TMK IPSCO Believes Line Pipe Research Should Be Seamless

January 2013, Vol. 240 No. 1

Jeff Share, Editor

TMK IPSCO is one of the largest North American producers of welded and seamless pipe and premium connections for the oil and gas industry as well as industrial markets. It operates 11 state-of-the-art facilities located in key energy-producing regions of North America.

TMK IPSCO operates as a division of TMK, a market leader in energy pipe production, based in Moscow, Russia. TMK operates 24 production facilities worldwide with offerings that include a wide range of seamless and welded energy tubular products.

Last fall the TMK IPSCO Research & Development Center opened just north of Houston, one of two R&D divisions operated by the company. The other is the Russian Research Institute for the Tube and Pipe Industries (RosNITI), which is based in Chelyabinsk, Russia.

In this interview TMK IPSCO Vice President and Chief Technology Officer Prasenjit Adkihari discusses the research center and the company’s plans for growth in the U.S. Adhikari is responsible fo quality assurance, environmental compliance, new product development, and research and development.

Prior to joining TMK IPSCO in 2010 he gained several years of senior executive experience in technology leadership and product management at Maysteel, Dana Corp., Neoplan USA and Case New Holland, Inc. He holds an MBA from the Illinois Institute of Technology, a master’s degree in information technology from Northwestern University, a master’s in mechanical engineering from the University of Arkansas and a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering from the Birla Institute of Technology in India.

P&GJ: How and why is TMK IPSCO expanding its energy –related businesses in the U.S.?
TMK IPSCO believes the future for oil and gas development in the U.S. is a growing business. The advances in technology, particularly in the unconventional drilling sector, have increased the recovery of hydrocarbons which will lower the cost of energy and drive new demand. TMK IPSCO will supply the products needed today and develop the products that will be required to advance the technology and increase the value proposition.

P&GJ: What is pushing energy and pipeline development in the U.S., and how does this compare with other regions of the world?
Energy development in the U.S is being driven to reduce dependence on foreign supplies, lower costs and protect the environment. The new sources of energy being developed, whether natural gas or oil, are in regions that have insufficient infrastructure in place to reach the markets. Transportation bottlenecks are creating pricing differentials between geographic regions of the country which are now providing the incentive to build new pipelines so serve these markets.

P&GJ: How much activity do you expect to see in the pipeline industry between now and 2020?
Activity is difficult to predict because often the answer “depends” upon government policies, regulations and non-market factors. We believe the opportunity is there for a growth in pipeline construction. If industry expectations hold true, the U.S. could become a net exporter of oil and LNG before the end of the decade. This will require reversals of flow that will generate new demand for line pipe.

P&GJ: What will make the new TMK IPSCO Houston R&D Center unique, and what capabilities are you particularly proud of?
It’s not every day that you get a chance to design and build a brand new R&D Center from the ground up. In our case, we took this opportunity to apply the best practices in lab and equipment set-up, leap frog to the latest technology in our equipment selection and hire a very select group of engineers and scientists that can not only use the new equipment but also bring thought leadership at all levels of research.

The R&D Center has a wide range of lab capabilities that complement each other very well; advanced metallurgy lab, mechanical testing lab, corrosion lab, heat treatment and weld ability labs and full-scale collapse and connection testing lab all under one roof. All of these aspects make our R&D Center very unique.

Particular capabilities that we pride ourselves on are the two large connection testers, the SEMs with multiple micro-probe analyzers, a state-of-the-art corrosion lab that can handle SSC or HIC tests and beyond, and most importantly we take pride in our people.

P&GJ: How many people will the facility employ, and are there any plans for expansion?
We plan to grow in stages. Our current plan is to have around 25 people to achieve the critical mass needed to get started. As we demonstrate value to the organization, we will earn the right to grow and expand. We anticipate having strength of around 40 very highly talented people shortly.

P&GJ: When you talk to clients, what do they tell you are their biggest needs, and how will you be able to better accommodate them?
There are two common themes that continue to be expressed by our customers where we will be able to help.
– Need for testing tubular and connections to very specific load conditions; defined by the customer. Some of these are over and beyond standard ASTM or ISO CAL IV standards. Our equipment has been designed to allow that flexibility for custom test requests. However, before undertaking any such requests, we have our own protocol that involves a careful review of the request with our safety, design and test-engineering experts where we can further add value.

– The other theme is the need for non-standard corrosion testing. It is becoming very clear that different reservoir and well conditions have their own corrosion profile. Some steel grades work better than others; however there are many unexplained behaviors resulted from a combination of sub-surface conditions and drilling and completion practices that needs a deeper understanding. Our test environment and the engineers have the capability to successfully work with our customers to design and develop test protocols to simulate those conditions and able to analyze the results in an accelerated manner.

P&GJ: What is driving the need for increased R&D today? Is it the shale plays and variety of petroleum products being produced?
Shale plays are certainly an important driver of research, but there are more. What we hear from most customers and several university experts is that there are still many unknown factors in the area of unconventional drilling using enhanced oil recovery techniques. Horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing for gas and oil shale plays you mentioned, CO-2 flooding, the SAGD and CSS processes in the oil sand applications, deeper wells and many others.

The extreme hostile environment caused by a combination of corrosive conditions and highly dynamic nature of mechanical and thermal stresses imposed on the casings and connections require a deeper understanding of the duty cycles and the load profiles. Even the sub-surface conditions for different shale plays vary. These are the fundamental driving needs for R&D today. A collaborative approach is needed.

By working with the customers and our own people, we can help in joint characterization and design of the product attributes. TMK IPSCO can then achieve the desired properties by optimizing the alloy chemistries, fine-tuning of our manufacturing processes, and managing the process capability factors to obtain desired quality levels.

P&GJ: Does the increase in imported steel products create any additional concerns that R&D can help resolve?
TMK IPSCO offers a wide suite of products that are made available through our mills in the United States as well as from our parent’s mills in Russia and Romania. Our R&D Center helps in maintaining, assuring and further enhancing the quality and performance level of all our products. This approach allows us to remain competitive and have a stronger edge over the lower quality and lower value offered by other imports. By continuously introducing superior options with more value compared with the low-cost imported steel, we are poised to make the quality and performance gap even wider in our favor.

P&GJ: With the increased regulatory scrutiny facing the pipeline industry, are more companies acknowledging the need for R&D, and are they more willing to pay for it?
Considering the consequences of the use of low-quality pipe, companies are factoring in the risk of using cost as a primary basis of selection. Instead, they are taking a serious look at the TCO approach, applied in other industries, where they are taking an end-to-end approach and factor downstream costs of poor quality, poor performance, claims, etc. in the entire equation. Changing regulatory requirements, and a more stringent buying process, both play to our advantage as we continue to differentiate TMK IPSCO from the competition.

P&GJ: What is the history of TMK IPSCO, particularly regarding the pipeline business?
TMK IPSCO, or its predecessor IPSCO, has a long history in the pipeline business. The company was founded in Canada and had to develop steel grades that were suitable for the harsh Canadian climate. The new company, TMK IPSCO, is renewing that commitment. The R&D Center will work to advance the quality and performance of pipe for line pipe applications which will bring value to our customers.

P&GJ: What are some of the challenges of a foreign company doing business in the U.S. and Texas in particular?
In my opinion, most common challenges are – unfamiliarity with the domestic market and the customer psyche. Customers in North America have a high expectation in terms of quality, performance, delivery, etc. which may be more stringent than many other countries. For many U.S. customers, just meeting the API specifications is not good enough. They have their own requirements that are over and beyond those API specs.

Fortunately, for us, TMK IPSCO which is the American division of TMK, has over the past 50-plus years played a dominant role in the ERW and seamless markets and has developed very strong customer relationships. This is a major advantage TMK has over other foreign companies.

P&GJ: What are some of the R&D projects under way?
We have a three-pronged approach for the R&D projects. First is immediate term. The objective is to take on projects to reduce costs and improve quality and productivity of our existing products. We do this through a clear problem definition, careful analysis of the current state and offering technological solutions to bridge those gaps. Some of the examples could be a new alloy chemistry, new operating practices or enhancing inspection methods.

The second prong addresses the near to medium term – Working with our product development groups in the U.S. and Russia, we are bringing new products faster to market. This involves alloy design, material characterization, developing a design, verification plan and report (DVP&R) and FMEAs that follows into a series of modeling, simulation and actual testing activities of the physical parts. All of these products allow us to offer products that are more performance-driven, complex and of course, more profitable.

The third prong is longer term. It is important for us to keep an eye on future trends and develop technologies that can keep us in the lead. We do this by working with leading universities, our colleagues at ROSNITI and some select labs worldwide to look at some technologies that could bring a quantum change to our way of doing things today in capability and performance in the tubular industry.

P&GJ: How did you get in the energy business?
It was an opportunity where the stars lined up perfectly for me. With my background in steel, heavy vehicle and automotive industry, I recognized that the oil and gas industry was the “happening” place and the industry to be in for the future. I also felt that my expertise, especially in the area of materials technology, manufacturing processes and quality, could be quickly leveraged to benefit the company and working with an exceptionally talented leadership team we can skyrocket TMK IPSCO as an industry leader. When approached for this position at TMK IPSCO, I jumped at it and rest is history.