Key investment continues to drive the energy sector supply chain as sub-contract machine shops vie for competitive edge. Steed Webzell reports
Even if the government achieves its target to source 15 per cent of energy from renewable sources by 2020, the country will still rely on oil and gas for 70 per cent of its needs, which means the latter continues to command the highest activity levels for machine shops in the energy sector.
This is particularly good news for deep hole drilling companies such as Premier (01727 825031), which is currently enjoying success in machining sub-sea manifolds that connect directional wells used to develop offshore oil and gas fields. The manifolds feature anywhere up to 90 blind, through and intersecting holes drilled into the manifolds, the parts being produced on Premier's prismatic knee drilling machines.
For directional drilling, special weighted drill collars are used with a 'bent sub' to deflect the drill bit at a certain angle in the required direction. Wells that deviate at more than 65° from the vertical and reach out horizontally more than twice their vertical depth are known as extended reach wells. In order for the driller to guide the deviated well to a specific target zone in the reservoir, a monitoring-while-drilling (MWD) 'directional sub' is run above the bit to relay information back to the surface on the bit location and inclination. Premier produces the bodies and other components of the MWD equipment for a number of customers.
Another deep hole drilling specialist, Mollart Engineering (020 8391 2282), is also reporting new contracts, thanks to investment worth more than £3.5 million in multi-axis machining technology at its two machining facilities.
Mollart Engineering has secured a series of contracts for the continuous supply of a range of 'wire-line' components from its Chessington, Surrey and Resolven, Glamorgan facilities. So demanding are the titanium components, they have to meet almost perfect drilling standards for roundness and hole straightness, while maintaining very close pitch centres and achieving very thin wall sections over length-to-diameter ratios on parts up to 140 mm diameter by 1.6 m long.
The components are used for collation and transmission of data from the drilling head back to the surface by fibre optic cable and also to carry hydraulic lines for manipulation of the unit. Mollart's investment programme in Resolven soaked up almost £2 million, with three Integrex 300-IIY turn-mill centres from Yamazaki Mazak (01905 755755). In addition, over £1.5 million was recently invested in the Chessington headquarters, which saw the installation of the largest depth to diameter ratio honing machine from Sunnen (01442 393939) to be installed in the UK.
Image: Mollart has invested £3.5 million in multi-axis machining technology at its two machining facilities to support its expanded deep hole drilling offering
Of course, the key to any successful deep hole drilling operation is the tooling, which is why Sandvik Coromant (0121 504 5400) has recently opened a Global Application Centre for Deep Hole Machining at Cirencester. The facility includes a specialised deep hole drilling machine capable of internal profiling and chamber boring. Data output from the machine allows the metalcutting processes to be recorded and analysed during operations. The company says that demand is in the ascendancy for oil and gas applications that include down-hole tools, manifold blocks, valves, heat exchangers, stabilisers and collars.
And yet Sandvik Coromant (www.sandvik.com/uk) is also among a host of cutting tool suppliers with significant interest in the emerging wind energy sector, where it is successfully applying a number of cutting tool solutions that are proven in comparable high value sectors.
Among them is CoroDrill 880, an indexable insert drill that offers improved productivity in hole-making and strong cost-saving potential to wind sector manufacturers, due to the large number of short holes drilled in components such as connector rings, hubs and rotor blades.
MORE POWER REQUIRED
The current generation of turbines is capable of producing 5 MW of power from a turbine with blade diameters of 124 m. By 2017, cutting tool supplier Ceratizit (01925 261161) is predicting the power output of wind turbines will increase to 20 MW and will have blade diameters up to 300 m. All of the mechanical engineering elements of these machines, such as bearings, rings, shafts and gears, will have to increase in size accordingly, and their production will pose challenges to those charged with their manufacture.
Ceratizit is already working with wind turbine manufacturers and delivering improvements in productivity through the performance of its cutting tools. For example, a manufacturer of drive shafts for wind turbines, which are manufactured from steel forgings with high chrome and nickel contents, has seen cycle times reduce by 20 per cent, while at the same time tool life has increased by 15 per cent. These figures have been achieved through a combination of applications knowledge and carbide grades such as CTC1125.
Exemplifying the growth opportunities in the energy sector as a whole during the past three years, tooling specialist Walter GB (01527 839450) says that its power generation business has increased three-fold. The company reports that its order books are dominated by gas and steam turbine components, such as runners, blades, housings and generator shafts, as well as wind plant gear components (housings, bearings, gear wheels), shafts and housings.
"Power generation manufacturers commission us to develop end-to-end concepts for the production of individual parts or components, consisting of pre-machining and finishing processes. This invariably involves an intense amount of process support and a high ratio of special tooling solutions, which in these cases accounts for 60-70 per cent of our work," says Andreas Elenz, responsible for power engineering at Walter.
So what of machine tools? Well, there is certainly no shortage of investment activity to report. A case in point can be seen at Ufone, a West Midlands sub-contractor of large, heavy parts for the oil sector that has taken delivery of the UK's first DMF500 Linear 4/5-axis vertical machining centre with 5 m x-axis from DMG (01582 570661). It significantly extends the size of prismatic component that the Dudley-based precision machinist can produce.
Image: Ufone took delivery of the UK's first DMF500 Linear 4/5-axis vertical machining centre
Ufone is seeing a strengthening of its core business, namely oil industry work, which accounts for around 60 per cent of turnover. There is a growing demand, especially in the offshore drilling sector, for larger, more complex components machined to higher levels of precision, which plays to the strengths of the DMF500 Linear.
Elsewhere, by changing to 5-axis machining technology, Glasgow-based Waukesha Bearings has been able to slash lead times from 16 weeks from previous methods involving the machining of castings to two weeks producing the same components from round steel billets. As a result, the company has generated savings of some £80,000 a year.
The company has installed a Bridgeport XR600-5AX from Hardinge (01162 869900) for machining tee-shaped levers out of EN24T, of which 10 are used in each tilting pad thrust bearing assembly it produces. The company produces bearings and bearing systems for turbo machinery applications where its customers include steam, gas and hydro-turbine suppliers. It is also heavily involved in the growth area of renewable energy.
First published in Machinery, October 2010