Paradigm shift

September 1, 2011

Serial offshore innovator Fraser Innes, a familiar face from early North Sea days through his stewardship of Petroline, is continuing his technology-stretching ways today as CEO of the Dutch-based Paradigm Group and chairman of its two UK offshoots. Meg Chesshyre caught up with him at Paradigm Oilfield Services’ recently acquired premises in Aberdeenshire’s Thainstone Business Park.

Paradigm Oilfield Services was launched in 2009 and sister company Paradigm Flow Solutions the following year. The accent at both companies is on the development of highly innovative equipment, with Oilfield Services focusing on the design and manufacture of drilling and wellbore cleaning equipment, and Flow Solutions developing new technologies to target offshore blockages and restrictions.

A Paradigm Oilfield Services technician with a dual stage hole opener known as 'The Beast'.

‘I met some Dutch investors in 2009 who wanted to start an investment fund and that was really where Paradigm was born, during the financial crisis when it was very difficult for people to get money,’ explains group CEO Fraser Innes, a man with long and distinguished oil field services pedigree, having served as group managing director of Petroline in its heyday and later worked with Weatherford, then Energy Cranes (now back with the Sparrows Offshore brand). ‘Paradigm now has four companies, two in Holland and two in the UK. The two in Holland were start-ups and the two in the UK were acquisitions of the trade and assets of existing companies.’

The total Paradigm Group numbers some 70 to 80 people: 20 in the Netherlands, 30 – soon to grow to 40 – at Oilfield Services, and a further 23 with Flow Solutions. ‘There are also some other key add-ons that we’re in discussion with people just now,’ adds Innes. ‘One of the companies is US-based and one is UK-based. Exactly what nature that corporation takes isn’t yet finalized, the idea being 1 plus 1 plus 1 is 5.’

Most of the new tools are at the prototype stage. ‘We are a small, technology-focused, opportunistic investment fund with a core team of experienced investors and operators, operators of businesses and they’re helping people who needed help,’ says Innes. ‘We are looking to take this company and bring in levels of expertise you would not expect to find to help us provide class-leading products and classleading services.’

The group’s primary Dutch entity, Paradigm Oilfield Technologies, is developing a range of intelligent wirelines and has quite a significant IP portfolio. Sister company Paradigm Automation is developing simulator systems for training and competency assessment in various sectors.

In the UK, the Paradigm Group bought the trade and assets of two companies. The first, Stable Services, was in administration and that is now Paradigm Oilfield Services. Stable was a drilling rentals business but Paradigm bought it because it had a range of new drilling tools in development. ‘We are in the process of recruiting a significant amount of additional engineering resource – people with strong experience in drilling technology and drilling as well as people with a strong background in the actual design element of the engineering,’ says Innes.

Rob Bain

The second acquisition was Wellmack, and two of its former directors are now heading up Paradigm Flow Solutions, Rob Bain as managing director and Hugh Mackenzie, a co-founder of Wellmack in 2007, as technical director. Before joining Wellmack in 2008, Bain was head of subsea for operator BG’s UK assets. He started out in the industry as a 16-year old in Shell Expro’s technician training scheme, spending his final year offshore placement working on Brent Alpha.

Rob Bain takes up the story: ‘It was 2007, whilst I was at BG, that one of the fields that I was looking after had multiple subsea blockages on the umbilicals. BG prior to me joining had exhausted pretty much all the options, all the conventional technology available to get rid of these blockages.

‘So I started looking for new technologies to remedy this and by a quirk of fate, a guy at BG was quite friendly with the two original directors of Wellmack. He told me that these guys had just started the company and were looking at providing new technology to remediate subsea umbilical blockages. They were looking for work so I had a chat with them. It all looked very interesting. To cut a long story short, I got partners to commit £10,000 to do an onshore trial on an agricultural field in Fife.

'We acquired a short length of thermoplastic umbilical and by pouring molten wax and liquid cement into the umbilical tubes created several stubborn blockages. Everything had to be biodegradable because obviously, being in a field, we had to adhere to environmental legislation. The trials were successful, enabling me to seek funds to take the technology offshore as a trial, which we carried out with Wellmack. I didn’t know these guys until then and we did the work and we got the blockages cleared.’

Wellmack then used this project as a case study to secure work elsewhere and the business started to take off. About a year later, Bain was asked to come onboard as a director to help develop the subsea business and take it into risers, pipelines and subsea facilities. ‘So after 24 years of being with the operator between Shell and BG, I went to this service company that I pretty much helped get developed and we then took the technology further,’ adds Bain.

‘We developed four other technologies very quickly off the back of the original one and soon won contracts in the Gulf of Mexico. We got to a stage mid-2008 that as the recession started to bite, and our cash flow came under pressure, we just couldn’t fund the development of these technologies. We had the UK provisional patents applied for but we just couldn’t take them any further. We spent six months engaging various venture capitalists, and made the connection with the Paradigm Group through our accountants, whom we shared with Paradigm. There was an immediate synergy between the two companies. We both felt it was a great deal in the making, so pulled out all the stops to conclude the deal very quickly.

Innovative ways Paradigm Oilfield Services reported a turnover of £1.9 million in 2010. The company offers a multi-million pound inventory of equipment for sale and rent on short and long term contracts and services clients in the US, Middle East, Africa and Europe with ambitions for further international growth. The company recently appointed a new manufacturing manager to support the rollout of new product ranges. Bill Docherty has 35 years’ experience in manufacturing roles and joins from Fugro-impROV where he was the purchasing and materials team lead.

Paradigm Oilfield Services has developed a drilling reamer with a novel pressure-controlled on/off mechanism, enabling operators to drill ahead without having to pull the tool out of the hole to reset it. The patent-pending hydraulic Real Time Activation Drilling Reamer is triggered by standpipe pressure changes, allowing continuous drilling.

The company has also developed a patent-pending Circulation Sub with the same inside mechanism as the drilling reamer. It can be used on drill strings to aid cuttings transport, hole cleaning, increase circulation rates and for tripping dry pipe. In addition, the team is developing roller reamers and working on the development of an innovative suite of torque and drag reduction tools for entry into the market in 2012.

Paradigm Flow Solutions recently appointed a US in-country manager, Sandy MacKenzie, and is planning further recruitment. With new products and services designed to prevent, detect and remediate offshore blockages and restrictions, both subsea and topside, Bain says his company is helping operators comply with the UK Health & Safety Executive’s KP-4 (ageing and life extension) inspection programme, but without the need for costly production shutdowns.

‘Game-changing’ patented products the company has brought to market this year include Pipe-Pulse, developed to tackle the persistent industry challenge of restricted or blocked subsea pipelines and take the treatment topside for the first time. During test phases it is reported to have successfully cleared a 4in multiphase flowline for Shell UK that had been blocked with sand and wax for 11 years, and also removed a stuck pig in a deepwater 8in flowline for Petrobras America.

According to Paradigm, the remote, non-intrusive Pipe-Pulse system can accurately locate and remove blockages and leaks in subsea pipework for up to 30 miles, obviating the need for expensive vessel time. Connected on the topside facilities of the host platform through either the pig launcher or the umbilical termination unit, the system delivers high energy and volume pressure pulses into the pipeline or subsea umbilical, which are transmitted at the speed of sound to the blockage several miles away.

A complex series of control valves contained within the main body of the Pipe-Pulse unit are automatically operated by the touch screen control panel. Proprietary algorithms determine the optimum wave structure for each pulse, of which there are potentially millions generated for each particular job. The Pipe-Pulse unit then physically creates and injects the manufactured pulse into the pipeline, which is then transmitted to the front face of the blockage. These controlled pulses allow energy to be transferred into the pipeline in a safe manageable way, which is far more effective than applying pressure alone, says Paradigm.

The company also lays claim to having developed innovative technology that can deliver cost and efficiency savings compared to traditional chemical cleaning and high pressure jetting methods for topside deluge and fire main systems. Paradigm Flow’s deluge preservation process is said to thoroughly clean and flush out blockages and debris without harming the pipework and without the need for platform shutdowns. The process uses a micro power brush system which is deployed at the deluge nozzles and moves through the internal pipework.

The Pipe-Pulse system was launched by Paradigm Flow Solutions at OTC in Houston this May.

Powerful cleaning brushes de-scale and polish the pipes, returning them back to their original condition. The bespoke brushes can navigate their way through bends and difficult access areas to target the blocked areas. The debris is then flushed out of the system and captured for analysis and disposal, following which the system is treated with a non-toxic, environmentally friendly corrosion and scale inhibitor to prevent further build up post cleaning operations. OE

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