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CNCs allow shop to bring subcontracted oil field work inside. (Machining/Turning Centers).

Middle East, and the ongoing war on terrorism have recently brought to the fore America's need to curb its reliance on foreign oil. As a result, domestic oil production and exploration are on the rise.

Historically, increases in oil exploration and production generate increased demand for machining. Many machine shops in oil-producing states are already reaping the benefits of the current boom. This is clearly evident in Louisiana, where a high percentage of machine shops are involved in oil field work.

Louisiana is the third largest producer of petroleum in the U.S., and ranks third in refining. Much of the state's oil production comes from the Gulf of Mexico, which is one of the most fertile offshore fields in the world.

For Advance Manufacturing Technology, Inc. (AMT), in Lake Charles, near the western border of Louisiana, about 98% of their work is oil field related. "We used to do more work for the refineries," says owner Brian Leeth, "but we really don't call on them any more. We do more manufacturing now -- blowout preventers, pack-off equipment, a lot of pressure equipment -- and we build the accessory tools for different parts of the oil field, such as sub-sea equipment for deep water drilling."

AMT started in 1987 as a fully manual shop, but began buying CNC machines around a year later. Since much of oil field machining is tubing work, their first CNCs were lathes with large through-holes -- they bought a 5.25"-hole Leblond at auction, and later a 9"-hole Leblond.

It wasn't until 1997 that more CNCs entered the picture. "We were doing our BOPs (blowout preventers)," Leeth explains, "and subcontracting out some of that work. One of the companies we were working with gave us a quote to run the rams (an internal part of the BOP) for us, and we didn't like the looks of the quote. I said: 'Well, shoot, by the time I pay them to run all the parts, I've got half the cost of a machine. Quick, buy a machine!"'

Distributor Connection

Leeth contacted Machine Tools Inc. (Lafayette, LA) -- now the Haas Factory Outlet (HFO) -- which had a Haas VF4 vertical machining center in stock. "I'd been buying equipment from Pat (Kane, president of the HFO) for years," says Leeth, "so he was my first call. I had looked at Haas machines before -- they've got good pricing and lots of torque, so we bought that one."

Once the machine was on the floor, AMT put it to good use. "We started doing the rams for the blowout preventers," says Leeth, "and the accessory parts, and the slotting and the ... It got to the point where we looked back and asked, 'How did we ever do without it?' We pushed that machine way more than its capacity," he admits. "Parts you shouldn't do on the machine? We did those parts on the machine. We pushed it way over its limits, and we were happy with it. It soon got to the point where we didn't have enough machine time to run everything. We needed another machine."

To satisfy their need, AMT purchased a Haas VF-7 VMC and an SL-20 turning center. As often happens when adding CNC equipment, the increase in capacity and capability led to more work.

"It allowed us to bring in a different kind of work," says Leeth, "and more of the same type of work. It gave us capabilities that we didn't have before. We started out as a job shop, cutting connections and doing repair work on farm implements and heavy equipment. We've moved away from that and into manufacturing. These machines have helped us accelerate that growth."

The latest addition to AMT's machine tool arsenal is a new Haas HS-3R horizontal machining center with built-in 4th-axis platter. The large size of the machine (150" x 50" x 50"), combined with the 4th axis, allows them to machine their larger BOPs in fewer operations.

"Our growth areas now are in pressure equipment -- the quality of our pressure equipment plus the delivery time of our stuff. And that's why we've bought the HS-3R -- it's larger, has better capacity and a higher production rate, and it means we don't have to send anything out to anybody else. The work doesn't leave here, and that's where we're trying to get."

With the petroleum industry as unpredictable as it is, being self-sufficient is probably a good place to be for a machine shop, especially if it relies on oil field work. As AMT's Brian Leeth says, "We can't control everybody else; we can only control what's here." HAAS Automation, Inc. or Circle 229 for more information

RELATED ARTICLE: Blowout Preventers: A Drilling Rig's First Line Of Defense

On an oil drilling rig, one of the most critical pieces of equipment is the blowout preventer or BOP.

The drill string - thousands of feet of heavy drill pipe - is fed through the core of the BOP as it heads "down hole" in search of oil. If all goes well, the BOP simply sits, cinched securely to the drilling platform. If things don't go well, the BOP is the first line of defense to stop a catastrophic blowout.

With most oil drilling, pockets of natural gas are also discovered, usually before the actual oil. These gas pockets can be highly pressurized. If a drill pierces one of these extremely high pressure pockets, the force of the gas can be enough to blow thousands of feet of drill pipe out of the hole and launch it skyward.

If one of these high pressure pockets is pierced and there is the chance for sections of the drill pipe to become unguided missiles - a blowout - the BOP is there to do exactly what its name implies. It prevents the blowout.

To accomplish this, there are large hydraulic rams mounted on the sides of the BOP. When activated, these rams slam home, toward the drill pipe, effectively grabbing it and holding it so that it can not be launched from the drill hole.

As one Gulf of Mexico rig boss explained it, "A blowout preventer is what keeps oil well roughnecks from becoming astronauts."
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Publication:Modern Applications News
Date:Jun 1, 2002
Previous Article:Computerized charting avoids tolerance stack-up. (Spotlight).
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