Global Deepwater Review: Deepwater drives manufacturing expansion

May 1, 2014

A large-bore center tube umbilical cross section. Photo by: DUCO. 

The growing deepwater market is driving pipeline and umbilical manufacturing expansion on Newcastle's Walker Riverside in the UK. Elaine Maslin paid a visit.

Umbilical and flexible pipe manufacture has become an established and visible presence on the banks of the River Tyne in Newcastle, Northeast England. Now, growth in deepwater developments is driving demand for steel tube umbilicals and for deepwater flexible pipe, leading to an increase in capacity at this hub (See "Wellstream expands capacity").

Umbilicals form the links between subsea production systems and remote control, power, communications, and chemical supply services. They can be static or dynamic (when through the water column) and based on thermoplastic or steel tube design.

According to global engineering group Technip, around 70% of global subsea developments now require steel tube umbilicals, as the subsea sector moves into deeper waters.

To meet demand, DUCO, part of Technip Umbilical Systems, has built a new automated vertical helix assembly machine (VHAM), housed in a dedicated building, to manufacture steel tube umbilicals.

The facility, due to be officially opened this month (May), is flanked by two new storage carousels, new quayside, and reel transporters, all controlled via a wireless network.

DUCO – created through a joint venture between Dunlop and Coflexip – has been manufacturing at Walker Riverside in Newcastle since 1990, the company was reaching capacity for steel tube umbilicals manufacture on its existing horizontal helix assembly machine, says Ian Probyn, research and development business development manager, Technip Umbilical Systems.

“Over the years we have extended the helix machine as requirements have increased. But a few years ago, we could see we would need greater capacity, to meet market needs,” he says.

“We went back to the drawing board and designed the dream machine.” The result is a 50m-high, 10 level, VHAM tower, fabricated by Brazil’s BRASTEC Technologies. By moving to vertical assembly, following a design used for DUCO’s Houston facility, the firm is able to incorporate a greater number of larger component product bobbins, increasing capacity, and maximizing space and production line efficiency.

Large-bore center tube, or a center bundle, is fed on polymer rollers into the building, into the center of the VHAM, via a pit beneath the machine. Photo by Elaine Maslin. 

Vertical manufacturing

To create an umbilical system using the VHAM, a large-bore center tube, or a center bundle (“first pass bundle”), is fed on polymer rollers into the building, then into the center of the VHAM, via a pit beneath the machine.

The chain-driven revolving VHAM deck, houses and pays out the umbilical components on counter routating, individually tension-controlled bobbins. High capacity bobbins carry steel tube, for hydraulic and chemical fluid, and fiber optic and electrical cables, and smaller bobbins contain product such as “filler,” typically polyethylene (PE) or polyvinyl chloride (PVC), but also cross-linked PE (XLPE), for use in higher temperature applications, used as packing between functional components, to keep product in place and to maintain the umbilical’s overall circular shape.

Operational, the VHAM's linear speed at its widest point is as fast as an Olympic runner—although in reality the speed is not likely to need to be this high.

The VHAM has a SCADA-based system, to ensure control and traceability of the process parameters and product quality, on product ranging from complex stiff umbilicals, to light fragile designs, with tension and pay-out speed pre-set and monitored.

Due to the amount of instrumentation and control this required, DUCO opted for a wireless network. As the umbilical bundle moves up the tower, pulled by two automated and slip and grip pressure monitored caterpillar tensioners, it passes through a weld ing bay, where steel tube sections are welded or electrical cable spliced, and for digitally processed X-ray inspection. Pre-forming rollers then put the helical shape into the umbilical tubes, before the multiple components are wound together and then wrapped in fiber-reinforced tape.

Finally, a measurement head, including a six-head laser, measures the outer diameter (OD) and the umbilical then runs out on rollers, via a set of points, to either the south or north swan necks, sending the product down and out to either the north or south of the site.

Large bore center tubes (typically 2-4in.) will arrive in straight lengths to be welded together on site, before being reeled to enter the VHAM.

The VHAM building also contains an extrusion line, able to coat metal tubes with millimeter-thick sheath (PE, XLPE or nylon) on half inch bore tubes or outer sheaths on umbilicals over and beyond the current record of 325mm OD for BP Skarv.


DUCO’s investment included two new, automated, chain-driven, large diameter basket storage carousels, north and south of the VHAM, both controlled by a wireless network, interconnected to the VHAM. In theory, umbilical lengths created on the VHAM could be unlimited, Probyn says. Carousel size, for spooling the product on to, is the only limit.

The two new carousels increase DUCO’s storage capacity, allowing storage of up to four separate umbilical systems in each, including their termination pieces, and have been built with capability to be easily upgraded if needed.

The larger basket size also means steel tube does not have to be wound on under tension, minimizing any plastic strain on the umbilical. An automated accumulator is also used to accommodate slack or tension, in the event of a power failure or emergency shutdown, to avoid strain on the product, while it is being loaded into the carousel using caterpillar tensioners.

The carousel loading equipment is based on designs already installed at DUCO’s recently upgraded Angoflex plant, West Africa.

From storage, umbilicals are then either spooled direct on to vessels, via a quayside roller path, or on to reels, which are then lifted on to vessels.

DUCO has a contract backlog of more than one year for the VHAM, including the Egina and Moho Nord projects, for Total, to be installed offshore West Africa.


DUCO’s facility at Walker also produces thermoplastic and power cable umbilicals on its existing Helix and S-Z lines, named due to the helical alternating process used to create the bundles, which creates S-Z shapes.

The site also has existing vertical spool and basket carousels. It also has an armoring machine, with more than 100 bobbins, for thermoplastic umbilicals requiring armoring for tensile strength and steel tube umbilicals made on the new VHAM where the client requires additional mechanical protection or weight.

Technology takes deep water challenge

-Meg Chessyre

Technip Umbilical Systems has undertaken a design study of future technol- ogy requirements needed in deepwater projects. The results were presented by Ian Probyn, R&D business development man- ager, at a Subsea UK conference in London late last year (2013).

The umbilical design study looked at future umbilical requirements in deeper water 3000m+, harsher environmental conditions, with greater fatigue and sub- sea power requirements. The outcome was to identify technology gaps which have led to a number of R&D programs with the aim of developing and qualifying solutions ready for product deployment, with some projects now being more advanced than others.

The first technology that Probyn addressed was strength members and evolving joints. He also looked into the development of aluminum power cables, deepwater thermoplastic umbilicals, smart umbilicals, a quick-connect stab plate and a tape to increase friction.

High strength members provide additional tensile strength to achieve greater water depth and enable dynamic performance to be optimized. Another innovation is the evolving joint. “We’ve innovated what we call an evolving joint,” Probyn explained. “This enables us to optimize the strength near the hang-off, the topside, where we see the highest fatigue loading. As the umbilical drops to the seabed we can transition from these high strength members to lighter, more cost effective polymer structures.” This technology was first deployed on a project in the Gulf of Mexico in 2012, and very successfully qualified.

Technip Umbilical Systems has also developed a lightweight, high corrosion resistant aluminum conductor, which has undergone an extensive risked based technology qualification program, including corrosion, fatigue, electrical, splicing and terminators. The high strength aluminum power cable can operate in water depths below 3000m, having superior reliability at any water depth, greater fatigue capability and reduced electrical stress.

Deepwater challenges for thermoplastic hose include higher working pressure and higher collapse resistance. These are particular challenges for Arctic service in terms of greater temperature range, both hotter and colder. “We’reworking in increasing the water depth capability for that product in terms of some of the materials we use,” Probyn said.

Smart sensing umbilicals are now being developed with fiber optic temperature and strain monitoring, and dynamic positioning sensing. This makes it possible to record actual response to service conditions, to carry out hotspot monitoring during extreme storm events, and have a feedback loop for operations optimization. There is a lot of synergy with technology that has been developed in the flexible pipe market.

The MQC (Multi-Quick Connect) stab plate has been developed in conjunction with Technip ROV experts. It is a light weight and compact connector for flying lead and jumper umbilicals. It has a more than 15 degree out of alignment mating capability and can easily be manipulated by ROV subsea. The product has recently completed all of its qualification testing, including hyperbaric mating and demating, misalignment mating, and impact and vibration loadings. It is now ready for the market.

The friction increasing tape is called Compressi-Grip. This is still blue sky technology, said Probyn, but Technip has had a patent accepted and so can now start to talk about it. He explained that the weakest friction interface in the umbilical is between the outer bundle of the components and the inner surface of the polymer sheath. The bundle could slip through the sheath when it is squeezed in what is known as the ‘caterpillar’ position during installation possibly causing damage.

The Compressi-Grip artificially increases the friction interface while the umbilical is in the squeezed ‘caterpillar’ mode. Once the umbilical comes out of the caterpillar the friction interface drops off again. Increasing the friction the friction increases the water depth for umbilical deployment. Doubling the friction effectively doubles the water depth. “We’ve proven the concept, and over the next year or so we’ll prove the component and do a full qualification program as well,” Probyn concluded. He added that investing in manufacturing capabilities was also a tool in meeting future technological requirements.

The north carousel. Photo by DUCO

Flexible Investment

Flowlines are getting bigger and longer. Wellstream, part of GE Oil & Gas, has increased capacity at its Newcastle facility.

Walker Riverside’s expansion has extended to unbonded flexible pipe manufacturing.

Wellstream, part of GE Oil & Gas, officially opened two new storage and manufacturing car- ousels at its unbonded flexible pipe manufacturing facility at Walker Riverside at the begin- ning of April.

The two new carousels, which increase capacity at the site, have been built to meet the increasing demands for deepwater and high-pressure pipelines.

“With FLNG coming, and production coming from deeper and deeper waters, pipes are getting heavier and bigger in diameter and the conditions they are going into harsher,” says Bruce Heppenstall, general manager, Wellstream. Higher pressure require- ments are also increasing, he says. Flexible pipe produced at Wellstream currently extends to a 10,000psi design load.

“The industry wants more and more in higher and higher pressures, and it is a trend we are investing in on our research and development programs in Newcastle,” Heppenstall says. “There is a lot of proprietary technology and manu- facturing technique to make and wrap around a reel what are effectively flexible pressure vessels.”

The site already had two, 1000-tonne storage and manufacturing carousels. These are used for storage and during the manufacturing process, by rotat- ing to wind on the pipe at the same

speed it passes through the production line, as each component layer is added. Wellstream also has one 1000-tonne stor- age carousel.

The two new carousels are 26m diameter, 3000-tonne manufacturing and storage carousels.

Wellstream has also invested in two new 35ft reels to supply the larger diam- eter pipes, and increased lengths, and it has taken a lease on a new building, in Newcastle, for its research and develop- ment, and testing activity. R&D is cur- rently focused on high-pressure, and the types of polymers used. “Also, as pipes get larger in diameter, they get heavier, so we are looking at using composites to make pipes lighter,” says Heppenstall.

GE’s Newcastle facility was opened in 1997, on the former Vickers Armstrong naval shipyard, which closed in the 1980s.

Since 1997, the site has been making unbonded flexible pipes for the oil and gas subsea indus- try. The site, which produces pipe from 2in.-16in. internal diameter, has the capacity to make about 300km of up to 8in. normalized kilometer pipe a year. These are mostly used as flowlines on the seabed, or as risers up through the water column to platforms or floating production facilities.

The Newcastle facility exports about 80-90% of what produces around the world, except to Brazil, where Wellstream has a dedicated facility working for this region.

The facility produces pipe, starting with flat steel strips, which form a carcass to prevent the pipe from being crushed, then adding extruded polymer barriers, to stop fluids or gases escaping, and then a flexlok layer, which at up to 12mm thick prevents high pressure fluids (up to 10,000psi) from causing the pipe to burst.

Flexible tension layers, using armor wire, is applied to hold on end pieces, which can be under considerable tension hanging off a vessel or production facility, and also further polymer layers, to protect the wires from seawater. Insulation can also be added where required and the number of layers of each component depends on each specific application and requirements. During the production process, pipe is wound on to each carousel in turn, as each layer is added.

Pipes are tested to 1.5x their design pressure. Flange end fittings are also fit- ted, so the pipe can be connected to the platform, production vessel, wellhead, or each other.

The firm can get up to 1km of pipe (or 180-tonne) on a reel. Reels are then transferred to vessels for transport to installation locations.