenging environments.

CEO of Proserv, David Lamont, adds: “A2G configures and communicates data ten times faster than otherwise available within the industry. We provide systems that improve operating efficiency and work with our customers to optimise their field and reservoir performance.”

Growing in Great Yarmouth

As well as investing in R&D, the company is set to open a new purpose-built subsea technology centre in Great Yarmouth next year. 190 employees will relocate from two existing sites in the area to the 65,000 square feet facility, which will act as a global hub for Proserv’s subsea communication and controls activities. The new site will feature manufacturing and yard space, offices, and provides the flexibility to add a further 20,000 square feet of workshop capacity.

“Consolidating operations into a modern purpose-built site will make us leaner, more efficient and better placed to deliver for our global customer base,” notes David. “And as an established employer in the East of England since the 1960s, we have developed an outstanding workforce that is well recognised globally for its expertise and engineering capabilities. Investing in this new facility firmly underlines our long-term commitment to Great Yarmouth and plans for growth in the area.”

Bilfinger Salamis UK also invested in new Great Yarmouth facilities in 2015 to cater for its southern North Sea clients. It moved its operational staff from Lowestoft to the newly refurbished Havenbridge House, and its distribution and warehouse facility to Bressay House at the Outer Harbour. The moves put the business closer to both its customers’ offices and the East Anglian marine bases, significantly cutting down journeys for the company and their clients.

“As an established employer in the East of England since the 1960s, we have developed an outstanding workforce that is well recognised globally for its expertise and engineering capabilities.”

Heads together

Bilfinger Salamis UK has its origins in the Aberdeen-based service Salamis, established 40 years ago to provide fabric maintenance to offshore platforms. It was acquired by global industrial services provider Bilfinger nearly a decade ago and is today positioned as a specialist in MMO services, with around 200 onshore staff in Aberdeen and Great Yarmouth and 1,800 offshore personnel.

To drive the business forward and meet client goals, Bilfinger Salamis explored digitalisation and the business is now introducing handheld tablets to record data at the operational frontline, as well as using unmanned drones for some offshore inspection work.  The latter minimises manned activity and limits production downtime during inspections.

Digitalisation is one of several areas in which the company is applying the principles of collaboration. It has partnered with Apollo Engineering to offer electronic work packs to offshore workers for the digital harvesting of inspection data from the site alongside real-time reporting.

Mike Henderson, commercial and business development director, discusses the merits of this approach: “Collaboration for us means working with other progressive companies and taking the bold step to identify the synergies and then being determined enough to follow through and implement them jointly.

“Our partnership with Apollo and investment in its data management product is just one example of that. The industry currently manages its asset integrity by collecting data manually, double typing inspection reports, and then manually inputting the resulting data into varied disparate management systems.  Digitalisation is a major strategic goal for us – it is estimated that this could bring efficiency gains equivalent of 20 per cent .”

Meanwhile, together with Maersk Oil, Amec Foster Wheeler and Scopus, Bilfinger also won the collaboration award in the 2017 SPE Offshore Achievement Awards. This recognised an integrated contracting strategy for Maersk Oil UK’s operating assets that combines construction support with brownfield modifications, fabric maintenance and personnel mobilisation. The bundled contract delivered a 51 per cent year-on-year reduction in related expenditure, illustrating the power of suppliers working together to come up with a cohesive response to a multi-faceted brief.

And likewise, Bilfinger and Semco have combined their respective strengths to create a cross-company, multi-skilled team to help operators upgrade their helidecks safely, quickly and cost effectively. This is in response to the Civil Aviation Authority’s new electrical and structural requirements that need to be met by March 2018.

Sandy comments: “We know that operators need to use the helideck for regular landings, and these upgrades can involve significant downtime so we wanted to maximise our productivity. By creating an integrated helideck team, we can cover all aspects of the required upgrades as well as deliver additional scopes such as upgrading perimeter netting, coatings, replacing tie-in points and carrying out inspections and fire suppression and deluge system certification.”

Offshore drone inspection services. Credit: Bilfinger Salamis.

Going Dutch

Taking integration to heart, Bilfinger has also developed a one-stop shop option so that all inspection, repair and maintenance (IRM) work is performed as a single service in-house instead of through multiple vendors.

“We can inspect, conduct repairs on the spot, provide all data and perform maintenance through our core crew,” explains Sandy.  “As a result, we are also now doing lots of work for operators on a pan-North Sea basis, working with our divisions in Norway, Denmark and the Netherlands.  We are also diversifying into renewables to grow the business further.”

He points to a contract award earlier this year to the UK business and its Dutch counterpart by Nederlandse Aardolie Maatschappij B.V. and Shell UK. The contract, which will create 30 jobs in the UK, involves the two Bilfinger companies working together to provide topside inspection engineering and non-destructive testing on the clients’ onshore and 53 offshore assets in the UK and Netherlands.

Next era

At Proserv, Sam says its business also exports a “significant” amount of expertise and capability to its international bases. Most recently that has involved taking its multi-string cutting tool and abrasive cutting products – designed and made in the UK – to Thailand and Indonesia to work on projects for Chevron and Premier Oil. UK-based personnel have been in the region to support deployment.

“Most of what we do here is focused on supporting UK North Sea projects, but because of our capabilities and resources we also support the company’s global activities,” he adds. “Our centres of excellence for subsea services, acoustics and controls are all wholly or partly based here. Our machining is based here and our new product development work is performed through a team that includes the UK R&D personnel.”

He believes there are still long-term opportunities for Proserv in the UK, both in oil and gas and by using this experience in renewables. “We’ve had a 40-year run in the North Sea and while there has been consolidation, I don’t see it in decline. That’s why we are starting our ‘next era’ strategy, focused on IRM work for managing late-life assets, building on our decommissioning work and growing our renewables activity.”

This article first appeared in the Autumn 2017 issue of Wireline.

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