Mini-models steal the show at Houston’s OTC

By Allan Turner

Sometimes a model is worth a thousand words — and Houston’s four-day off-shore technology extravaganza at NRG Park is one of those times.

With hundreds of vendors vying for attention at the 45th annual Offshore Technology Conference, colorful models of oil industry vessels, platforms and equipment, some of them the size of a small car and costing thousands of dollars, arguably can start a conversation that ends in a sale.

“This is the largest pipe-laying ship in the world,” says Michael Gatling,pointing out the finer points of the ENI Saipem “Castorone.”  “It’s about three football fields long. The load of pipe is welded onboard the vessel and then laid out in one continuous stream.

The ship was used in two recent Gulf of Mexico projects — Chevron’s Big Foot and the Jack/St. Malo.

The model, only about three feet long, is an eye-catcher with its sinuous curves and polychromatic charm. Oddly, the stationary models — a few having moving parts — seem effective promotion devices simply because they are basic — a bit of calm in 350,000 square foot exhibition hall filled with video screens and high-tech hubbub.

Sharing Italy-based ENI Saipem’s booth are half a dozen other models — many constructed by specialty firms in Italy and Singapore.  Enclosed in a glass case nearby is the FCS2 ship, designed for field development and pipe laying in the North Sea.

Around the corner is the Saipem 7000 crane vessel, a sunset-hued assemblage of plastic and metal the size of a small refrigerator. The real one is more than 200 yards long and can house 725 crew members. It’s crane can hoist 14,000 tons.

At the Siemens exhibit, a four-foot-tall model of a jack-up rig is a center of attention. But it’s not the rig’s structure that’s the star of the show, it’s the company’s CJ46 rack and pinon jacking system.

“See those little blue things?” says Siemen’s Erik Van Hagenaar, pointing out the tiny CJ46es at the structure’s base.  The impact is like highlighting the toenails on an elephant, but, of course, there’s little doubt that the device that does the jacking is key to a jack-up rig.

Siemens’ product offers a variable speed electric drive.

The formidable “North Dragon,” a mid-water, semi-submersible drilling rig with oversized red pontoons holds pride of place at China-based  CIMC Raffles’ exhibit.  Staffer Richard Zhou explains that the rig is designed for use in extreme climatic settings.

“There are three operating now in the North Sea,” Zhou says.  A fourth will be in place this fall.

Well Equipment International offers another cold-weather rig, designed to operate in Russian waters at temperatures of minus 40 C.  Even the rig’s model, a seven-foot-fall gray, white and red construction, looks tough.

A model at Cavotec’s booth, depicts in miniature the company’s cable management drag chain.  The device resembles an earth-moving machine’s caterpillar tread, within which reside lengths of electrical cables.

On the model — as on the real machine — the treads move in tandem with a moving rig.  “It protects the cables,” says Cavotec’s Brian Compton.  “You don’t have cables laying around on the ground.”

Another moving model is the star of IMECA Reel-SAS’s exhibit. In real field, the device features 23-meter diameter reel of steel pipe which threads  through a 51-meter boom, which straightens and aligns the pipe before feeding it onto the ocean floor.

The model represents in miniature a process of mechanical acrobatics as the  boom, at one end of the vessel, bends to meet the pipe reel at the other. Company representative Amelia Babin said five of the vessels currently are in use; three more soon will be launched.