An Engineer's Dream Home Transcript


00:10 Michael Gaines: Hello and welcome to NOV Today. I'm your host, Michael Gaines.

00:16 Michael Gaines: One of the things that sets NOV apart from many other companies is the fact that we continue to make very intentional strides to ensure our business is where our customers are located. This means that we have the opportunity to have people and facilities in a broad range of locations around the world. It's under this backdrop that we are starting a new ongoing series called Four Corners. As the name suggests, it will be a global look at what NOV is doing in particular regions of the world, in the "four corners" if you will, and what that sounds like. What kinds of technologies are we making in these places? Who were some of the people? What are their stories? This, and much more, will be the focus of each of these glimpses into our business, and the people who make it all happen.

[background conversation]

01:21 Michael Gaines: I'm sitting at the gate onboard an Airbus A350, reflecting on the past weeks' worth of facility visits and conversations I've been able to have with NOV colleagues in the United Kingdom. With 43 different facilities and about 2500 employees, the UK region hosts a wide variety of manufacturing capabilities and people helping support the NOV business overall.

01:45 Michael Gaines: On this episode, we're going to focus on one of those facilities that really should be renamed "The Engineer's Dream House." Founded in 1975 by Mr. Alan Smith, the business originally revolved around the sales of his innovative prefabricated chemical pipe systems, mainly to the Middle East. And the words "pipe exports" were simply abbreviated to "pipex." Beginning in the 1990s and through present day, this fiberglass systems facility in Plymouth, England, has produced imaginative solutions for a broad range of industries. It is here where virtually any kind of answer to customer problems can be engineered when corrosion mitigation, ease of access and weight savings are key considerations. On this rainy Monday morning, Director of Operations Jon Barr, guided us through the facility.

02:37 Jon Barr: I've been here 10 years and I'm responsible for the operations teams, all the outputs for factories. We're just gonna put a head to this door, and the site's installations, deployments and site stuff. As what you'll see is we employ about 155 people, but you won't see them because they're all going off doing the installations with that. Hang on, I'll just...

03:02 Michael Gaines: As we stepped into the specialist fabrication department, Jon explained that here, in this facility, it's standard practice to literally engineer the machines needed to get their jobs done.

03:12 Jon Barr: The feature of Pipex is that we can make machines to make the part. Okay? So, it's very useful for us. We'll finish the tour next through our own CNC machine.

03:24 Jon Barr: So, there's really no barriers to forward progress. If you don't have it, you'll just use the gray matter and make the machine to make it happen.

03:32 Jon Barr: That's right. We got a gentleman that works with, Adrian Kenneth. He's been with the company 36 years. He's a very visionary-type person, he's very blue sky. He comes up with some very good ideas, doesn't he? And then it's up to us then to put them together to sketch his ideas down and the design team works with him so they can explore the structural stresses, etcetera, and come up with the right solution. And then...

03:58 Michael Gaines: It is this mentality of home-grown innovation that the team here dubs "ADAM" or "Advanced Design, Advanced Manufacturing." Such concepts are what prompted the team to even design, build and manufacture one of the country's largest five-axis CNC machines, measuring a whopping 30 meters long.

04:19 Michael Gaines: We then headed back over to the second floor of the main office, where, in passing, we saw images of the platform rig, BP Clair Ridge. As Jon described, this project typified the kinds of savings customers could expect when employing the Advanced Composite Solutions offered by fiberglass systems.

04:42 Jon Barr: So that the amount of weight, we manage to save by alternatives of non-metallic. And the other thing that that doesn't quote is obviously the safety solutions. So, to re-position or re-purpose one of these handrails on a rig, it's hot work permits and all that, they're really risky, a process which we introduce flame next to oil. But that was... It's just cut and bond, it's much safer.

05:07 Michael Gaines: But if you think that they only provide industry-leading solutions to the oil and gas industry, you'd be sorely mistaken.

05:15 Jon Barr: The previous owner of the company, Alan Smith, he got an MBE for his services to British engineering, and part of that was that Princess Anne came down into the tour because... I think the name "Pipex" can basically limit your expectations, if it's got pipe in the title, so it's a legacy thing, it's a history of a company with pipe exporter, but we're so diverse. I don't remember a time when somebody's come here and not being overwhelmed with what we're capable of doing. It does open your mind.

05:53 Michael Gaines: Yeah. Well, you can add me to that list. I knew even before I came, of some of the things you were doing, but then again, just to see it and know that, it just seems limitless.

06:05 Jon Barr: Yeah.

06:06 Michael Gaines: Examples of projects that this group currently and historically have undertaken were shown in images across the manufacturing facility and in conference rooms. Such projects include solutions for an aircraft carrier, submarine, railway platforms, art installation, and even the award-winning Seabox subsea water treatment unit. All of this and more has, from an engineering standpoint, become standard practice for what would seem to be a limitless array of potential projects for this group to work on. Helping lead this team are two gentlemen who helped curate this idea of ADAM.

06:46 Michael Gaines: Tom Smith, who's the vice president and general manager, and Bill Murphy who's the vice president of sales and marketing. So, Tom, Bill, thanks for being here.

06:57 Tom Smith: No problem. Thanks.

06:58 Michael Gaines: Tom, I'll start out with you. Can you, for those that aren't familiar, give an overview of what it is that you're doing here in Pipex and some of the things that you all are producing here? 

07:10 Tom Smith: Sure, yeah. Well, we're obviously part of fiberglass systems and how we are producing products and structures and pipe systems manufactured from fiberglass materials or composite materials, as is known in the industry. Typically, we seek out customers who require a solution, be that a solution for corrosion control or a solution related to weight, producing the weight of structures, or an access solution, whether they have a site that has a difficult access or they have a limited time frame to access that site, for example, in a railway where they're shut down, for example.

07:56 Tom Smith: So, all of our focus really is on producing fiberglass systems solutions for our customers, and we've developed a range of advanced design and advanced manufacturing techniques. On the design side, we can do structural calculations, we can do analysis, we can produce drawings, etcetera. Right through on the manufacturing side, ee have unique giant CNC capabilities and various methods of constructing composite solutions for our customers.

08:27 Michael Gaines: Bill, in listening to some of the things that Tom was talking about, one of the items that comes to mind is, okay, well, you're dealing with composite materials. Can you help me understand why is that important, and why composites versus a metal or some type of other metallic structure? 

08:51 Bill Murphy: We've always put the customers at the heart of our business, and really the drivers come from our customers. Our customers had problems with weight or problems with corrosion and they've looked to us for those solutions. So, most of those drivers has really come from customer problems, customer issues that they've come to us for over the last 45 years or so, we've built up that experience and knowledge and competency to be able to deal with those solutions for our customers.

09:17 Michael Gaines: And in talking about putting customers first, Tom, I've seen and heard the phrase ADAM used a lot around the facility and in conversations. Can you help me understand who, what, why, what is this ADAM, and how does it play a part in what you do? 

09:40 Tom Smith: Sure, yeah. Well, we've always had an ethos of producing excellence, that's always been at the heart of what we do, so we're trying to manufacture really quality solutions, quality products for our customers. And ADAM's kind of evolved from there which, when you're dealing with fiberglass, many people within the construction engineering industry consider fiberglass to be quite a new thing. That's not the case. Fiberglass is an established technology, an established material, but still you need to convince people and convince customers of your capabilities and your pedigree really, in supplying fiberglass systems as solutions for projects. So, ADAM's come out of this about having the credibility, the knowledge base, the expertise with composites, but also a sense of pioneering and innovation on ADAM, obviously.


10:33 Jon Barr: It has that sort of connotation anyway. But you wanna be at the forefront of what you're doing. You wanna be the most advanced in composites. We're not the kind of low-tech side of the business. We are all about making sure we've got, on the design side, the most advanced capabilities possible, whether that's structural calculations, as I said earlier, finite element analysis, whatever it happens to be, through to the most advanced manufacturing techniques as well. So really, ADAM is all about giving those customer solutions that are proven, that are verified and that are the most advanced available.

11:12 Michael Gaines: When I took a tour of the facility here, I noticed that amongst the many areas and bays, there was one area in particular that caught my eye, and it was this gargantuan of a CNC machine, and I think it was described as maybe 30 meters by, I don't know, 15 or 20 wide. Can you explain what that was and how I can get one? 


11:43 Bill Murphy: It's probably, I would say the third biggest type of machine of its type in the country. It's there really as part of our advanced manufacturing, it's a five-axis CNC machine, which allows us to take some of our very complex and high tolerance requirement designs into practice in manufacturing, so it allows us to machine at very, very plus or minus low tolerances. We can machine large structures, we can machine to lean, as well as the actual final product after that. So, it allows us to do products like the subsea seawater treatment product that we're making at the moment but also large bridges. Any large construction really can be machine built within that facility, it's what that's designed for.

12:24 Michael Gaines: Right. So, you're doing Seabox and some of the components here, as well as other subsea equipment? 

12:29 Bill Murphy: Yeah, and above-ground bridges as well. It's got lots of applications, but the biggest growth opportunity we see for that product is probably subsea.

12:41 Tom Smith: And if you want one, we can build you one, 'cause that's an important point about that machine is we designed and built in-house. So we didn't go out to the market to procure it. We built it ourselves at a fraction of the cost of what you might go and buy a giant CNC machine for.

12:53 Michael Gaines: Well, I'll have to see if my neighbor won't mind if I clear their lot, but, yeah, I'd love to.

12:57 Tom Smith: If you can fit one in...


12:58 Michael Gaines: Yeah, I'd love to have one. And to that point, another aspect, Tom, that you touched on, which was you built it in-house. I noticed that there were particular areas and machines that seemed to be colored differently. I think they were red or accented red, and I understand there's a story behind some of those.

13:20 Tom Smith: Yeah. Every machine you see in our works that's colored red denotes a machine that we designed and built ourselves, which obviously... That's not core business. Obviously, our business is fiberglass systems and producing fiberglass structures and products, but one element to that is when we need to create a solution, a specific solution, we will design and build our own equipment in-house. And that gives us a real cutting edge capability because it means we can make things in a unique way, in a very cost-effective way, in a very fast way because we optimize our own manufacturing process. So, we're very fortunate we got some colleagues who are very innovative and forward thinking, and very capable in terms of machine build and design.

14:02 Michael Gaines: And, Tom, I know that one area that has been talked about recently, both internally within NOV as well as in the media, has been the BP Clair Ridge project.

14:15 Tom Smith: Yep.

14:17 Michael Gaines: Could you talk a little about that and how you and your team were able to come up with the solution that they needed? What was the problem statement? And where did you all come in? 

14:27 Tom Smith: Yeah. BP Clair Ridge is probably the best example we currently have of optimizing, maximizing the use of fiberglass systems on an offshore oil rig. Initially, they came to us, BP this is, with a weight issue. They needed to save weight overall and initially looking at piping systems, so we started developing specifications and solutions for them specific to the seawater piping systems. But we then, because of the other suite, the other portfolio products that we do, we managed to expand that and convinced them to look at things like flooring systems, also handrails and tertiary structures such as little hop ups etcetera, things that just, by default, have been built in steel in the past. We were able to offer bespoke solutions using fiberglass and ended up saving them over 700 tonnes in weight. So, massive weight saving for them to overcome some of their initial operational issues, but also longer term they've saved a lot of money, the customer there, BP, have saved a lot of money in not having to replace metallics, 'cause one of the other benefits of our fiberglass is not only is it light weight, but it doesn't corrode in a maritime environment, in the saline environment.

15:43 Bill Murphy: The engineering company was so pleased with that revolving presentation in their foyer, showing the weight saving and how we've achieved that as weight saving during the project. The engineering company responsible for design were over the moon with the product. Traditionally, a 3-kilometer pipeline project turned into 9 kilometers' worth of gratings, four large structures, 4 kilometers' worth of handrails, 290 pressure vessels, a multi-million dollar project for us, but the customer is over the moon because it wouldn't have gone ahead without the weight saving. It was a critical success factor for the project, so ticked a lot of boxes for a lot of people.

16:21 Michael Gaines: Absolutely. And, Bill, I would imagine that the learnings from that project have really helped propel and expand a lot of additional opportunities in other industries, 'cause I am looking around the room and I saw, and even during the tour of the shop, pictures of some of the solutions that you all have provided for submarines, and for warships, and for rail systems. I'm listing on and on. I suspect that there's a lot of benefit that your team gains from working on a variety of projects, so that when one comes in the door they can draw from a varied experience, right? 

17:07 Bill Murphy: Yeah. And it's the ethos of the business, it's about giving customer solutions. And if you look at everything about Clair, it was weight. Weight was the main issue they had, and we solved that problem for us. All our customers, we trace back that thread of either weight or corrosion or access is the main reason for engaging with us, and that's why they come to us. Yeah. We've based what we do on those real principles, those cornerstones of our business, and it's... Everything else we do about innovation, about development, about engineering, ADAM, it's all around those so-called principles.

17:42 Michael Gaines: Well, Tom, Bill, this was really insightful and I really appreciate the conversation today.

17:48 Tom Smith: Thank you.

17:50 Tom Smith: Thanks for listening to this episode of NOV Today. We'd like to hear your feedback, share your thoughts by tweeting us @NOVGlobal and using the hashtag #NOVToday. Or you can contact us by sending an email to [email protected]. For NOV Today, I'm Michael Gaines. Thanks for listening and we'll talk to you later.