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A local company with innovation at the forefront – TD Tech

Taranaki-based TD Tech is a drilling and well construction solutions company with a growing portfolio of cutting edge innovations. 

Energystream sat down with company director Geoff Murray to learn more about what the company offers and why its innovation-first approach is leading the market.

Energystream: First up, tell us about TD Tech, and what you do.

Geoff Murray: TD Tech is a tech start-up company, located near Inglewood, Taranaki.  Our products and services are aimed toward all types of well construction - oil, gas, geothermal etc.  

Most of the technologies we have pioneered are enablers or even disruptive - they rewrite the way things are done in the industry.  For example we have developed a soft banding product - a Polymer applied to drilling tubulars which reduces torque, drag and casing wear, resulting in a lower cost and faster application than conventional metal hard banding.

Energystream: Innovation seems ingrained in your company’s philosophy. How important is innovation to your company?

Innovation is right at the heart of TDTECH, though we’re constantly aware that everything we develop must provide a benefit to our customers.  

We go to a lot of effort to avoid being caught up in the me-too business, so there’s a lot of rethinking problems and testing solutions. Quite often the ideas are simple but the research and design that goes into various aspects of the end result is anything but simple. As a result we gain patent protection wherever possible to help justify the high costs associated with development and commercialization.  

Energystream: Beyond your company, how do you see innovation applying to the wider oil and gas industry?

We consider innovation is vitally important to the industry. A recent example is that despite the increasing difficulty in accessing hydrocarbons, the effective costs of extraction have actually reduced, thanks to innovation.

Innovations like Dual Gradient Drilling will make previously un-drillable prospects viable.  Ultra-high tech developments such as rotary steerable systems and intelligent completions have greatly improved the ability to drill and optimally exploit new discoveries.     

 Energystream: How innovative is the industry in New Zealand compared to the rest of the world, and how can local companies across the supply chain become more innovative?

There’s a balance between innovation and risk aversion, which I sense is being tipped towards risk aversion. The reality is that drilling is a risky business, and the stakes are very high, so this is perhaps understandable.

However, we would like to think that companies use risk management systems as a tool to evaluate why they cannot afford NOT to use new technology, as opposed to the other way round.

Energystream: Just how innovative can a small supply chain company based in New Zealand actually be?

It’s actually easier for small service and supply chain companies to focus on innovation. Larger companies typically have more people and systems that need to be navigated before innovation can be embraced.

To be innovative however, requires a company culture that encourages continuous improvement and change. Sadly it’s often easier for many companies, regardless of size, to view innovation is something to be avoided rather than encouraged.  

Energystream: How do you embrace innovation or apply it in a practical sense?

We embrace innovation for the simple reason that we cannot afford not to. We recognise that there is no monopoly on good ideas – they can come from anywhere or anyone across the organisation. As a consequence our developments are very much a team effort, with our very large whiteboard getting a lot of use. Probably most of the real brainstorming happens in the meal room where we eat together though.  

In terms of process, we ask our customers for their wish lists of drilling problems to be solved. These may be the basis for future developments and part of our process is to determine whether the problem is actually solvable and if the resultant development has the scope to deliver a return.  

Sometimes we brainstorm how we might improve on an existing product or service – we have a belief that nothing is perfect and the status quo is always open to improvement!

Energystream:  Give us some examples of your products. How are they innovative and what do they offer customers?

Sidewinder Solid Body Centralizers are the strongest in class tool while also providing the longest pressure drop. They’re free of voids, so ideal for use in geothermal and HPHT wells.

Soft Bandingis a disruptive technology that replaces hard banding on drilling tubular tool joints and gratly reduces casing wear, eliminates the risk of DP heat checking while also reducing torque and drag.

Our Python Rotating Drill Pipe Protector provides all of the benefits of soft banding along with aiding hole cleaning and reducing fluid friction along with over 30 additional features and benefits. Ironically, in some instances Python may provide a simple means of averting the high tech but expensive dual-gradient drilling. 

Python Polymer Centralizers reduce friction uniquely, are able to be direct-moulded to the casing or liner.  The also enable future sidetracking without concern for the location of high tensile steel centralizers.

We are also working on some a-yet unnamed products and services, one of which will enable us to ‘see’ fatigue in drilling tubulars and remove a high percentage of this fatigue, with a subsequent drop in risk of failure. This will let us test the tubular to prove that it achieves a customer-designated percentage of von Mises yield strength.

Another development out of left field for us, in that it relates to drilling fluid, is a low cost lost circulation material that may have a significant, though yet to be proven, side benefit.

View more product details here

Below: The Endurex™ Drilling Tool Joint Protection is a high grade Engineering plastic that offers a large number of benefits over traditional Hardbanding. TD Tech is currently testing and continually developing this product to perform down any well environment. This video illustrates the simplicity of the system when applying to the Drill Pipe, and removal of the product if worn. No heat. No sparks. No rotating grinders.

Energystream: What are some of the challenges for small companies when it comes to taking innovative productsor servicesto market? How have you overcome these challenges?

Our single biggest challenge has been cash flow constraints which has been a result of a low strike rate for the business we have bid for.  While we have submitted numerous proposals totalling close to $1 million, priced to meet the market, we’ve secured less than 2% of that business. To overcome this we’re looking to work more closely with prospective customers to get their feedback on our proposals and really appreciate them being up front about the process.

Another problem has been getting face to face with prospective customers in New Zealand. By contrast we have a 100% success rate in meeting prospective customers outside New Zealand. In fact we estimate that over 90% of our new business next year will come from outside New Zealand, though we do have good support from two domestic operators.

What lessons have you learned and what advice would you give to other companies?

Early on, we used web-based media to promote our products. While we were successful in getting a lot of traffic visiting our website, we found that the industry isn’t quite ready for web-based business to business transactions.

We received development funding through MSI/Callaghan Innovation and this has been greatly appreciated.  Zara Ryan and the team at Venture Taranaki have been integral to this, and we’d suggest anyone get in touch with them early.

The research and development is the easy bit - the hard part is getting the products and services to market.  We would strongly recommend that development funding be focused more on the commercialization end than pure R&D – backed up by a figure our patent attorney gave us that 98% of patents filed never make it to commercial reality.  

Energystream: Where to next for TDTech?

We’re looking to continue to solve drilling related problems, though we want to secure a good revenue stream with the products we already have before launching into too many new developments. We may extend to providing our customers with applications engineering expertise and are looking to appoint agents for our innovations around the world, with global licensing of our technologies to support this.