As we switch on our showers and gas ovens, it is easy to forget the effort that goes into producing this vital resource. In recent years much has been made of the political issues regarding the transportation of gas, via pipelines, across international borders.
The once easily obtainable resources from the North Sea have been replaced by gas and oil fields in areas like Siberia and consequently costs have increased. One company always striving for new ways to find alternative resources in the deeper oceans is Dutch-based Escher Process Modules.
“Escher is a leading global process technology house and as such, we are the designer, contractor and supplier of process modules, process package units and flare systems for the oil, gas and petrochemical industries,” the company announced.
“The key challenge our customers face today is still the effort and cost of gas exploration and production and today there is a focus on gas exploration as a standalone product, whereas before gas would be found during oil exploration.
“At present we drill for gas in areas like Siberia in order to fulfil consumer needs and there is a tremendous drive for import. However, we’ve seen the problems this can bring with costs and reliability and we need new ways to obtain gas in deeper sea which requires new technologies and that is where Escher comes into the equation.”
Innovation and evolution have been bywords for Escher since 1925 and recent activities have simply carried on the tradition. Escher was founded by Anne Escher, nephew of the famous graphic artist M.C. Escher; who built mechanical gas furnaces for industrial bread baking. In due course the company started to supply steel products and began to specialise in electric arc welding – a skill that culminated in the production of the first electric-welded hanging bridge in The Hague.
By the 1940s the company had opened a new workshop in The Hague and begun to produce specialised equipment for the petrochemical industry and a decade later, in partnership with Seamore Oil and Gas Processing (Nederland), started to engineer and contract on turnkey process plants designed for gas dehydration.
“Around that time the big petrochemical companies had set-up in the Rotterdam area and we started to manufacture pressure vessels and heat exchange equipment and became renowned as a real fabrication workshop company,” the company stated. “Growth in the 1990s saw us acquire Seamore in 1997, adding gas dehydration and glycol regeneration technology to our range of services. We moved to Papendrecht and a site that gave us access to the open seas and bigger scope for a much bigger workshop.”
As the company’s capabilities expanded, so did its global reach and in 2003 Escher was restructured to form Escher Process Equipment. Following the 2007 purchase of the business by Iv-Groep, a new management team came into the fold, to oversee the globalisation of the Escher brand name.
“Once the company had joined the Iv-Groep of engineering expertise, the first focus was on investment in technology,” the company said. “Escher already had a strong reputation worldwide with the big oil and gas companies but our task was to enable to transition from fabrication to process technology house and to create an engineering and contracting company.
“We felt that to be the best you have to talk to the oil and gas companies and the leading universities to discover who the best young engineering prospects are. We did this and brought new blood into our company to help establish our research and development for flare systems.
“Training is a continuous process and we review a raft of feasible ideas of which maybe a third will prove financially viable. There is constant on the job training and we fly our people around the world to speak with our clients and learn about their operational issues, whether that is a BP site in the Caspian Sea of a Shell site near Aberdeen. The investment has paid off though and since last year we have been the leader in the area of flares when it comes to technology,” the company continued.
Consequently the company was selected by BP for its gas dehydration technology and has relationships with oil and gas companies around the world including Shell, Huntsman and Kuwait Oil.
The last of those names hints at a reason behind Escher’s opening of a subsidiary in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, earlier this year; “Within the Europe Zone there is freedom of labour but we also needed a focus on the Middle East and Far East and local know-how to a high level. We can undertake basic engineering and technology in the Netherlands but wanted a closer relationship with our clients in that part of the world.
“We have fifteen engineers there and our aim is to strengthen that office over the coming months; the cost will be absorbed within the Iv-Groep and we are confident that we will see a return on that investment by the end of this year,” the company told us.
With a commitment to R&D (last year the company spent in excess of five million euros), the danger is always that quality is lost at the production stage. However, the company dispelled any fears indicating that Escher sets targets that exceed ISO standards; “Quality to us is when you meet client satisfaction and we always measure our on-time delivery performance (which requires a focus on each engineering document) and we measure all of the changes on every engineering project. Safety of course is another area we measure (including in the design phase) and we also set quality control measurements.”
The company suggested that the future will continue to throw up new challenges: “Each project we work on is different, with different gas composition and each facility needs a different safeguarding system. There are new requirements within the oil and gas industries, very focussed on reducing emissions and renewable – they require adaptation of existing technologies so it is essential that we work with the end users to help achieve the best outcome for them.”