Innovations in tubing technology

Louise Smyth

New grade of tubing designed to deliver greater mechanical strength and higher corrosion resistance. By Mark Ayers

A decade ago, there was much debate around the question of peak oil. Had we reached the maximum point of pumping? Were we effectively reaching the end of the world’s oil reserves? Over the course of the past 10 years, the force of that debate declined as significant new discoveries were made and a growing number of oil companies announced that they were sitting on large new fields.

Today, however, with the declining rate of economic growth in China, a background of oil market over-supply, and what many now are regarding as a ‘new normal’ with oil prices as low as US$40 per barrel, companies in the supply base that support the oil and gas industry are facing a serious fall off in demand for their services. Yet despite this, if those companies want to remain competitive, they need to keep investing in R&D to satisfy the industry’s now overriding demand for greater cost efficiency and a lower cost of ownership.

A time to refocus

For the UK-based Fine Tubes, now a unit of Ametek, with its US-based sister company, Superior Tube, the approach has been to refocus its R&D activities to remain responsive to the needs of a changing market. A current example of this approach is the development of Alloy 825 in collaboration with one of Fine Tubes’ raw material suppliers.

Already widely used for downhole completion lines in the oil industry, Alloy 825 (UNS N08825) is an austenitic nickel-iron-chromium alloy with additions of molybdenum, copper and titanium. Developed to provide corrosion resistance in both oxidizing and reducing environments, it is resistant to chloride stress-corrosion cracking and pitting. The addition of titanium stabilises the alloy against sensitisation in the as-welded condition, making it resistant to intergranular attack after exposure to the operating temperatures typically found in downhole environments.

The new grade of Alloy 825 has an improved metallurgy that offers the prospect of higher corrosion resistance as well as greater mechanical strength. As a result, the very real prospect exists to make tubing products with thinner walls having the same pressure rating, thereby delivering savings to the industry either by reducing the total weight of product, or, in some cases, by eliminating the need to move to more highly alloyed and expensive grades.

Laboratory and production trials have already established that this modified Alloy 825 performs as expected – many of the corrosion-resistance and mechanical properties already have been validated – and that it can be successfully used for the manufacture of tubing products. Next steps will be the presentation of results in anticipation of NACE approval on the grade, expected in early 2016.

Fine Tubes has also been working closely with other supply chain partners to develop solutions related to the optimisation of existing and new wells. The use of fibre optic sensing in intelligent well systems is well established, but technological issues still remain in successfully deploying this technology and generating industry standards. As a member of the Advanced Well Equipment Standards (AWES) group, Fine Tubes has taken an active role in the development of specifications and industry guidelines. New products include 1/8in armour for fibre sensing equipment as well as bespoke armouring of thermocouple and copper bundles.

Is this a time of opportunity for the supply base?

Most operators do not expect to see a return to historically high oil prices any time soon. They may well be right. But that does present opportunities for companies in the industry’s supply chain. As indicated above, the answer lies in being adaptive to changing industry needs, being responsive to changing market conditions, and being open to new collaborations and partnerships.

Through the alliance of Fine Tubes and its sister company, Superior Tube, both businesses have increased their capabilities, leading to significantly reduced lead times, an extended product portfolio and greater global reach. Now that both companies are collectively a unit of Ametek Specialty Metal Products, there are new opportunities for collaborations with other businesses within Ametek that target the oil and gas markets.

But regardless of the positions individual companies in the supply chain take, it is in the exploration of innovative, joint approaches to solving the needs of operators in a changing commercial landscape that a successful future currently lies.

Mark Ayers is director, Oil & Gas Products at Fine Tubes.

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