CHESHIRE, England—A sealing products manufacturer from the United Kingdom is ready to release a new family of elastomers it will use in its goods to meet the ever-increasing demands of the oil and gas industry.
James Walker Sealing Products & Services Ltd. plans to unveil in April its new Vermilion-brand range of materials that initially will include two completely new grades, along with five others that extend the capabilities of its current Elast-O-Lion and FR materials, according to Trevor Clarke, the firm's marketing director for upstream oil and gas applications.
"Working in partnership with our customers to understand the challenges they will face as the oil and gas industry moves forward, we have formulated a range of new materials to meet the varied and evolving challenges of tomorrow, a move that will enable us to deliver superior solutions for our customers in the harshest environments," he said.
Clarke said James Walker has long been a leader in supplying sealing products to oil and gas—including a wide range of seals, O-rings, diaphragms, expansion joints and other components—and the Vermilion range will allow its goods to continue to extend the range of elastomer performance in the sector. For example, he said the new materials will be able to operate in wider extremes of temperature, chemical resistance and in resistance to problems created by rapid gas decompression.
"There are a number of things that we've been looking at where we're seeing increased technical capabilities required of the materials themselves to be able to satisfy demand," he said.
Cheshire-based James Walker places its research and development projects into two categories. Clarke referred to one as the "Blue Sky" projects, where the firm is looking to predict what the needs of its end markets—including oil and gas—will be three to five years down the road so the firm can develop products and materials to match those needs when demand emerges.
The other R&D category focuses on what its customers currently require. "We can run those two R&D areas in parallel and cross-feed, so where we have new materials development we can start to drop those into applications," Clarke said.
Likewise, the long-term projects often focus on developing materials where years ago elastomers couldn't provide solutions, he said, but by working closely with vendors and customers James Walker now can meet many of those high-end demands.
"It's an industry where technical challenge exists everywhere," Clarke said. "And with the reserves that we have there's often a need to go back into a well, where previous technology was a limiting factor. Or you have to use new technology and techniques to be able to extract the reserves. Deeper water, deeper underground, higher pressures, higher temperatures. The easy rich pickings, I wouldn't say they've all been had, but they're well understood and currently being exploited."
With its 35-plus year history of supplying critical sealing components to the oil and gas industry, Clarke said James Walker has worked with many of the major operators and OEMs, so it has good access to understand what the challenges are.
And while it has been successful with its existing materials—all of which are well-qualified and understood—the Vermilion range was needed because the boundaries of the current materials' capabilities were being reached. In addition, Clarke said James Walker was seeing its competitors start to close the gap over the past decade in terms of meeting such needs as resistance to RGD.
"From a practical standpoint, competition never stays still," he said. "We were head and shoulders ahead in terms of qualifications and capabilities for the materials. But that gets eroded over time. From our point of view, there was an increasing demand for materials which would be safe in more extreme environments and would actually offer the ability to seal."
Having materials to combat the potential problems brought about by RGD is a major part of the new Vermilion range, according to Clarke. There also are FKM grades that deal with maintaining performance in extreme low-temperature applications, as well as being resistant to methanol.
"What would be considered impossible from an elastomer point of view 10 years ago, we are now in a position to offer combinations of materials with that level of performance," he said.
Controlling material technology
As James Walker has evolved over the last three decades, Clarke said one thing that remained constant was keeping its materials technology in-house, while many competitors went the outsourcing route.
"We decided we didn't want to do that because we believe having control over the mixing process was very important in achieving the desired performance levels," he said. "We effectively take them out of the mixer and evaluate them. We do an awful lot of testing before they're released into our manufacturing,"
The company has a global network of manufacturing and distribution locations, with several factories in the U.K. and Europe, along with a production site in Glenwood, Texas, and others in Thailand and Australia.
All the materials the firm produces are for internal use. "These materials are very sensitive to the way you process them," Clarke said. "All of our processes are aligned to preserving and maximizing the capabilities of these materials."
It has tested the Vermilion line with a number of customers, all of which have tested and accepted the materials, Clarke said. The new material family also has been subjected to the Norsok, ISO and American Petroleum Institute standards that are needed to be a player in oil and gas.
"The customers we worked with are the ones that tended to be really pushing the performance envelope and were really struggling to use existing technology to meet their demand," he said.
The external launch for the Vermilion materials is set for the beginning of April, and despite difficult market conditions in recent years for oil and gas sector suppliers, James Walker sees opportunities by focusing on high-end applications.