Making a strategic move

The oil and gas industry has undergone substantive change in recent years, as any industry pundit will know. What can sometimes be less well documented are the major strategic changes that some companies within the sector have implemented to adapt, and in some cases, thrive. Take for example the efforts of Plexus, an established oil and gas engineering and service business, well known for its patented POS-GRIP® Wellhead System, which has been used on more than 300 wells worldwide to date. Plexus’ POS-GRIP technology offers enhanced safety and operational features, time savings, and delivers a true metal-to-metal gas-proof seal based on real and verifiable science.

“Following the oil and gas price crash of 2015, our business underwent something of a transformation. This was led by the fact that at the time, we were completely focused on delivering POS-GRIP wellheads and equipment for high pressure/high temperature applications for the jack-up exploration rental market, which effectively came to a screeching halt,” explains Plexus’ founder and Chief Executive, Ben van Bilderbeek. “With a need to reinvent ourselves, we began to engage with one of our competitors, TechnipFMC, and after a number of months of them assessing our rental business and technology, they agreed to the purchase of this business unit which was completed in February 2018. This transaction significantly enhanced the profile of Plexus and our proprietary technology.”

Since then, Plexus has turned its attention towards opening up new markets, in particular the surface production wellhead and subsea sectors. “There have been a number of silver linings that have arisen from our arrangement with TechnipFMC, with one of the main ones being that it has allowed us to move away from serving a niche market sector measured in the hundreds of millions of dollars into a much larger global market measured in the billions,” Ben continues. “Importantly for Plexus, the world has been moving away from coal and oil, to natural gas as the emergent hydrocarbon of choice. At the same time, there is now a much greater focus on technology and performance requirements for a whole range of equipment, including production wellheads. This is driven by ever growing environmental concerns related to emissions and their impact on climate change. This has a direct impact on the approach to drilling for and supply of gas, as the containment of natural gas leaks and in particular methane, which is approximately 87 times more damaging to the environment to CO2 is crucial.”

Plexus’ special POS-GRIP, HG® metal-to-metal, seal technology is scientifically proven to be such a ‘gas proof’ solution for gas wellheads. ‘HG’ (Hot-Gas) seals consist of integral radiused seal bumps, that interact directly with the wellhead bore, minimising leak paths by eliminating the need for separate sealing components. A high amount of preload, delivered by external squeezing of the wellhead housing, achieves simultaneous horizontal actuation of multiple metal annular seals, which act over a long interface area to calibrated levels of stress, incorporating elements of Hertzian Stress Theory. Once energised, POS-GRIP load-rings eliminate axial movement at the seal interface, rendering POS-GRIP wellheads ‘gas-proof’ and ‘maintenance-free’, over the life-cycle of a well. The option to match materials at the seal interface can prevent bi-metallic corrosion, and the use of multiple seals allows management of chemical degradation.

Designed to raise wellhead standards to the level of premium tubular couplings, POS-GRIP seals overcome the shortcomings associated with conventional sealing technologies, which often lead to the need for expensive life-cycle maintenance fixes, which themselves are not guaranteed to last for long.

“With our products, what the end user gets is a completely rigid, secure seal solution which, if left undisturbed, we are willing to guarantee to be gas proof for the life of the field in question. This is a promise that few, if any, other companies can make,” Ben proclaims. “We are also confident that when it comes to any application where long life is critical – such as geothermal or gas storage, our POS-GRIP technology offers a better long-term solution than anything else available.”

Plexus has also taken the opportunity to qualify its technology to a higher standard than that required by API, which is a move Plexus is confident will appeal to the major oil and gas operators that are under increasing pressure from a number of activists, including shareholders to adopt the highest of standards. “We are most definitely seeing a trend emerging where the industry is seeking out the best possible solutions for many of the higher profile projects in the pipeline,” Ben confirms. “As a result, Plexus is finding itself included in major tenders which puts it in competition with multi-billion dollar oil services corporations, and that is not only an excellent barometer of the amazing technology we have at our disposal, but also gives us an excellent platform on which to penetrate the market further.”

Another measure of the company’s progress came in early March 2019, when it announced that its Russian licensee Gusar – which has permission to manufacture and rent Plexus’ exploration wellhead equipment for jack-up exploration in Russia and the CIS region – had secured its first major contract to supply Plexus’ gas exploration equipment to Gazprom, the world’s largest gas company. “The contract covers the first year of a jackup exploration drilling campaign in the shallow water Kara Sea Shelf in the Arctic, an area of high environmental sensitivity,” Ben details. “We are very pleased that our technology has been proven to all parties to be the best for use in such an environment, and we believe that this is the least that the Arctic deserves in this regard!

“We also know that Gazprom has plans for many more major projects beyond that involving Arctic shallow water drilling, and that they consume a huge amount of surface production wellheads. We are confident that this contract will prove to be a means of building even greater confidence between Gusar and Gazprom, forged on the superior technology that Plexus has developed, and that means the sky really is the limit as far as where this relationship could go.”

Looking to the medium-to-long-term future, Ben has a strong desire to see the business trading as a strong, profitable entity within the next two-to-three years, supplying production wellhead equipment and in due course Christmas trees using POS-GRIP technology on a global scale. “We have already begun to make our mark on the industry, and we look forward to working with more and more companies that are seeking a different approach to metal sealing technology which is gas proof, maintenance free and guaranteed to perform throughout the total life cycle of a well,” Ben enthuses. “We believe we have some real magic to contribute when it comes to our technology, and we have designs on offering this technology across the board, whether it be for surface, subsea, shallow water or deep water applications in the years to come!”

Plexus plc
Services: Engineering wellhead solutions