Thibault Fourlegnie – General Manager and EMEA Operations Director & Olivier Andrieu – Sales & Customer Service Director EMEA, Oldham – France
Thibault Fourlegnie and Olivier Andrieu explain how Oldham’s innovative solutions improve the safety of their clients and discuss the development of the company since its acquisition by Industrial Safety Technologies, now Scott Safety, Tyco Group.
Gas detection systems have become an essential safety tool for the oil and gas industry, which has unfortunately been the theater of numerous lethal accidents linked to gas leaks and explosions these last decades. What is your perception of the evolution of this sector?
Generally speaking, safety accidents produce lasting changes. Legal aspects in our industry determine and shape our business. Accidents compel executives to examine their safety and environmental policies. Customers in the past focused on safety to satisfy government requirements. Nowadays, accidents have changed their mindsets. Corporations are pursuing the highest standards of safety to protect their staff and ensure tranquility during the course of their missions. Some of our customers for example only equipping their plants with gas detectors; nowadays, they are soliciting us to ensure that their equipment is well installed and maintained too which is crucial element in the safety process. The internal rules of major groups are now imposing the integration of gas detection equipment with the proper installation and maintenance procedures. When you look at countries such as France, the UK and Germany, we are always surprised that certain plants are still not equipped with flame and gas detection systems. Although our market is relatively mature, we will always find plants with no detection systems or outdated systems.
The issue we face is that of safety awareness. All businesses seek to prevent accidents but suffer from information asymmetries. It is therefore the role of government agencies, regulators and companies like Oldham to raise these issues, increase their visibility and help our clients understand the risks at stake.
Speaking of regulations, standards and requirements, how does Oldham keep up to date with these technological developments and match its solutions to current market expectations? In concrete terms, how do Oldham’s gas detection systems enhance safety for the oil and gas industry?
In regards to certifications and regulations, we depend on ATEX regulations and participate to their committees. We aspire to take part in safety changes around the product. Our role is to provide products that are up to date with the most recent technologies. We want to support our customers in their safety issues. We sometimes mistakenly consider that our customers have a perfect understanding of safety-related considerations but this is not always the case. We therefore push our sales and technical teams to explain the role of our products and services. For instance, our teams often have to explain the advantages of adopting a wireless system.
Oldham is not just focused on products, it also a service company. We are therefore devoted to offer products, which match the customer’s process and business. We deliver process control and need to ensure adequate maintenance, operation, inspection and prevention around the products we deliver.
Thirdly as we said, our customers are not specialists in gas detections. They might be aware of their necessity, but we are here to assist them in implementing our systems effectively. In that regard, we offer integrated solutions, design and commissioning. Lastly our expertise stems from past experiences. Like any company, we had products, which failed to serve their intended purpose, and drawing from these experiences, we progressively built suitable products. We invest significant funds on appraisals to evaluate our solutions and we listen carefully to our customers’ issues and concerns.
What is your most distinctive product and what constitutes your most significant asset?
The stand-alone monitor is a fantastic product, which is very appealing to our clients. The gas detection business is divided between two main segments: portable personal instruments and fixed systems, which have different applications. The stand-alone monitor type BM 25 belongs to a hybrid category. Its battery life can last on site from a couple of days to a few months depending on the hardware configuration and enables us to create a safety perimeter. Since May 2014 the BM 25 is available in its wireless version. As a result, this product covers all applications in the oil and gas industry. The major oil companies in Africa and French natural gas suppliers can use it.
Oil majors now have many contractors responsible for shutdowns and maintenance cycles. They therefore need to ensure that their employees are safe, but also need to make sure that the contractors who carry maintenance activities are equally safe. For instance, our Mexican distributor has recently drawn our attention on the major Mexican oil companies’ current difficulties with a high concentration of H2S. This customer had consulted several of our competitors, but was not able to find the right support and solution. We helped them design a solution based on sampling systems by aspirating air from an area into another and analyzing the content of this gas and starting a siren in case of concentration. The success we encountered in Mexico led to the signature of a $1 million project. Many customers cannot simply rely on our standardized products and we are required to adapt them to their specific needs and expectations.
On the maintenance side, we have 45 field technicians in France and a trusted network of distributors dispatched across the world, which constitute a considerable asset. In Africa for example, our distributors secure lasting partnerships on our behalf by offering our maintenance services. Our site in Arras serves as a training center where we receive distributors from Gabon, Angola, Congo, Cameroon and other countries. We are not interested in pure business developers; we aspire to provide qualified local service to our customers.
We would like to add that at the moment, our main asset is not a specific product but rather our flexibility. We provide customized, tailored-made and promptly delivered solutions to our customers. For our customers who are unable to finance our systems, we have recently unveiled rentals to promote safety at lower costs. We have certification specialists worldwide who address certification requirements in every country that hosts our services.
The American company Industrial Safety Technologies (IST) Group acquired Oldham last year, and recently Scott Safety (a Tyco business) acquired IST Group. How have these critical junctures in your history shaped the company’s recent development? Have they contributed in boosting the company’s economic performance?
Thanks to these acquisitions, Scott Safety, Tyco Group, now holds a very enlarged portfolio of gas and flame detection systems. Today, we have produced an unparalleled supply of safety equipment, which fosters synergies within the group. We are currently capable of responding to any call for tender in our industry. We have recently won two projects in Algeria, where we are partnering with Tyco, which serves to illustrate the benefits of working within such a prestigious group.
All companies within Scott Safety / Tyco are complementary. For instance, Oldham has an edge in wireless products and an entrenched presence in Asia and Africa, but relies on its sister companies to win projects in North America. Prior to these acquisitions, Oldham’s presence in the oil and gas industry was actually limited. Last year, we increased our revenues by $8 million. We intend to reproduce this performance this year, despite currency changes and low hydrocarbon prices.
Where will Oldham draw its international growth from in the future?
Our most promising prospects for international expansion emanate from the BRICS countries, which still comprise immature markets with room for tremendous business development. British and German firms dominate the European market, which explains our presence outside of the old continent. We have implemented key management accounts in oil, natural gas and gas storage to enhance our expertise and understanding of our target markets. Our perception is that the natural gas distribution is less subject to fluctuations and will continue to grow.
How would you describe the working environment at Oldham and your contribution to the economy of the Nord-pas-de Calais region?
Oldham is in a growing phase and is therefore one of a few firms which are currently recruiting in the North of France. Oldham is dedicated to its employees, which explains our low staff turnover. We have built an excellent reputation around the working environment. We definitely try to be a local player. Overall, our team is proud to participate in the production of safety equipment, which remain crucial to any oil & gas player deem of its name!