Innovation for horizontal/made to measure

November 1, 2013

Another new product is the QuickPORT V. With this system, which is designed for QuickFRAC, an operator can do two to five stages at a time, with greater frequency along the drill stem.

An option with QuickPort V is that at a later date, an operator can return to close off a designated section of the well.

Smart Tools
A third new product coming from Packers — described by Themig as futuristic — does not have conventional ball seats, but, instead, involves a dart system with magnetic counting ability, which is electronically actuated. “It’s the first in a line of smart tools with downhole electronics,” he says.

Made to measure
A new plant that Packers Plus Energy Services Inc. just opened in Edmonton could prove something of a model for manufacturing facilities of the future, especially in high-cost environments like Alberta.

The 230,000-square-foot MX Manufacturing Centre consolidates the activities housed in two former outlets. One, at 120,000 square feet, was used for manual assembly, testing and warehousing, and also included offices. Robotic assembly of the company’s main product lines like packers and ports was done at a smaller facility located about 15 minutes away.

Now under one roof, the MX Manufacturing Centre is Packers’ biggest plant, employing more than 200 people. Opened in September, it is capable of assembling about 180,000 tools per year, based on a five-day work week with perhaps overtime.

Besides what it calls the first robotic assembly of its type in the world and a proprietary tracing process that can pinpoint the exact source on a worldwide basis of any Packers Plus tool or, indeed, any of its components, the plant includes an automated storage and retrieval system that occupies barely a quarter of the floor space of an equivalent traditional warehousing operation.

“When we looked at future growth, we figured as much as 60 per cent of the floor space would have been taken up by [using] standard 18-foot racking. Instead, we have racks that are 60 feet high,” says Marlon Leggott, director of manufacturing at Packers. The result is that just 15 per cent of the floor space is used for warehousing.

The way Leggott describes it, the facility’s automated storage and retrieval system, which holds up to 20,000 tonnes, operates with robotic precision and efficiency under the roof of a 20-metre-high bay. The storage process begins in earnest when the racking system scans the barcode on a pallet loaded with product from the factory.

“That tells you what’s in it. The info goes to a PLC [programmable logic controller] that decides where [the product] is stored. Next, a forklift loads the pallet onto a conveyor, which then takes it to a stop point, and a crane on a track then takes it to its specific storage location,” he says.

Retrieval is simple — a worker just keys in product identification data and “the system gets it for you.” Leggott adds that inventory management is built into the racking system.

The new plant expands the company’s manufacturing capacity in Edmonton and is clearly more than the sum of its two previous parts. It is designed to increase production dramatically, when needed, according to Dan Themig, company president and chief executive officer. In conjunction with the company’s Houston plant, the Edmonton plant provides equipment for all Packers operations anywhere in the world.

The plant’s capacity, however, in common with many such assembly operations and factories today, depends on an extensive network of machine shops and other suppliers, with a great deal of the machining, manufacturing and fabrication done in ships across the country.

“We design all the tools, but source our raw materials from different mills and send materials and steel to about 60 different machine stops—from Vancouver to Quebec. A majority are here, but there are different capabilities, depending on the shop,” Leggott says.

Once the manufactured parts, components and products arrive from the shops, dimensional inspection is done with the deployment of a variety of coordinate measuring machines. Leggott says that a robotic device checks to tolerances of 1/10,000 of an inch. Parts are then stored prior to assembly.

Further checks are done once the tools have been assembled. They go to a testing station unit to verify the functionality of the tools. Either manual or automated torque testing is also done, depending on product requirements.

Leggott says that the new centre’s level of automation enables higher production volumes and better quality control. As for the overall costs of operating an Alberta-based plant of this type, he says, “There are a lot of steel suppliers here. It’s possible to get good machining at a very good price if you’re set up properly.”