Big Blue® Engine Drive Provides Multi-Process Power and Rugged Casing for Offshore Oil Platform Construction

Big Blue® Engine Drive Provides Multi-Process Power and Rugged Casing for Offshore Oil Platform Construction

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Product Management Industries (PMI), Inc. relies on corrosion-resistant stainless steel casing and multi-process capabilities of engine drives from Miller Electric Mfg. Co. to withstand brutal conditions of offshore platform construction in the Gulf of Mexico.
Updated: May 12, 2020
Published: January 1, 2007

Executive Summary

  • Stainless steel environmental package protects machine from elements in Gulf.
  • Epoxy electro-coated base provides superior corrosion resistance.
  • Simple rheostat adjusts amperage – no PC boards found on machine.
  • High salinity atmosphere corroded competitive units.
  • Miller engine drives helped build oil platform in record time.

Fabrication and Construction Department Needed Welding Generator That Was Easy to Operate

Salt air and humidity literally eat metal, and the Gulf of Mexico has a ravenous appetite. One offshore construction company, however, is using welding generators with stainless steel components that put corrosion on a diet " and helped them to erect a jacket and deck for Kerr-McGee in a record-setting 14 weeks.

For offshore erection of oilfield platforms like this, nothing beats Millers Big Blue 402P CC in the Environmental Stainless Steel model. It offers unsurpassed simplicity, reliability and durability.

"We work in one of the world's most highly corrosive environments," says Robert Meith, vice president, Construction Services for Production Management Industries, L.L.C. (PMI), Harvey, La. "We are thrilled that Miller Electric has taken it upon themselves to build the Big Blue® 402P CC, a welding generator compatible with Gulf conditions. Its corrosion-resistant alloy materials, built-in drip pan and protective cage put it very much in the forefront."

The Construction Services division of PMI provides fabrication and construction services to companies such as Kerr-McGee, Chevron/Texaco, Shell, BP, Boise d'Arc, Denbury, McMoran, El Paso and others in the oil and natural gas industry. When you fill up at the gas pump or use a petrochemical-based product, there's a good chance PMI built the jacket, deck and separation equipment that sent the "liquid gold" from the Gulf sea floor to the mainland.

Durability Is Crucial

Every minute of production counts on an oil platform. One well can produce up to 6,000 barrels per day, with an at-the-well value of $10 or more per barrel.

"Equipment like ours carries all that liquid gold. If it doesn't operate, the cash register shuts off," Meith says. "PMI helps ensure maximum uptime by emphasizing safety, quality and 24/7 management service and support. When our customers ask us to jump over a 20-ft. bar, we figure out a way to get over it. Naturally, I push that same philosophy down to my vendors. We need that same type of service. Without it, we won't be successful, and we will not allow a vendor to hinder our success because they don't want to play ball by the same rules we do."

Being a service-oriented company in the offshore oil industry presents a logistics challenge: getting to the job site. The typical routine for moving a welding generator to an offshore platform involves loading the machine on a truck, driving one to three hours to a port such as Venice or Morgan City, unloading the machine onto a workboat and cruising two to 24 hours to the platform.

During scheduled construction or maintenance, PMI's customer pays for the workboat. But if a machine fails offshore and a replacement needs to be sent out, PMI incurs the cost " and marine transportation costs $3,500 to $6,000 per day.

"If a welding machine won't arc at the end of this long journey, I have a crew of personnel standing by, other equipment sitting idle and a very unhappy client who is ready to strangle me," says Meith. "In the offshore world, it is crucial that we have machines that are of the most durable character."

Fourteen Weeks of 24/7

"All the welding generators that went out were Millers. We wanted to send something that we knew we could count on and had the durability," says Robbie LaChute, Sr., general manager of Yard Fabrication for PMI. He refers to the record-setting oil production platform completed for Kerr-McGee in 2001 and the eight Big Blue 402P CC Stainless Steel Environmental engine drives used for offshore welding.

"Normally, a project of that size would take about 18 or 19 weeks to fabricate and one week to install," says LaChute. "But in this case, the customer asked us to accelerate the schedule. We wanted to get repeat work from Kerr-McGee, so we set up a schedule with crews working 24/7."

By assembling the best people and using the best equipment, PMI completed the project in 14 weeks. During the critical offshore work, the Big Blue 402Ps were first used for flux cored welding to attach the deck to the jacket, TIG welding the root pass on pipe and Stick welding the process fill and cap passes.

"When you buy a Miller machine with the Stainless Environmental Package, it's really a complete package," says LaChute. "With the Big Blue 402Ps, all we did was add diesel and they were ready to go."

No Bells And Whistles

"I can promise you, and I speak for every offshore contractor, we don't need bells and whistles," he says. "We need rugged, easy-to-operate engine drives without electronic devices. We are not welding a Rolex watch or putting a man on the moon, so we don't need intricate controls. We need machines that can withstand salt water washing over them, handle banging in the back of a boat, have 50 different people operating them … and then provide a hot arc start and hold a constant arc [for Stick, DC TIG and flux cored welding with a voltage sensing feeder]."

PMI Mechanic Johnny Sutton runs through a checklist to ensure routine maintenance. Note how clean the inside of this unit is.

Early in the year 2000, Meith needed 15 new engine drives. He made the choice and purchased the brand favored for decades in the offshore industry (not Miller). Then he saw what happened to them after six months to a year of offshore duty.

"I was appalled. The machines looked like they were 100 years old," he states. "The engine was fine, but high salinity of the atmosphere completely corroded everything else. This includes the shroud, door hinges and latches, stud bolts for mounting the motor to the armature, motor mount, radiator brackets and every bolt on the front panel."

"We had to change the covers and hinges on them every year. They got eaten up," says Johnny Sutton, PMI mechanic. "I think the bouncing during transportation caused problems with the bearings that hold the exciter, too. If the bearings crack, it tears up the armature. An armature costs $3,500, the exciter costs $1,000 and bearings cost a couple of hundred dollars."

PMI electrician Dan McQueen adds that, "These machines had a lot of diodes, electrical switches and connections behind the front panel that are exposed and that created reliability and maintenance problems. The way the air flows through the generator also exposes the brushes to corrosion and dirt. Sometimes we have five or six machines in the yard for repair, and three of them need sets of brushes. I don't like carrying hundreds of brushes in inventory."

"These machines weren't sea-worthy or ready for a platform when we got them," says Robbie LaChute, Sr., general manager of Yard Fabrication for PMI. "We asked the manufacturer if they could help us, but they were completely unresponsive."

Stainless, Don't Go Offshore Without It

Frank Hemelt, vice president of Industrial Welding Supply, works three miles from PMI out of the IWS Service Division in Harvey. As PMI's supplier for years, Hemelt knew that PMI needed a new welding solution. To meet the need, he arranged a test for an engine drive from Miller Electric. In the oil industry, trying a Miller is almost treason.

Hemelt turned this perspective around 180 degrees when he introduced PMI to the Big Blue 402P CC Stainless Steel Environmental model. This unit features a brushed 304 stainless steel sheet metal case and stainless steel fasteners that cannot rust. A simple rheostat adjusts the amperage, and it does not contain any PC boards. A 15-stage epoxy electrocoated (a painting process) base provides superior corrosion resistance. This base is fully enclosed to prevent dirt and corrosive matter from deteriorating internal parts. A cage made from heavy duty, hot-dipped galvanized steel shields the unit from the inevitable bumps caused when lifting the unit off a boat with a crane in rough seas.

Competitive engine drives without a corrosion protection package quickly rust in the salty Gulf Coast environment.

The Big Blue 402P CC provides a 55 to 600 amp welding output (500 amps, 40 volts at 100 percent duty cycle) and 4 kW of single-phase generator power while welding. PMI chose a 3-cylinder Perkins liquid-cooled engine. The front panel has a five-position coarse amperage control, a fine amperage adjustment rheostat and a Stick/TIG process selection switch.

"The Big Blue 402P CC has no bells or whistles. Anyone can set it up," says Hemelt. "Between that and its corrosion resistance, PMI had enough confidence to order 10 Big Blue 402Ps. We also arranged for a Miller representative to spend one day training Johnny Sutton, Dan McQueen and the other mechanics and electricians on the back- and front-end of the unit so they can service it knowledgeably."

The EBITDA Formula

Meith makes his purchasing decisions according to EBITDA, or earnings before interests, taxes, depreciation and amortization. According to the formula, if a machine or vendor doesn't improve the bottom line, it's not a good business proposition.

Working with Miller machines "has been a good dollar value." After a year of offshore service and hundreds of hours logged on each machine, the Big Blue 402P has become PMI's engine drive of choice. Meith ordered eight more machines in December 2001 and plans to add more in 2002.

"The durability of the stainless steel has been excellent. It's a rugged design, and I've heard nothing but good things," he says. "Miller has a quality product, the price is right and you have service. I generally don't praise service too much because I don't think too many companies beat us on service, but Miller does a really good job. They're thorough and committed to my success. I applaud that."

The people who work with Miller machines on a regular basis applaud them, too. "We've never had any problems with the Perkins engine, and you can see that the stainless steel and enclosed design prevents rust both inside and out," says Sutton.

On the electrical side, McQueen says that, "It's an excellent machine for the offshore market. Nothing has gone out where I had to tear down the machine and perform major maintenance. The Miller machine has fewer parts, a better design and holds up better. That's a real big help for us as far as maintenance and downtime are concerned. From a purchasing standpoint, we go through many more parts on our other machines."