TESTING WITH INTELLIGENCE

Jim Latto

Giving Clients complete confidence

Jim Latto is Senior Program Manager for Flexible Pipe Systems product development in the Oilfield Equipment (OFE) division at Baker Hughes, a GE company and the world’s only provider of fullstream oil & gas production design, manufacturing and support services.

Based principally at BHGE’s innovation and manufacturing centres in Newcastle, he also spends part of his working life at the multinational’s research and innovation centres in Rio de Janeiro, New York and Houston. But when he needs fast-track testing on new and bespoke equipment for BHGE’s global oil & gas markets, he turns to Hexham, and RED Engineering.

“During the past decade, RED has done a lot of design work on machinery and pipeline innovations for BHGE, but I think we were the first company to commission them to undertake testing on a critical item they had not actually designed and developed themselves. That was six years ago. We needed to design bespoke test rigs to test flexible subsea pipe performance, and we decided that we would achieve greater efficiencies by commissioning them to do it for us. They have been testing consistently for us ever since, providing a great benefit to our product development process.”

Jim Latto of Baker Hughes GE – one of a growing number of companies relying on RED to give them a tried and tested assurance of success in critical product development and design innovation.

BHGE relies on RED to test the new technology on which their own success depends because they know that RED will deliver.

Why RED?

“We knew the engineers who established RED Engineering, and we liked them and their approach. They are genuinely creative and innovative, and they think outside the box. Traditionally, inhouse engineers have to balance their effort to maintain the operational rhythm of the business whilst also pushing the boundaries of new and innovative solutions to prove performance in extreme testing regimes. As an independent, outsourced consultancy, RED have the freedom and incentive to use their creativity and to go beyond the norm to achieve better outcomes. They allow me to test beyond the constraints that would be experienced within my own organisation.”

The benefits of outsourcing testing to RED are well worth the cost, he confirms, many times over.

“The quality and creativity of the testing RED carries out for us does not come cheap, but when you look at the whole lifecycle cost of the work they do it makes complete commercial sense whichever way you view it. We’re buying into a level of expertise and quality that would cost many times more for us to establish inhouse, and along with the expertise we get the knowledge advantage of their experience in other industries, faster reaction time, flexibility, and their commitment to go the extra mile to help us achieve the best possible outcomes.”

In fact, says Jim Latto, the relationship that BHGE has established with RED over many years makes them more or less a permanent part of the development team.

“We’ve invested in embedding capability in RED to the extent that they have almost become part of our business, but without the cost of setting this up inhouse. We work with RED very closely, our engineers work with theirs in design and testing, and two of our own test technicians are currently working alongside RED at their facility installing high pressure pipework on a test rig RED is building for us. They have some of the best engineers working in our sector, they understand fully what we want, and they understand the oil & gas sector we operate in and the practical demands on the materials and equipment they test for us. And they’re also incubating the next generation of top level talent who can help push the boundaries even further in the future.”

BHGE relies on RED to test the new technology on which their own success depends because they know that RED will deliver.

“We’re designing and manufacturing critical equipment that has to be capable of maintaining faultless performance in the most demanding conditions over an indefinite lifecycle. Any mistake or weakness designed into a subsea pipeline now could mean a major oil spill in ten or twenty years’ time. So we have to have absolute confidence that the testing RED carries out on our behalf will give us the assurance we need to pass on to our customers, and we trust them to give us that assurance, absolutely.”

There’s testing. And then there’s RED Testing

“Testing has a key role in the world of engineering,” says RED’s Business Developer, Brian Valentine. “A lot of it is testing to establish compliance with standards, and at that level it tends to be standardised or formulaic. It’s carried out by technicians on standardised test rigs to standard parameters, and it produces data but very little analysis, and certainly no recommendations for how a failure might be overcome or a product improved.”

“What we’re offering is a much more fundamental approach to testing the performance of complex  designs or equipment, and our service starts with questions: What is the objective? How should we test to achieve the client’s objectives as quickly as possible and add value to this process? Then we can develop appropriate test procedures and provide bespoke test rigs and ‘operational environments’ that allow clients to prove the performance of unique equipment right at the extreme limits of performance.”

Testing by design

That makes for a key difference in the RED approach to testing, says Steve Pocock. A former merchant navy engineering officer with a first class masters degree in mechanical engineering, Steve manages RED’s test facility and oversees the full range of concept, product qualification and lifecycle testing for the many client companies now coming to RED from every sector.

RED’s approach to testing is engineering-lead. For most of our projects, we’re testing complex new designs that are a critical element in a major project or product, so we set unique testing specifications and create unique test rigs to give the client the confidence that the equipment is going to work effectively.

“RED doesn’t have ‘standard’ test rigs. Because we understand the practical requirements and challenges of engineering in our clients’ industries, we can start by helping them to define exactly what the testing needs to achieve. The objectives can often be different to the client’s first assumptions, so that’s a big benefit to make sure the test is relevant to the ultimate purpose. Then we can either assemble a suitable rig from existing test hardware or build a test rig from scratch.”

The testing process is also engineer-lead. “At other test facilities, a lot of testing is carried out by technicians who understand the testing processes required to measure performance against the set criteria for meeting standards. The entire testing procedure here at RED is led by engineers, from writing the test specifications to analysing the resulting data.”

“Our test facilities are an integral part of the RED operation, so if the test results are not as expected or a component does not perform as expected, we can bring all our engineering experience and creativity to bear immediately to assess what the issues maybe, improve the design and provide a solution that works.”

When something passes the RED test, our client can have the confidence they need that it is going to work properly when it really matters, and for as long as they expect it to.

Cost benefits

The costs of practical testing are inevitably higher than theoretical modelling, but they are only a fraction of the cost of a design or component failure during a project or process whose overall costs can run into the hundreds of millions of pounds.

“That’s the fundamental bottom line,” says Steve Pocock. “Industries that need to introduce new technology to push the boundaries of performance need innovative thinking, but they also need the best possible assurance of success. That’s what RED testing is designed to do. We test to identify the potential for failure, but we also test to find the best way for our clients to move from failure to guaranteed success.

“When something passes the RED test, our client can have the confidence they need that it is going to work properly when it really matters, and for as long as they expect it to.”

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