Texas takes center stage with its operational CLEANWELL® R&D line offering a dopefree solution to North American operators. Vallourec’s multidisciplinary teams in the US and France collaborated on this project, helping bring the R&D line to the Houston area. We talk with three experts – Alexandre Antoine, Danielle Baker and Fabrice Maerten – to find out how this collaborative effort came to fruition.
Health and safety are top-of-mind for North American oil and gas producers, and some are seeking alternatives to lead-based dope in their connections. Many customers around the world have chosen Vallourec’s dopefree solution CLEANWELL®, which uses metallic plating and polymer coating to achieve safer, reliable and more efficient rig and yard operations compared to running compounds. However, growing demand presented Vallourec with a manufacturing challenge: how to quickly scale up local production, rather than shipping connections across the Atlantic?
Following a similar project completed by the Vallourec Research Center France (VRCF) in 2020, teams in France and the US collaborated to launch a US-based CLEANWELL® R&D line.
The VRCF was ready to share our experience with the Houston teamAlexandre Antoine R&D Project Manager at VRCF
“We were in constant contact with our American counterparts – no small feat, given the ongoing disruptions from COVID-19. I was even able to travel to the US to discuss the chemistry required for the CLEANWELL® process with my North American colleagues. This was more direct and easier than doing it remotely.”
Due to the scope of the project, online communication was also crucial to ensure everyone was on the same page. Experts in Europe and North America held regular meetings via Teams, coordinating the project among VAM USA, VRCC (Vallourec Research Center Connections), VAM TCC (Threading Competence Center) and VOGFR (Vallourec Oil & Gas France) experts.
“But one of the heroes of the story is Bianka Majchrowicz, our CAPEX manager,” Alexandre notes. “She spent three months in Aulnoye-Aymeries with the VRCF, R&D and VAM TCC teams learning to set up and operate the machines needed to scale up production in Houston. Then she brought that knowledge to her American colleagues, despite the ongoing pandemic.”
Once the machinery arrived in Houston, the US team began integrating the equipment into their day-to-day routine. This involved overcoming new challenges, such as adapting the production line to local client needs, prioritizing US sizes and product preferences. “In France, most clients want VAM® 21 connections,” says Danielle Baker, R&D Project Engineer at VAM USA.
But in the US, VAM® SLIJ-3 is the preferred option on casing sizes, so the Houston line had to qualify different products than in Aulnoye-Aymeries.Danielle Baker R&D Project Engineer at VAM USA
The team also had to develop and coordinate the supply chain for the new CLEANWELL® line, managing local suppliers and new processes. “One of our major questions was how to access the different chemicals required for testing and qualification,” Danielle says. “We started doing in-house chemical management and provided our production experts with new technology for chemical control. Eventually, we even plan on introducing the use of high-performance liquid chromatography to improve quality control for organic compounds.”
The main purpose of the R&D line is to manufacture samples as part of the CLEANWELL® development project that is focused on products for the Gulf of Mexico. It will also qualify these products for North American operators before they can approve the products and place orders on the upcoming production line. Product tests, which use real-life conditions, have shown strong results, enabling the Houston team to plan the qualification of several sizes of VAM® SLIJ-3. “It is a promising start in unlocking the full potential of CLEANWELL®,” Danielle says, “and a key jumping off point for other teams worldwide.”
This R&D line has joined the growing ranks of collaborative, interdisciplinary Vallourec projects, helping foster a shared community of excellence. “The ability to pool knowledge across continents is invaluable,” says Fabrice Maerten, Industrialization Project Manager at VAM TCC.
Each individual brings specific expertise and know-how to the table, helping us improve processes and develop better solutions. Our collective expertise in product and process validation will be central to the project as several new sizes will be tested in the coming months.Fabrice Maerten Industrialization Project Manager at VAM TCC
The professional bonds between the teams will also be crucial to the next stage of the CLEANWELL® program: developing the industrial line. France-based engineering teams will develop the core processes for the line, due to launch soon, as part of the CAPEX project managed by Vallourec USA.
Through these combined efforts, Vallourec will develop a mass production line that can manufacture full length joints for Gulf of Mexico wells. “Once launched, the industrial line will be capable of delivering large volumes of tubulars. Indeed, by 2024, thousands of joints could be delivered per year,” Fabrice says. “This will enable Vallourec to achieve key production objectives in North America.”
The launch of this new, US-based R&D line is an excellent opportunity to demonstrate Vallourec’s global reach and offers a promising outlook for future cooperative efforts. “My team and I have already started building a training package for all mills producing CLEANWELL® products,” Fabrice concludes. “Thanks to previous and ongoing collaborations, I have every confidence that we will have a smooth rollout worldwide.”
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