An Aberdeenshire engineering firm has developed a product which could diffuse “ticking time bombs” on oil platforms and save UK operators more than £300 million.
Bosses at Infinity believe their gear could help double the firm’s headcount and increase turnover by an additional £2-3m per year in the next 12-24 months.
Infinity, which employs about 20 people, has an engineering division in Westhill and an oil field service business in Gourdon.
Its actuator safety gauntlet is akin to a “bullet proof bag” which can be fitted over actuators that have fallen into poor condition offshore, making them safe.
Actuators are automated devices used to open and close valves and contain massive amounts of “stored energy”.
There are thousands of them in the UK continental shelf, but Andy MacGill, who heads up the engineering division, said most workers are completely unaware of how dangerous they can be.
If they break, the powerful springs inside them can eject components at high velocity, which could cause fatal injuries and damage equipment.
Several safety cases relating to actuator failures have been reported in recent years.
Mark Banks, business development director at Infinity, said the Oil and Gas Technology Centre (OGTC) understood the value of the product straight away and had provided support.
The actuator gauntlet is made of layers of Kevlar inside a water-tight, UV-resistant bag.
It was built to specification by J&D Wilkie in Kirriemuir, Angus, with trails carried out by an ordnance testing company in Lincoln.
Developed from scratch in 10 months, it has a patent pending and has been granted a technical qualification by Lloyd’s Register. It could also be used in other industries.
Mr MacGill said replacing actuators before the end of their intended lifespan was expensive due to the need for scaffolders, technicians, cranes, forklifts and vessels, depending on their location on a platform.
Production might also have to be shut down while the worn down actuators are being replaced.
The gauntlet is intended for single use, but the material could be recycled depending on the level of damage caused by an actuator blowout.
Mr MacGill said: “If a company is worried about its people and its equipment, then this product is definitely for them.”
He said records for individual actuators were often poor for a number of reasons, such as manufacturers being bought and sold, while some devices have become obsolete.
Mr MacGill also said some manufacturers could refuse to send engineers out to inspect actuators if it is clear they haven’t been maintained properly, because of the threat they possess.
Infinity has calculated and minimised the risks. Its technicians can fit a bag over an actuator in seconds.
Rebecca Allison, asset integrity solution centre manager at the OGTC, said: “Corroded actuator valves pose a significant safety challenge and they can be found on oil and gas facilities throughout the North Sea.
“Infinity’s technology is a cost-effective, reliable and efficient solution that could deliver multi-million pound savings for operators.
“It has been great working with Infinity to help take their product, from what was an early stage concept, through to a technology that is tested, certified and ready to be deployed in the field.”