Flexible to the core

Elaine Maslin

May 1, 2017

Northeast England has a heritage when it comes to the shipping and offshore industries. Elaine Maslin reports on how JDR and GE Wellstream are keeping the tradition alive.

The carcass line at GE Wellstream. Photo from GE Wellstream.

Handling multiple strands of wire to make wire rope is a well-honed skill on the Tyne in northeast England. Companies have been doing it here for centuries – one of the companies bought to form British Ropes in 1924 was Thomas and William Smith, from Newcastle upon Tyne, itself founded in 1782.

At that time, Newcastle was one of Europe’s biggest industrial centers. While industry isn’t quite at the same scale as what it once was on the Tyne, the skills remain (as do some of the companies, including Bridon, formed from British Ropes) and the companies that are using them are putting them to good use – in the offshore industry.

JDR, in Hartlepool, not far south of Newcastle, has recently installed a new horizontal layup machine (HLM) for steel tube umbilicals. It’s the largest of its type in the UK and the largest HLM in the world.

The firm has been making significant in-roads into the renewables industry, including introducing 66kV cables, and has its sights set on the emerging floating wind farm market, as well as continued work in oil and gas.

Meanwhile, GE Oil & Gas’ Wellstream business, on Walker Riverside, is completing work on its new composite umbilical manufacturing line and has research projects well underway at its still relatively young innovation center there. DUCO, part of TechnipFMC, meanwhile, installed a new vertical helix assembling machine to manufacture steel tube umbilicals back in 2014.

JDR’s latest tool. Photo from JDR.

JDR

Despite a downturn in oil and gas, JDR has been growing its capacity and capability. The firm started the first product run off its new 40m-long HLM last August. The impressive unit is able to wind 17 functional layers (up to 4000-tonne of component can be loaded at a time) into a steel tube dynamic, static or deepwater umbilical, at up to 6.5m/min.

Its first job was flying leads, under a contract with GE, for ONGC’s Vashishta and S1 project, in the KG Basin, 30-35km off eastern India, in 250-700m water depth. JDR is supplying 12 steel tube flying leads and associated hardware.

The new HLM adds to JDR’s existing capacity, which includes a vertical lay machine, two armoring machines, and two large storage carousels. The firm supplied 500km of product last year – compared to 200-300km in the past – and sees that number growing. Much of it will be wind farm work, including its newly qualified 66kV cables.

66kV

JDR’s Hartlepool facility. Photo from JDR.

66kV cable is one of the firm’s recent advances. It does not need a lead barrier, as other higher voltage cables do, which helps to reduce product weight, making transport and installation easier, and eliminate fatigue issues associated with lead. Increasing power cable voltage from the established 33kV to 66kV will also help accommodate the larger wind turbines increasingly being installed, as well as future subsea factory needs.

The technology was qualified last year and the first application will be on Vattenfall’s European Offshore Wind Deployment Centre (EOWDC), off, Aberdeen under a contract with VBMS, part of Boskalis. JDR will supply 20km of 66kV inter-array and export cables, plus associated accessories, for the 11, 8.4MW turbine test and demonstration facility, due to start up in 2018.

Mid-April, JDR won its first commercial 66kV array cable project with VBMS to supply intra-array cables for ScottishPower Renewables’ East Anglia One (EA1) offshore wind farm. JDR will design and manufacture 155km of array cables including end terminations, plus a cable management system at each offshore wind turbine generator, to allow for a 66kV topside connection to the switchgear cables.

The 714 MW EA1, with up to 102 wind turbines, will be the first of four projects in the East Anglia Zone. The offshore wind farm will consist of up to 102 wind turbines and will be located 43km off the Suffolk Coast in the southern North Sea. The wind farm is expected to power 500,000 homes when fully operational in 2020. JDR’s delivery is scheduled for Q1 2019.

Other recent wind farm wins include a contract to supply power cables for the 1.2 GW Hornsea Project One, 120km offshore Yorkshire, England, and a subcontract from Siem Offshore Contractors to supply 180km of subsea power cables for the 84-turbine, 588MW Beatrice offshore wind farm in the Outer Moray Firth, off Scotland.

Meanwhile, JDR has been given preferred supplier status by US Wind, for the full cable package on its 750MW Maryland development project. Expected to be the largest offshore wind farm to date in the US, the Maryland project will include a maximum of 187 turbines in up to 30m water depth, 24km off the coast. A final investment decision is expected in 2018. JDR will supply and install 196km of inter-array cable, 180km of export cable and cable accessories. Delivery and installation is due in 2019-2020.

JDR is also making in-roads into floating offshore wind, which Peter Worrall, technical services director, JDR, says might be new to many, but involves principles the firm uses on floating production systems, where flexible connections are needed. The firm has won a European floating wind farm front-end engineering contract and is 66kV cable supplier on it, but Worrall was unable to say more at this stage.

AC/DC

The firm is also looking into AC power transport. Worrall says that using AC over DC for power transport can be beneficial, where it’s possible. While DC is required for longer distances, using AC for shorter distances eliminates the need for converter stations on each end. This could mean optimizing designs so that it is accepted that a wind farm doesn’t generate maximum power at all times, so that some losses in the power export can be accepted. “It’s finding the goldilocks position,” so that AC can be used, Worrall says.

Oil and gas

For subsea oil and gas infrastructure, JDR is looking to down rate the 66kV cable to a 45kv cable, for lower, shorter distance power demand, and use the 66kV cable for up to 100km step outs with power requirements.

But, it is also producing umbilicals, particularly in the Middle East and India, recently, and has tenders ongoing elsewhere. Cameron, on behalf of ONGC, awarded JDR a steel tube umbilical contract for 11 wells at the Western Offshore project. The Indian project includes the Mumbai High, Bassein and Satellite, and Neelam and Heera assets, mostly in 100m water depth. JDR will supply 11 umbilicals, with a total 53km length, as well as subsea terminations and accessories, with delivery in Q4 2017. Worrall says that JDR is also doing more front-end engineering work these days, looking at local studies, but also global analysis work to see how systems can be optimized.

The carcass line at GE Wellstream. Photo from GE Wellstream.

GE Oil & Gas

GE Oil & Gas has been expanding and plans to add composite flexibles to its capabilities at its Walker Riverside facility in Newcastle this year.

The site has been producing flexible pipe since 1997. It has the capability to produce 2-16in flexible pipe, including four 12in dynamic, high-pressure, high-temperature risers for Shell’s floating LNG Prelude project offshore Australia last year.

This year, it is introducing hybrid composites to its stable, reducing product weight by replacing a metallic pressure resistance layer with a carbon fiber layer.

With the opening of its Newcastle Innovation Center in 2015, complementing its Rio Innovation Center focusing on more deepwater and sour service applications, the firm is also focusing on new developments, such as the T-profile or anti-FLIP carcass.

FLIP stands for flow induced pulsations, a phenomenon known as singing risers. “This is when dry gas flows at high speed over corrugations in the inner bore and produces an acoustic resonance,” says Rusty Justiss, general manager at Newcastle. “We are working on a pipe, with another layer [the T-profile, which sits between the carcass corrugations], to create virtually smooth bore.” The challenge is to get a smooth bore while not impacting the mechanical properties of the pipe, including its weight.

The center is also testing different polymers to destruction and working on ways to further improve pipe – from using fiber optics inside the pipe for monitoring (including measuring temperature and leak detection) to developing an ROV-deployable version of GE’s MAPS-FR flexible riser inspection technology, which is based on magnetic stress measurement, and detects any tensile wire breakage.

The center is also home to testing facilities that can put pipe through -20°C to 130°C cycles, including bending.

The more visible action is in the firm’s production facility where a new composite machine will soon join the multi-process production process required to build up all the layers required for flexible pipe.

Recent projects at the site include Shell’s aforementioned Prelude project and its Gannett development, as well as Eni’s East Hub project.

GE’s flexible pipe starts with an internal carcass, made from flat steel strips, which are formed and interlocked to create a tube with a set bending radius and collapse resistance, to the outer layers, which may include insulation.

Layers include a barrier, around the central carcass, made from a type of polymer, which is extruded onto the carcass, to provide pressure containment. There is also the Flexlock layer, which provides pressure resistance. This is pre-formed at 4-12mm thick, depending on the requirements, and wound on to bobbins before being wound on to the barrier layer.

With its new composite line, carbon fiber can now be added to the pipe, instead of the Flexlock layer, using a laser consolidation process. Replacing the tension resistance layer with a composite reduces the weight of the product while keeping more broadly it’s established properties, Justiss says.

Flexible pipe also has a minimum of two tensile armor layers, with each pair wound on in opposite directions. The armor machines simultaneously wind multiple wires, each with a helical twist put into it, to make it lay properly. Anti-wear tape, made from a glass – or aramid fiber tapes if needed – is then added to prevent “bird-caging,” a phenomenon which could see the armor layers spring out into a cage if put under compression along the length of the pipe. Further layers could also be added, such as an insulation layer, if required, before the end fittings are added and the product is loaded out on reels or direct to vessel from storage carousels.

The benefit of the composite layer is a 30% reduction in pipe weight, Justiss says, which means more product can be stored on a single reel and installation vessels will be able to be lighter with smaller tensioners for handling.

The number of buoyancy clamps or tethers used infield could also be reduced, GE says. The firm also says total installed cost would be reduced by 20-25%.

The 10in pipes GE is looking to produce this way would be able to handle up to 15,000psi fluids beyond 3000m water depth, with up to 150°C capability. The first will be manufactured this year, and the 10in pipe put through qualification.