Tailor made

15 February 2018


In a diverse marketplace, manufacturers of winches for the oil and gas sector are increasingly offering tailored solutions for customers, reports Tom Woerndl.

The oil and gas sector has experienced a turbulent few years: a report from management consultancy company PwC said the market should be “optimistic but extremely cautious” in 2017, and that message is being echoed at the start of the New Year.

Last year saw the price of Brent crude increase by about 15%, added to a significant spike of around 90% in 2016. However, with a current market value of roughly $68 per barrel, it is still some way below the $115 post-recession high, reached in March 2011. The price of Brent also fluctuated over the course of 2017, hitting a low of about $47 per barrel just before July.

Although some analysts are generally positive about the future of the sector, its relatively weak performance in the previous five or six years has led many equipment suppliers to the market—including winch manufacturers—to focus on upgrading existing technologies, improving service, and offering enhanced digital solutions, rather than launching new product portfolios.

This historically unstable market has also meant that clients in the onshore and offshore oil and gas sectors have increasingly used their strengthened bargaining position to demand bespoke technology that suits their individual needs.

“Most of the winches we make are tailored to suit the client application,” confirms Arno van Zaanen, sales director at Dutch manufacturer Emcé, which supplies winches for different applications including pulling, lifting, traversing of materials, as well as personnel lifting “Our technology is used both onshore and offshore—driven by electric, hydraulic or pneumatic power sources—and key demands from customers at the moment are the integration of safety features, in particular for personnel lifting.”

Based in Voorhout, about 40km southwest of Amsterdam, Emcé has just launched a “special compact winch” for cable pull-in operations, which can be used in the offshore wind turbine sector and also in a safe zone (non-ATEX) in the oil and gas industry.

“The winch offers a safe solution for operations that can often be quite unsafe,” adds van Zaanen. “It was recently launched at the Offshore Energy Exhibition in Amsterdam and was also on display at the Europort trade fair in Rotterdam. There has been a lot of interest so far and we are expecting results from customers soon.”

The company’s most popular products in the oil and gas sector are its 1–15t pneumatic winches for lifting and manriding. “We are an agile company that’s able to offer fast feedback and a competitive proposal to customers with short delivery time,” notes van Zaanen.

“Our offshore winches are usually more compact and provided with a higher standard of coating—compared to onshore versions— to be more durable in a tough environment, while these products are also sold with a greater level of spares and certificates.”

Another company that stresses the custom-built nature of its lifting technology is Austrian knuckleboom and marine crane manufacturer Palfinger. “Our cranes are usually tailor-made based on customer requests,” says Florian Hoffmann, product owner for marine cranes at the company, which is headquartered in Salzburg.

In the oil and gas sector, the company supplies winches that are used for submersing underwater production facilities, although it is able to meet a wide array of customer demands, selling products to markets as diverse as offshore wind and the aquatic salmon farming industry.

“Winches installed on our cranes are primarily used as a lifting tool and their key features depend largely on the type of final application,” explains Hoffmann. “Whilst some clients demand the highest reliability over many years of operation, others may expect high working speed, to maximise capacity.

“The benefits of our winches also depend on what our customer requires. This could be a large hoisting capacity, very fast hoisting speeds, constant tensioning, or active heave compensation.”

In terms of the difference between offshore and onshore winches, like Emcé, Palfinger says that the size of a winch may change, dependent on application, while paint levels and corrosion protection will be higher for an offshore product.

“Due to the merger of Palfinger Marine and Harding Safety and the weak marine, oil and gas market in the last years, we have focused our efforts on creating new internal standards and tools, rather than launching a new product line during this time,” continues Hoffmann.

“However we have recently been preparing to launch a new generation of marine and offshore cranes, which will be released continuously over the next few years.”

Current projects for the company include work for an offshore German customer, which has installed a winch that features functionality for shallow water cable laying. According to Palfinger, the winch is used to actively maintain the tension of the subsea cable and absorb wave motion, which cannot be handled by the installed passive cable tensioners.

“To achieve this functionality, we include a rope force measurement, position monitoring and a motion compensation control system,” notes Hoffmann.

“When the system is activated by the operator, the measured cable tension is held constant by small movements of the winch drum that compensate external factors and prevent the valuable subsea cable from snapping.” A HELPING HAND

As well as the array of powered winches available, companies like The Netherlands-based Gebuwin supply hand-operated winches used in the oil and gas sector.

“Our hand winches are primarily used as a hoisting and pulling tool for low frequency use: either for maintenance or in an emergency,” says Alan Siertsema, project manager at Gebuwin, which sells about a quarter of its winches to the oil and gas market.

As well as being of high quality, Siertsema claims that its hand-operated winches are more affordable than electric alternatives, while all of the company’s products have a minimum safety factor of four and are designed robustly to ensure “very low” maintenance costs.

“All of our winches have been designed and manufactured in The Netherlands for the past 70 years,” adds Siertsema. “This experience has been used to perfect the design of our winches. With this knowledge, we are the only manufacturer that offers hand winches up to 7.5t.

“We have a strong and flexible engineering team that makes it possible to custom-build a manual winch for any application, whilst keeping high product quality.”

The company has designed a hand winch especially for the offshore industry, called Marine, which offers three types of capacity and is constructed with a fully covered gearing (IP 54) to cope with the challenges of an environment at sea.

“The cable drum, the crank and all outgoing shafts are made of high quality 316 stainless steel, while all fasteners are also A4 quality stainless steel,” says Siertsema. The surface treatment of the steel housing is also said to comply with stringent C5M paint specifications according to DIN/ISO 12944.

Gebuwin recently supplied eight of its Marine hand winches with a load capacity of 1,500kg to a company in Rotterdam harbour that will be used for a water purification plant, while the addition of ATEX certification for this winch makes it suitable for the oil and gas industry. “The Marine winches are a perfect solution to the demands of an offshore environment,” notes Siertsema.

RENT OR BUY?

One company offering the option to customers to hire rather than purchase its technology is Rotrex Winches.

Based in Derbyshire, UK, its operations manager Don Wilkinson says that the company supplies winches to the offshore sector for a wide range of applications, including oil riser and umbilical pull-ins, subsea structure deployment and recovery, platform and vessel structure operations, and deck management.

“We also make onshore winches for underground cable pulls, overhead line stringing, pipe pulling and man-riding,” says Wilkinson. “Our product range offers solutions for all winching applications and requirements, using different power source options such as electric or diesel.” Other benefits of the company’s winches are said to be smooth, infinite control, which is vital for installation pull-in projects, while they feature a robust build quality to withstand harsh offshore environments. “Customer requirements are

determined by the nature of the project, but typical key features demanded include quality and reliability, a compact footprint size, and winch line pull capability,” explains Wilkinson.

“Winch wire rope storage capacity, line speed—both fast and slow depending on application—and safe or hazardous area suitability are also key considerations for our clients.”

The company says there are no major differences between its onshore and offshore winches, except that onshore versions are typically trailer mounted for towing around sites and roads, while offshore variants are usually bolted or welded to a sacrificial base.

Recent key offshore oil and gas projects for the company include the installation of a total of five winches—for three riser pull-ins and two fibre optic umbilical pull-ins—at a facility off the coast of West Africa.

Rotrex additionally recently supported a major oil producer at an offshore site in northern Europe: installing its NE200 winch, which was used to complete two riser pull-ins and a riser ladder pull-in, while the company also supplied its HB40 winch for two complete umbilical pull-ins at a customer’s offshore facility in the North Sea.

THE MOST IMPORTANT ASSET

Moving employees on an oil or gas rig may well be considered the most important job of a winch system. In this product area, Ingersoll Rand offers its dedicated Man Rider winch, said to be specifically designed to lift people safely in the oil and gas industry.

“Our Man Rider winches help you protect your most important asset, your people,” says the company, whose technology includes features such as emergency lowering, slack line prevention and redundant braking systems.

Ingersoll Rand says that it has supplied thousands of its Man Rider product to drilling companies around the world for use in “the most extreme production environments”.

“Our winches are used in a variety of applications across different markets,” adds Jennifer Eckert, global product manager at Ingersoll Rand Material Handling.

“Their primary use is in the onshore and offshore oil and gas markets for lifting assets or people onto rigs. We also offer a line of utility winches to help lift everything from tools to pipe on the rig.”

Currently, the company says that its customers are looking for safe and reliable products that can endure the harsh conditions surrounding many oil and gas facilities.

“For utility lifting applications, line speed can also be important as this directly impacts productivity,” notes Eckert. “For man-riding applications, safety is most critical. Rig operators want to ensure that the winch has all the necessary safety features, such as overload detection, redundant brakes, emergency stops and emergency lowering systems to help ensure their personnel stay safe on the job.”

With data retrieval and analysis tools playing an increasingly important role at both onshore and offshore facilities, Eckert believes that businesses are additionally looking for ways to have smarter equipment and collect more data to predict failures before they happen.

“While this trend has not fully hit more commoditised products like winches, as Internet of Things (IoT) capabilities expand, equipment with these features will become even more valuable,” she confirms.

As well as offering functionality and safety benefits, Eckert says that customers also profit from the company’s knowledgeable and accessible global service and support network.

“This is helpful for our clients as we can assist them in creating a specially designed product, or find a local authorised service partner for emergency repairs or lifecycle maintenance,” she continues.

“In the current market conditions, where many companies are looking to get old equipment back online, Ingersoll Rand parts support, combined with global authorised service distributors, can help a business do that much faster.”

While the company’s offshore winches are primarily pneumatic, its latest line of onshore winches are hydraulic. “This is driven by the different customer needs in an offshore versus onshore rig,” explains Eckert. “The offshore winches also offer a variety of features like marine grade paint, DNV and ABS certifications and CE compliance due to the global nature of that market and the ability for one rig to move from one region to another throughout its operation.”

Since Ingersoll Rand’s onshore winches are primarily used in the North American market, many of these features and certifications do not apply. “Our onshore winches offer a smaller footprint to help accommodate the small drill floors typical of onshore rigs,” says Eckert.

Last summer, the company launched its Hydraulic Force Series of utility winches for onshore rig manufacturers and operators in North America. The winches, which are said to offer simple plug-andplay installation, support material handling needs from lifting equipment, to racking and stacking pipe.

“In the past, rig builders had to source controllers, drum guards and other accessories from multiple third-parties to create an effective utility lifting solution,” explains Eckert. “Throughout that process, equipment gets adapted, which potentially compromises the system integrity. The end-product is never tested as a whole system, leaving its safety in question.

The Hydraulic Force Series winches give onshore rig operators and manufacturers peace of mind knowing that their winch system has been fully tested by Ingersoll Rand in the final configuration they need it to operate in.”

Currently, the winches are available in capacities ranging from 1,000–8,000lb (453–3,629kg) and all models come equipped with a variety of control options and a wireless-compatible interface. The 8,000 and 12,000lb winches can additionally be configured to include tested gear controls, hydraulic gear motors, rope guides and press rollers, drum guards, a pedestal base, and a multi-disk brake.

SPECIFIC SOLUTIONS

While some manufacturers offer both offshore and onshore winches to the oil and gas sector, French supplier Verlinde boasts an offshore lifting equipment range designed especially for use in a maritime environment.

The range includes an array of lifting equipment together with their components: jib cranes, electric chain and wire rope hoists, winches, and overhead crane components.

According to the company, its equipment is made from very tough but light materials, with simplified maintenance procedures for operators. “Made of non-corrosive materials,

protection is enhanced by additional powder coatings (epoxy, polyester or epoxy-polyester) specific to maritime environments, an aluminium oxide ceramic coating or a combination of both,” explains the company. Much of the equipment is also available as EX ATEX compliant, although its non-ATEX products could also be used in safe zones in the oil and gas sector.

Based about 90km west of Paris, Verlinde offers both manual and electric winches, including its MV-ME manual winch that can be operated up to 3,000kg and features encased mechanicals parts, an automatic brake, and an adjustable and dismountable crank.

In addition, the company’s MT manual winch is said to be suitable for smaller loads up to 300kg, with an easy to wind operation, ergonomically shaped crank, and large rope release range.

The Netherlands-based Gebuwin offers both hand-operated and electric winches to the oil and gas sector, including a recently launched Marine product that is constructed with a fully covered gearing (IP 54) to cope with the challenges of an environment at sea.
Ingersoll Rand’s Hydraulic Force Series of utility winches for onshore operations in North America are designed to offer simple plug-andplay installation and support material handling needs from lifting equipment, to racking and stacking pipe
Winches installed on Palfinger cranes are primarily used as a lifting tool, with their key features depending largely on the type of final application.
Emcé has developed a ‘special compact winch’ for cable pull-in operations, which can be used in a safe zone (non ATEX) in the oil and gas industry.