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New Plymouth Firm Challenges Foreign Competitors

A prototype tool that grips and rotates tubes used in oil wells - without marking them - could enable small New Plymouth firm Austoil Engineering Services Ltd to challenge the dominance of big overseas companies.

Austoil's prototype is a hydraulic-driven tong that rotates tubes and casings, and screws them together. It was built with funding assistance from Technology New Zealand, part of the Foundation for Research, Science and Technology, which invests in research into new products, processes or services.

"Because high-chrome tubulars require kid-glove handling, we wanted to develop a gripping mechanism that wouldn't mark the tubes and pipes," company accountant Euan Saunders says.

"In the world-wide oil and gas drilling and production industry, there is a concerted move to high-chrome products that don't easily corrode. For example, in New Zealand during the past six months, nearly 70 per cent of tubing installed in production wells was chrome."

The effectiveness of chrome tubing is considerably reduced if it gets even a small mark - or "hot spot" - in the assembly process, so it has to be handled gently.

Mr Saunders says Austoil used the prototype successfully in a job for Fletcher Challenge Energy Ltd at its Taranaki Tariki 1A oil well. "It was a job where the old tubing was pulled out of the well and replaced with new chrome tubing. We used the tool to screw together 270 pieces of 12-metre length tubing under normal oil rig conditions, so we know the system works."

The project to develop new intellectual property largely resulted from a company decision several years ago to expand in areas and products of existing "knowledge and skill". Mr Saunders says it was a technological advance for a small New Zealand company.

"It means we can offer a highly skilled service in New Zealand which is currently only available through overseas contractors. In addition, while we developed the tool for our own use and for sale, the ramifications of the uses of a device that can grip tubular items at extremely high torque without damage, appear quite extensive.

He says Austoil would have done the project without funding assistance anyway, "because we believed we could make it and sell it, but not having the grant from the Foundation would have made the project harder and longer.

"To fund it all ourselves means the money has to come out of normal cashflow. For a small company that is a hugely significant decision."

-ends-

Contact: * Euan Saunders, Austoil Engineering Services Ltd, Dakota Pl, Bell Block, Taranaki. Ph: (06) 755-1129. Fax: (06) 755-1804. euan@austoil.com

* Tony Hadfield, Technology New Zealand at the Foundation for Research, Science and Technology, (04) 917-7800 or 025 454 095. Website: www.technz.co.nz

Prepared on behalf of the Foundation for Research, Science and Technology by ID Communications. Contact: Ian Carson (04) 477-2525, ian@idcomm.co.nz


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