Responding to disaster

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Machine shop renders emergency manufacturing during Gulf oil spill

On April 20, 2010, the Deepwater Horizon oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico exploded, releasing, at first, a steady flow of crude oil at a rate of an estimated 62,000 barrels per day, which then tapered down to about 53,000 barrels daily. Emergency crews had to act fast to capture the gushing oil.

One of the first-response vessels dispatched was called the Q-4000, which was equipped with a huge bell-shaped device at the end of a long series of piping. The bell-shaped device would be positioned over the damaged well head to capture the flowing oil, sand and other debris, transferring it all up the piping system to a nearby tanker ship. But before starting this critical collection operation, four extreme service choke valves–two for a manifold that the collected oil, sand and debris would pass through, and two for blow down lines used to transport the collected materials–were needed as quickly as possible.

It was at this time that Cortec Fluid Control in Houma, LA, was called upon to supply four of its model CXE-II extreme-service, extreme-pressure choke valve assemblies. The situation was chaotic and there was no time for discussions. The company had to react fast.

The company received the order for the choke valves on the Tuesday after the oil rig blow out and by Friday of the same week delivered all four choke valves, which were installed over that weekend and operating by that Monday. It worked around the clock to manufacture and deliver the choke valves in basically a little over two days–an accomplishment that would’ve typically taken weeks under non-emergency situations.

Cortec thrives on these types of emergency, severe service jobs. In fact, the company’s success as an oil and gas industry supplier of high quality choke valve products includes specializing in those valves classified as severe service.

In most applications, the valves are used in fracking, flow-back, well-test and production operations. The valves are manufactured to exacting standards and able to function flawlessly in erosive flowing conditions 24/7, 365 days a year for the life of a well and in all types of extreme conditions for controlling flow pressures of up to 20,000 lb working pressure.

Components that make up the various types of choke valve assemblies, such as those produced for the Gulf of Mexico spill, are shaft and flange-type parts ranging in size from 1 in. to 26 in. (25.4 mm to 660 mm) in diameter, made from mostly solid 4130 steel and 410 stainless steel raw bar slugs and requiring a lot of metal removal. The company often removes 40 per cent or more of the original raw material from 90 per cent of the individual parts it machines. It’s not uncommon, for instance, to machine half of an 11 in. (279 mm) diameter component’s length down to a 4.500 in. (114 mm) diameter, as well as machine deep bores and holes as big as 20 in. (508 mm) in diameter into components. 

For its demanding machining operations, the company uses heavy-duty machine tools and most often relies on its recently acquired Mazak Horizontal Center Nexus (HCN) 8800-II machining centre, two Mazak Slant Turn Nexus (STN) 550 turning centres, one of which, an STN 550M model, features milling capabilities for multi-tasking operations, and a Mazak Integrex e-410H-S multi-tasking machine. 

According to Cortec, the Mazak machines are workhorses and easily handle the shop’s toughest material removal operations. And for many workpieces, the shop has doubled its material removal amounts and shortened rough machining lead times by half with the Mazaks, a capability that made it possible for the company to quickly produce the choke valves needed in the Gulf of Mexico.

Additionally, part tolerances and surface finishes are critical for all the various components that make up choke valve assemblies. Because the shop is API 6A licensed and ISO 9001 certified, all its processes and products, in terms of materials, traceability, quality assurance and testing, are certified as the highest possible quality and meet the stringent requirements of those standards. From engineering and design, to manufacturing, assembling and testing, to painting and shipping, the company controls all aspects of its valve and choke production. The shop also does all its own welding, heat treating, and assembly, as well as raw material and finished product testing in-house.

The four choke valve assemblies for the Gulf of Mexico oil spill operated flawlessly for the entire collection process. SMT  |


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