Technology breakthroughs don’t have to be flashy to be impressive. Sometimes great value can be driven by advances in low-technology areas.
“In technology, it would be easy to assume that big value opportunities will only come from big technology platforms – like NextGen LNG Trains or long subsea tiebacks – but this isn’t always the case,” notes vice president Technology Sean Salter.
“You mightn’t expect a single coat painting system to have a big value proposition.
“But Humidur is a great example – first, of technology being applied into the production space; and secondly, how a seemingly small item has the potential to have a profound impact on how we do our business.”
Which is why Woodside in September 2018 signed up as foundation buyer in Australia for a two-part epoxy coating called Humidur.
The contract signing was the result of a quick but penetrating investigation and negotiation, and it’s set the scene for substantial productivity increases for the business.
Humidur is a coating product that can be applied with minimal surface preparation. Metals suffering corrosion might require no sandblasting but only minimal surface preparation before Humidur is applied.
Moreover, it’s a one-coat system, so savings in application time are significant. And it will last upwards of 15 years. All of which has led to a new way of working in the fight against corrosion.
The value generated has particular significance in relation to the company’s growth strategy for the Burrup Hub and extending the lifespan of our Karratha assets. Technology development manager Geoff Byfield notes: “It’s very easy to get attracted by the big solution to issues like, what does the next LNG train or offshore platform look like? Yet, a very simple solution might have a huge impact.
“Humidur demonstrates that the Technology portfolio should have a spread of interests because there’s value to be found across the technology spectrum.
“The trick is to recognise where this value lies, doing the hard yards and not limit investigations to the big, shiny stuff that could take a huge amount of effort and risk for a return that might not be commensurate.”
The company’s introduction to Humidur came in May 2017 when the coating was described to Woodside as a one-coat product good for up to 10 years, and with niche uses. Production technology manager Darren Shanahan’s ears pricked up. Why 10 years and no longer? And why only “niche” uses?
“Darren didn’t take what was presented, but challenged it,” reports Geoff.
Mike Brameld, chief materials and inspection engineer and coatings technical expert, became involved. He, Darren and Travis Baensch, the company’s coatings application subject matter expert, investigated and found the manufacturer was confident it would in fact last for 30 years.
“One of Humidur’s main benefits is that much less surface preparation is required than usual, and preparation is where most of the cost lies, not the price of the coating itself,” explains Mike.
Abrasive blasting is needed to return corroded metal back to a smooth state before most anti-corrosive coating can be applied, but Humidur can be applied directly to the metal where corrosion is not significant. Plus, it can cure underwater and on hotter surfaces than normal so it can be applied in some instances before a turnaround is held.
“We saw enough to realise it had potential for us, so we put a lot of effort into fully understanding the coating and its potential,” Mike relates.
Mike, Darren and Travis visited Humidur’s manufacturer, Acotec, in Belgium. They also spoke with fabrication supervisors in Scotland, and inspected a 4km-long LNG carrier jetty in Brunei where Humidur was being applied.
Technology, Operations, Maintenance, Engineering, Legal and Contracting and Procurement (C&P) worked together to devise an accelerated outcome. C&P helped develop a business case for the product.
“This product is all about disruption,” says graduate C&P adviser Nem Stepanovic.
“It’s moved fabrication maintenance coatings from a consumable item, which we wouldn’t normally be very interested in, to a strategic item which the business has a key focus on.
“Typically, a coating is procured by our contractors and we would usually not know or get involved in quantities or price. But because there’s only one company that makes this product that has become a strategic item for the business, we wanted to deal directly with that company through a direct contract for a number of reasons.”
C&P manager Ben Ward adds: “We had to answer the question: does Woodside want to get involved in the supply chain for this product?”
Woodside landed on a model which involved the company becoming a foundation customer directly with Acotec and free-issuing it to contractors for maintenance services. Mike signed off on Humidur’s technical suitability in August, and the foundation purchase contract was signed only a month later.
Acotec chief executive officer Wim Schalley, in Perth for the signing of the framework contract, says: “The negotiations with Woodside were very frank, open and straightforward – and compared to those with some of the oil majors, they were very fast.”
Talks centered on the performance of the product, sales support and Wim said Acotec had established a company in Australia to assist in sales, servicing and product development.