May 2022

Executive Viewpoint: Simplified frac-iron system exemplifies efficiency trends

Operators continue to look for field solutions that bring greater efficiencies and cost-savings. With these concerns top of mind, we recently introduced our more streamlined SPM™ Simplified Frac Iron System.
Bryan Wagner / SPM™ Oil & Gas, a Caterpillar Company

Operators continue to look for field solutions that bring greater efficiencies and cost-savings. With these concerns top of mind, we recently introduced our more streamlined SPM™ Simplified Frac Iron System. It’s a recognition of two different trends in our customer’s durable needs—one is simplified maintenance and efficiency, and the other is operators looking for systematic total site solutions. 

Two trends. The efficiency piece concerns how fast you can get equipment on-site and start pumping. Once underway, you want to retain the maximum number of pumping hours without having an issue, because non-productive time really hurts an operation’s bottom line. The simplified frac iron system accomplishes all of that. It allows the customer to rig in, perhaps in 4 hours, where it used to take almost a day. It drastically reduces the number of on-site connections, which are potential leak points. It’s a significant leap forward. 

The other piece is recognizing that our customers are looking for systematic solutions, not just an array of individual products. We analyzed our large breadth of products to approach this challenge. Asking how do you connect this to that, do all the safety things that are needed, and handle all the operational considerations that are required, in the easiest, simplest manner?  

System configurability and flexibility. No two well sites are the same, and no two Exploration and Production (E&P) companies’ on-site requirements are the same. This very modular frac iron system allows maximum flexibility. It’s a type of plug-and-play system and can be scaled up or down as the customer requires. It facilitates tie-in with the next piece in the system, the zipper manifold, and minimizes connections. One straight-line concept means having one big pipe that goes from the back, all the way to the top of the wellhead, versus a frac site of two years ago or older which was a bird’s nest of pipes and all kinds of items, right around the wellhead. 

Many times, people ask us, “what’s going to change with technology?” We say that many things are going to change, but other things are going to stay the same, no matter what happens in the product/technology world. How we install and maintain equipment are areas that have stayed the same, and areas we have to make sure to address to ensure equipment safety and process efficiency.  

Other considerations. We can service everything that we build, in basin, and we have a very wide service center footprint. So, it’s not just having an industry-leading product with industry-leading reliability. When you do need service, you’re within a couple of hours of one of our service centers, which all use the same, exact process. It’s like McDonald’s or Starbucks—you can go anywhere in the world and get that same cup of coffee or that same hamburger. Customers get the same level of service and performance wherever they go. 

Other technology initiatives. When you connect SPM pumps and SPM flow iron, there’s a synergy that our customers experience, because they’re designed to work together. Accordingly, we’ve got a couple of projects on the pump side, where we’re looking at making sure that things are sized correctly, as the burgeoning e-frac industry continues to grow. We’ve got a scope of products designed for those next-gen e-frac systems that directly work with, and plug into, our flow iron systems. 

Another initiative is taking these products and bringing a different business model to play. Not only can you buy equipment from us, and have it serviced by us, but we’ve got the ability to look at service and rental agreements. Customers don’t necessarily have to own all the assets in their fleets. We also have a lot of field personnel that can walk shoulder-to-shoulder with our customers. 

Overall industry trends. In today’s environment, labor and materials are a challenge for our customers. So, they’re really focused on a few things. One is how to do more with less—how do I generate bottom-line performance with the people I have and the people I can get? That’s where products focusing on efficiency and labor reduction come into play. They’ve also got a workforce that maybe hasn’t been in this industry for 20 years like we saw in some of the earlier up-turns. Simplifying maintenance and rig-up helps make sure that everybody goes home safely at night. 

There are also many technology shifts. Our customers are more open to new ideas than ever before. With newer organizations and a different crew of people coming in, our customers are more willing to implement new innovations. That’s where we want to be, because I’ve got a group of about 50 engineers and an R&D facility that are cranking out better ways to meet customers’ demands. We need customers that want to work with us on new ideas and make them realities. 

Other technology pushes are underway. One is customers electrifying their fleets to drive efficiencies and lower fuel costs. That’s been really successful for some firms, and we’ll see more of it. People are trying many different variants to reduce fuel costs, and it’s not all electricity. Some of it is figuring out how to use natural gas, maybe directly in some ways. 

Meanwhile, simul-frac technology is shaping up. I don’t think we’re quite there yet, in understanding what it will really do for our industry, but it’s increasing efficiencies dramatically. There are some product reliability-related pieces the industry is just starting to unlock. It will be exciting to see where it ends up, as more data is generated, and our customers fine-tune those simul-frac processes. We’re still in the early days.  

About the Authors
Bryan Wagner
SPM™ Oil & Gas, a Caterpillar Company
Bryan Wagner is Director of Engineering for SPM™ Oil & Gas, a Caterpillar Company. He joined the company in 2014 and coordinates all engineering, product development, and strategic technology activities for pressure pumps, high-pressure flow iron and related components. Mr. Wagner has spent most of his career in oil and gas, specifically in engineering, product management and R&D arenas.
Related Articles
Connect with World Oil
Connect with World Oil, the upstream industry's most trusted source of forecast data, industry trends, and insights into operational and technological advances.