Taking it to the limit

Taking it to the limit

Having helped to lay the foundations for the North East’s thriving subsea sector, Duco is now investing in its future as it strives to maintain its global competitiveness. BQ reports on the ongoing evolution of this offshore champion

When French multinational Technip’s new Tyneside facility opens this year it will be among the most modern and capable subsea umbilicals plants in the world.

It will also form a key component in the growing critical mass of subsea innovation and production being undertaken in the region by long established North East firm Duco and its French parent.

Duco supplies umbilicals, subsea products and offshore services to the oil and gas industry and trades on its ability to challenge the limits of the possible.

The company, which fabricates umbilical systems used to control subsea wells for oil and gas production, has three manufacturing locations as well as its Newcastle site – in Houston, Angola and Malaysia.

Through innovation and extensive research and development capabilities, it has pioneered umbilical solutions for harsh environments and extreme dynamic applications that require superior engineering and product quality. And, with more than 30 years of project execution under its belt, it is now taking steps to prepare for the next 30 years.

Its new steel tube umbilical facility in Walker, which has received a contribution from the Regional Growth Fund, is being set up to access a large portion of both the global thermoplastic and steel umbilical market.

It is the largest single storey building in Europe and will house a state-of-the-art vertical helix assembly machine (VHAM) and large storage carousels to accommodate the bigger diameters and longer lengths of umbilicals that clients require for deeper waters and more challenging environments.

The design is based upon a scaled up version of the assembly machine at Duco’s sister plant in Houston, US.

It will soon be operational and the new manufacturing facility is building a strong backlog of large steel tube projects already, Duco says.

Its opening follows the 2012 launch of Duco’s new research and development facility also in Walker, close to its main manufacturing plant.

The company says this new facility underscores the priority it has always placed on research and development, and that it will take its capabilities to a new level.

The centre allows the company to work with the latest materials and develop solutions
that will produce key improvements in areas such as ease of installation and long term service reliability.

Drawing on strong relationships with clients such as Total, Chevron and Exxon, the company gains valuable market insights which help it to stay ahead of the industry’s emerging needs.

Around 70% of global subsea developments now require steel umbilicals as the subsea sector is going to greater depths in the ocean. This means innovation is required to allow it to continue being a key player in the global market.

Duco’s Tyneside operation dates back to the late 1970s, when it was part of Dunlop, with the name Duco appearing in the late 1980s as a partnership between Dunlop and French company Coflexip.

Its initial aim was to develop the ground breaking technology needed to recover oil and gas reserves from the North Sea.

In 1990 Duco took up its present location at Walker Riverside on the Tyne. The site is ideally placed with a deep water berth providing easy access to all of the European fields, the southern North Sea fields and all of the Norwegian fields, as well as offering excellent shipping access to the rest of the world.

Over the past 25 years the company has led the world in the thermoplastic subsea  umbilical market and now, as the exploration and production companies head into deeper and deeper waters the need for reliable supporting infrastructure is ever more critical.

Subsea production is now the main type of recovery method in most deepwater oil and gas provinces. The global market is currently worth around £20bn and is expected to quadruple to £80bn by the end of the decade.

Subsea production systems involve the installation of a series of wells on the seabed which can be operated from a fixed or floating platform.

Umbilicals form the critical link between a subsea production arrangement and a remote facility providing control, power, communications and chemical supply services. Applications include production control, chemical injection, subsea pumping and processing, gas lift and underground gas storage among others.

Sarah Cridland, vice president, projects and engineering at the company, says the firm’s track record of successful projects is a factor that reassures potential and existing clients.
“Of course we focus on quality, reliability, and innovation, but our clients do want to know that products have been proven in the field,” she says.“We can illustrate major projects where products have been used in the past, but in addition we can unite this with brand new cutting edge technology as well.”

Cridland also forecasts ongoing growth of the business on Tyneside: “We see a lot of very good opportunities going forward.  We are ideally placed with all of our assets around the globe to support clients as they go into deeper waters and more challenging environments, and that is a big focus for us. There is definitely a very positive outlook in the umbilical business and our ambition is to ensure that we are very much a leader of
that market.

“Our vision is to maintain our growth and continue to deliver the high end thermoplastic umbilicals that we are renowned for, as well as successfully delivering the very large steel tube projects that we are working on at the new facility in Newcastle and in Angola and Houston.”

And she believes ongoing investment in developing new technologies is central to achieving even greater success on Tyneside and further afield.

“Technology is one of our strategy pillars and is a key differentiator, as is the quality of our products. We have already established a track record for the longest, deepest, and heaviest umbilicals and as these boundaries push further, we aim to keep our position at the front of the market, and uphold the recognition we have earned for providing revolutionary technology.

“What is important to us is that we are recognised as a total solutions provider, who can supply the whole end-to-end system to the client, and offer them total support. We are so much more than just a manufacturer and can really provide solutions that help our clients be more successful.”