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Interview

Chris Milner, Regional Manager, BPP-TECH, Aberdeen, UK

15.05.2014 / Energyboardroom

Chris Milner of BPP-TECH describes the milestones the company has taken to become established in Aberdeen, the hub of the UKCS. He describes the business’ abilities, from acting as an independent expert witness in accidents to its riser management systems. Milner also details the breadth of BPP-TECH’s offering- not constrained to the oil and gas industry but beyond that the company can also offer renewable energy companies valuable services too.

You have now worked with BPP-TECH for around five years. What have been the principle milestones for the company during your tenure of the Aberdeen office?

Key milestones have included gaining some exciting clients. BPP-TECH’s consulting business has been developing since the 1980s- it was originally a London College University spin-off company. Today, London remains the businesses headquarters but Aberdeen was the second office to be opened up, followed by Houston, then Newcastle and most recently Singapore. With this business having fairly low barriers for entry, it has taken a little bit more time than originally anticipated for the company to differentiate itself, to distinguish itself from the competitors. As time passes, BPP-TECH’s unique and valuable characteristics are ever more apparent.

BPP-TECH prides itself as a provider of consistently high-quality services. It has taken time to build the trust of companies here in the North East of Scotland. Aberdeen tends to be a parochialmarket, and reputation very much depends on work undertaken for companies based here, even if one has worked for another wing of the same company in another country!

Gaining some traction here and having local contracts under our belt for this reason, represented a significant milestone. Things have obviously expanded from there and the trust of our clients- many in the subsea sector – has continued to grow.

Conversely, did you find that your reputation built here in Aberdeen, with its status as a ‘centre of excellence’ was useful in gaining contracts abroad?

Whilst oil and gas is a global industry, within it, the subsea sector is a very much smaller community. This still represents many tens of thousands of people but the industry specialists, be it in risers or subsea cables will communicate directly with one another. Having a profile at various conferences and events is the key route through which BPP-TECH promotes itself as a useful provider of asset lifespan extension and innovative, novel designs. Aberdeen as a focal point offers appropriate access to contacts and is of use value as a networking location.

Part of this networking opportunity has seen BPP-TECH participate in industry organisations such as Subsea UK and the Society for Underwater Technology (SUT). I chair the Aberdeen branch of SUT, an international, not-for-profit organisation seeking to promote technology in this field. As an aside, this group is representative of a diverse spectrum of companies interested in subsea technologies and also seeks to promote the future of the industry, helping universities feed skilled individuals into the industry.

Much of BPP-TECH’s work is very cutting edge, and for this reason circulating technical rather than commercial or sales papers has been fundamental to increase awareness of our products.

Increasing efficiency and reducing costs are key imperatives for operators. How is BPP-TECH driving forward innovation in, and appetite for its services?

BPP-TECH is organized in a very specific manner .Offshore, subsea, SURF architecture is the company’s principal focus; umbilicals, flexibles, risers, moorings and power cables are examples of this. BPP-TECH is involved from design to package management, through quality assessment and quality control processes to providing expert witness and forensic analysis. One example of where BPP-TECH was requested to use this last ability was when the Maersk Griffin platform broke free of its moorings- BPP TECH was involved with both Maersk and the insurer finding the appropriate settlement for the insured party. Following the Macondo gulf spill too, BPP-TECH was able to act as an independentexpert witness addressing issues caused by this accident.

BPP-TECH has different offerings applicable to differing regions. In the North Sea, BPP-TECH is working with one specific operator with a view to undertake life-extension work on aging risers. This is a world first, with these risers approaching their original design date. BPP-TECH is currently running a forum with the operator to see what further life can be gained from these existing units. This is using both industry software and our business’ own proprietary software and involves not just the operator, but their partners as well.

This work will improve the operator’s cash flow and reduce production costs- it represents a major opex benefit.

In another area, in Brazil BPP-TECH has supplied Riser Management System, via GE Power Conversion, on Odebrecht vessels, which work for Petrobras. This system software works with a vessels dynamic positioning system, providing pseudo-real time monitoring of the riser using various sensors in the riser such an RMS allows maximum efficiency of extraction and can extend the lifespan of the riser as well.

You previously worked with BG, BP, and Shell amongst others on the ‘Powercab’ JIP, centred on umbilical design. Was this exemplary of BPP TECH’s collaborative work?

This was a ground- up development where the partners and BPP-TECH looked at the whole product, from the core, the polymer layers to the armour layers and considered challenging applications – such as deepwater and long-step-outs. The product developed was very much cutting edge and highly applicable to deep-water environments like the Gulf of Mexico and West Africa. It also demonstrates merit in shallow waters however, where a long-step-out may be required.

What appetite do you see for integrity work at the moment, and how important is this to your business?

There is a real appetite in the industry for the integrity of risers to be qualified in some manner. BPP-TECH’s effort to address this requirement is represented by a radiographic inspection technology, principally focused on flexible risers. This technology provides information directly to the end user- looking at the inner and outer layers of the metallic structure, demonstrating whether the integrity is there which is important because corrosion can significantly shorten the lifespans of assets. Currently BPP-TECH is in conversation with one of the larger offshore installation contractors, and will be taking significant steps forward to this end in the next 12 to 18 months to develop a product for market.

Integrity work, in its myriad of forms amounts to roughly speaking, 25 percent of BPP-TECH’s work, including mooring integrity work, where the company works together with WELAPTEGA, a recognized leader with offshore chain inspection. BPP-TECH uses its modelling systems to validate the results that our partner finds on site. This has particular benefits for operators, as insurers will often offer reduced premiums to companies which have had this work undertaken.

This is a very new aspect of our business- we do expect notable growth in this area.

Where else, do you see your growth drivers, and what are your major revenue producing programmes at the moment?

Our Riser Management System is a key aspect of our services, and we see significant growth potential in that. This is a deep-water application, and is likely to be more popular out with the North Sea. BPP-TECH is also predicting growth, as mentioned in mooring integrity management and also with regard to risers.

The analysis work that the company undertakes is core to our business and often develops to other work scopes, whereas on the forensic aspects of our work, this is far less predictable, being dependent on events.

BPP-TECH has expanded in a small way, with offices now in Houston, Singapore and Newcastle internationally. Despite this, the company is still very efficient due to its flat structure. Work is brought in and undertaken by staff who are best equipped to deal with any particular challenge. BPP-TECH has worked with supermajors and with smaller operators. It is of note to see that often the smaller companies, with a flatter structure are more responsive and this is one characteristic that certainly defines BPP-TECH.

What else differentiates the business, other than its responsiveness?

We recruit smart, talented staff- our base in London allows us to tap into this talent pool. After staff are hired, our engineers for example are engaged with a diverse range of projects and are exposed to a variety of challenges and situations- this diversity, in my opinion, certainly helps keep staff engaged, stimulated and motivated.

BPP-TECH uses industry-standard software and its own proprietary software, for Riser Management and BPP-Softcore, which is a cross-section analysis tool for cables and umbilicals. The business uses a complimentary suite of tooling in order to be as effective for any given task as possible.

The business has also distinguished itself with regard to renewable energies. Approached by a wind developer (ENBW) who was concerned that the power cable at the hang-off point in the monopole was vulnerable to vibrations causing fatigue and that over time the whole power cable might be at risk of being compromised. The developer sought a fatigue and vibration analysis which BPP-TECH was able to provide. This type of analysis was entirely original and had not been undertaken before. There was a delay in getting the contract as the developer had to seek two comparable quotes before taking the work forward, but quite simply, there were no other companies able to engage with this project at that time. This work has lead onto many further contracts in this ream of work. BPP-TECH is certainly capable of thinking out-of-the box and the business is reactive to client needs.

Where do you see BPP TECH in five years from now?

Being pragmatic and honest, I would state in a similar position to the moment. Revenue should rise along with staff numbers, but we are a company which is conservative. The company is not seeking growth at all costs, but instead it is seeking steady growth in the areas which represent our key competences.

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