2015 sees Heatric celebrating a quarter of a century of service to the oil and gas industry.
Heat exchangers are a core technology in offshore gas production and for 25 years Heatric’s unique chemically-etched, diffusion-bonded heat exchangers hence the name ‘printed circuit’ heat exchangers (PCHEs) have lead the competition on every significant performance point. Lighter weight and greater efficiency make them much more compact; up to 85% smaller and lighter than an equivalent shell and tube unit. Inherent structural integrity makes them safer and more robust, able to handle extremes of pressure (600 bar) and temperature (cryogenic to 900°C) as well as withstand punishing operating conditions. Today, there are more than 2700 Heatric units in operation all over the world and companies like Shell, Petrobras, BP and ExxonMobil make extensive use of them, both offshore and on.
“Our diffusion bonding process was first developed by Heatric’s founders at the University of Sydney in 1980,” explains Heatric’s Business Development Director, Nick Johnson. “But the modern Heatric story really began ten years later when the company was acquired by Meggitt PLC and relocated to the UK. Meggitt is famous for its specialised engineering for extreme environments in the energy, defence and aerospace sectors.” The match was excellent but so too was the timing: “In Australia the gas industry was in its infancy, but in Europe the ‘dash for gas’ had begun and the North Sea was booming.”
Climate concerns and simple economics have today created a new ‘dash’. Natural gas is expected to be the fastest growing fuel source for at least the next 20 years. Heatric’s PCHEs will play a key role in that story, says General Manager Adrian Tattersall: “Gas operators eager to boost output from existing platforms or optimise their new-build projects increasingly recognise that our PCHEs provide something akin to the Holy Grail in offshore operations: small footprint, high output and better safety. For existing platforms that means de-bottlenecking; for new platforms, it’s higher efficiency, safety and durability designed-in from the start so that our PCHEs can also help to unlock a host of knock-on financial and operational benefits.”
The Shell Prelude floating natural gas platform, presently under construction in Korea, is a topical example of what Tattersall is talking about: “Prelude is the largest floating structure ever built but it still benefits from our light, strong, powerful heat exchangers. By saving 1500 tons of topside weight, Heatric PCHEs have helped lower Prelude’s centre of gravity and improve its stability in heavy weather. And the 112 tonne, 30 megawatt exchanger we supplied for first stage cold recovery duties in the extraction and fractionation module breaks a record of its own. It is the largest single PCHE ever built.”
At Heatric’s Poole HQ evidence of rapid expansion is everywhere. The original plant was doubled in size as recently as 2011 but a completely new factory was required to double capacity again in 2013. The main site is now 11,000m2 of advanced production facilities in a single, integrated operation. On-site testing has been expanded with one of the largest civilian radiography and pressure-testing facilities in the country. The exacting procedures for etching the ‘printed circuit’ flow plates are performed in a separate bespoke facility, but that too is undergoing its own expansion programme.
A Heatric workforce of about 100 in 2008 is now more than 400. The company’s global reputation for building the safest, most efficient and most reliable heat exchangers in the world is in large measure built on the exceptional skill of welder-fabricators who must work to the same inspection standards as the builders of nuclear submarines. Because finding enough talent of the right calibre has not been easy, the company has taken to growing its own; a prestigious four-year apprenticeship programme is housed in a dedicated, fully-equipped training factory just a minute or two up the road.
These days offshore oil and gas Heatric’s traditional market is far from its only engine of growth.
Aftermarket services have been a key development area. A full suite of lifecycle support services system preparation, commissioning, on-going maintenance, specialised cleaning helps keep customers’ PCHEs in peak condition, maximising operations up-time. A Heatric customer service technician can be on-site anywhere in the world within 72 hours.
The engineers in Heatric’s emerging technologies department work closely with customers using PCHEs to unlock new and exciting applications in many fields including ‘green’ energy. In the US, Heatric technology sits at the heart of Echogen’s EPS-100 heat engine, soon to become the world’s first commercial waste-heat recovery system using high-energy supercritical-CO2 (instead of steam) as its working fluid. Net Power is preparing to use similar approach to develop cleaner, more efficient base-load generating capacity. At the other end of the thermometer, the UK’s Highview Power Systems relies on Heatric PCHEs to minimise the energy consumed by its system for storing renewable energy using cryogenic (or liquid) air. In each of these case, Heatric PCHEs make a critical contribution to economic viability by being able to recapture much more waste energy (hot or cold) than would otherwise be possible.
With sales offices in Poole, Houston, Rio de Janeiro and Singapore, as well as a network of agents across the rest of the world, Heatric now provides truly global and bespoke service wherever its customers operate and whatever heat transfer challenges they face. Tattersall: “As the inventor of the printed circuit heat exchanger, Heatric has 25 years’ experience of working closely with customers to tailor our technology to their needs. Solving the problems of new and sophisticated energy transfer applications, often in challenging environments, is the stuff of a routine day at Heatric. No-one else can match our PCHE expertise and understanding accumulated over 25 years - making us an ideal partner for anyone needing to take the efficiency their heat transfer processes to a new level.”