A passion for tools

Published:  27 August, 2015

In an exclusive interview, Aaron Blutstein spoke to Luis Clement, Chicago Pneumatic (CP) Tools’ vice president about how the company’s values are at the forefront of technology development for the offshore oil and gas sector.

Back in 1889 John W. Duntley realised that construction workers in particular had a need for many tools “that weren’t yet available”. In 1894, he established the Chicago Pneumatic Tool Company‬, and set out on a lifelong mission to provide all types of industries and companies with the tools necessary for their success.

Over the years Duntley grew the company through product innovation, always insisting on product quality and reliability. Quality, explains Luis, is one of the biggest assets for CP: “It is the biggest driver for us – we do not lower the bar at all, even if there are negative financial consequences - we would rather risk this than compromise.

“We are very strict on quality. We invest a lot of effort in R&D, with test labs in each region of the world. We even develop our own standards that are more stringent than industry ones, so we are sure that the quality of the product is there.

“We spend, on a divisional level close to 8-10% on R&D from revenue. It has been growing every year. We have to develop more innovative products for the future.”

The Chicago Pneumatic Tools portfolio includes high quality products designed for a wide range of maintenance and production applications, including hundreds of quality air tools designed for the specific needs of the oil, gas and petrochemical industry. From offering impact wrenches, ratchet wrenches, screwdrivers, drills, grinders, sanders and polishers, to percussive and cutting tools for maintenance and repairs and heavy industrial operations, the company says it enables its customers to get the job done quickly and more profitably.

Luis says the company’s focus was always about maintenance tools - tools that are made for industrial MRO applications:

“When we design a product in that category we are thinking first about disassembly - taking things apart. This is the first goal of the product. In other brands of tools they are focusing more on the assembly operations. In our world we always focus on the reverse. So reverse torque for us is key. Of course after you do the repair you have to put things back together and we have to perform in forward torque too, but the toughest aspect of the job for the operator is taking things apart.

“For example there can be a lot of interferences, such as damaged bolts on joint assembly which can over time become very rusty – in an offshore environment rust can built up quickly. You may also have other issues with salt, which can end up making it extremely difficult to take things apart. We have made these considerations a core focus of our products from early on in the design process.”

Luis also explains: “In the oil and gas/ repair sectors there is a lot of cutting and grinding work. So another big part of our product offer is about big 7/9 inch angle grinders as users end up having to cut a lot of metal tubes and materials that were welded. For this type of work, power is very critical – to get the power performance that you need is very important for the operator. Plus the way you handle the tool is different - using impact wrenches you position, then you basically hold the trigger, but with a grinder you have to work under and around metal structures, cutting a tubes that are difficult to reach, like with a ladder that you have to change and cut down on the rig. In Aberdeen we have had a lot of success with our industrial grinders for the oil and gas rigs. We have the most powerful vane grinder in the market today with the CP3850.”

Oil and gas heritage

Chicago Pneumatics Tools’ pedigree in the oil and gas industry goes back more than 45 years. Luis says: “We have always been involved with customers in the offshore industries from the beginning. We still carry a similar product range today to that produced in the early days. Of course our tools have evolved, you now need faster cycles – the speed of operation times is critical. Also the reliability of the product is paramount – you don’t want a tool to breakdown offshore. These are some of the drivers as to why Chicago Pneumatics is still here.”

The oil and gas industry has always been important to the company, and it is for this reason that back in 2012, CP decided to choose which customer segments it wanted to focus more on. “We decided to be even stronger in the energy segment”, explained Luis.

“We began our focus on oil and gas industries then moved onto mining to grow our expertise there too, and lately back to refocus on oil and gas. This is part of our strategy.

We decided to focus on the oil and gas sector because there are a lot of opportunities to build on. We believe that if we invest further, add to our product range, focus even more on the customer and how they work, why they buy, as well as concentrating more on how the product is applied - really finding out what the customer wants - we could start to build even better products for the customer for the future. By doing this we hope to become the biggest player in the market.”

In Aberdeen the company now boasts growth that has seen it take a market share of around 50%. The market is word of mouth, says Luis, and trust of the equipment: “CP Tools sent out its products to the rigs and put them in very hard environment applications. We saw what the exposure in relation to being in the sea was, and then came back and learnt from that experience by going back to the drawing board and thinking what needed to be done to improve.

“This was all related to being a better player in the offshore segment. Before we were focusing more on the product fitting a lot of work environments but we didn’t know enough what happened to it offshore. It takes at least a year and half to get the feedback, fix problems, re-test the performance after proto-typing. So all in all before you have a final product in the catalogue it can take two years. But that gave us a chance to take half of the business in Aberdeen because it created the reliability of the people doing the job.

“Prior to this refocus our share of the market was no more than 12%. We have definitely been taking market share.”

Luis says CP has not yet completed adding to its oil and gas range – with new continuing advancements in the pipeline. One of the biggest developments for the company, has been the recent acquisition of a new brand – Titan, which is formally a US company. Luis explained that this acquisition is part of an overall strategy to increase the company’s market share. He added that if CP is to fulfill market need it has to identify what equipment is not in the current range and ensure it brings it in.

Luis explained: “We therefore identified high torque bolting tools, with hydraulic tools as a need, which we did not have in the range. We then had two options, one was to develop a range ourselves which would take two years or to find a good potential candidate, eventually that’s what we found and we acquired Titan.”

The purchase of Titan is anticipated to help the company penetrate deeper into the offshore oil and gas segment as well as other energy market sectors.

Titan’s products include powerful hydraulic torque wrenches, pumps and accessories for bolting applications in the oil and gas, petrochemical, wind energy, power generation, mining and construction industries. Very high load bolting is used when traditional assembly solutions are not sufficient to ensure joint integrity or joint access, for example on oil rigs, and wind farms. The Titan range complements Chicago Pneumatic Tools’ existing portfolio of high performance and durable tools.

Luis highlighted that if you don’t have this sort of product you can’t reach quite a large number of applications: “You can cope to a certain extent with the pneumatic impact wrench for heavy duty maintenance jobs, but when it comes to bigger valves and bolts, bigger distribution of oil networks, bigger equipment, you reach torque levels that you can only really achieve with hydraulic solutions. Mainly because the torque is very high, and the limitation of space is very tough for that level of torque so you really need to end up using hydraulic equipment.”

He explained that CP could have developed a product itself and it even started to look into it a few years ago: “We started to analyse and had R&D checks. We then knew how long this would take us and how much investment we would need to put in. In the meantime we kept an eye on the market for those companies which may be available. We eventually made the decision to acquire Titan instead of developing our own product.

“It is very much a red ocean type of business. You have to differentiate on the product, on the service offering, otherwise most people have similar things. What Titan brings, is that the quality of the product is extremely high, so what we are talking about is a very premium product within this market. Very well designed, using very high grade material – the best aircraft-grade materials you can buy, the best process in terms of working with this material, the design of the product is extremely clever, including many patents.

“So Titan being a premium and very high quality product, helps us to keep and even lift the product and brand position for CP overall, which is something we want. We do not want to risk at all the quality and commitment of the product and brand. This is really how you can differentiate yourself in this market, the company behind the product, the reliability and the quality of the tool. People know they can trust CP. We want to keep that and we wanted to find the hydraulic solutions expertise that would match our values.”

The main applications for the hydraulic product in the offshore oil and gas market include anything that is structural. For example anything assembled with a bolt or large part/ structure of the rig that is not welded. The Titan range can be used for everything from subsea connection, from the extraction all the way up to the rig. Any flange will need a big impact wrench or hydraulic tool to be assembled or disassembled. The biggest difference when using the impact wrench, says Luis, is that the accuracy of the assembly process is limited, as well as how you use the tool itself.

He explained that when you use hydraulic bolting equipment you can have multiple equipment calibrated and running at the same time, that way you can have a very high precision assembly process. So the quality of the joint assembly using hydraulics is far better in terms of precision than what you can do with a pneumatic impact wrench: “Therefore anywhere you will need assembly integrity, like structure used to flow material through or with gaskets or joints, the advantage of hydraulics is very high because you are applying high torque very slowly and accurately. In most cases for larger joints or larger assemblies, you are applying multiple tools at the same time. So you get a very good even clamping force. Whereas a pneumatic impact wrench is an extremely fast and powerful tool where you suddenly build up torque very quickly on one single point.”

Luis is keen to point out however that it really isn’t one replacing the other, pneumatic and hydraulic are technologies: “If you need to do a decommissioning or a turnaround and take everything apart quickly then an impact wrench is definitely the best thing to go for. Because it’s the fastest technology that exists. If it’s a very tight application space, too tight for an impact wrench, there will be no option, you will need to have a lot of hydraulic tools for the application.”

Ongoing development

As part of ongoing development CP rigorously requests and analyses feedback from customers regarding common issues. Luis says common problems customers approach them with are usually concerned with issues such as: low air pressure; tool performance when the air is not clean or has had contaminants in (this often happens when you’re offshore). Also the lack of lubrication is an issue - and although the tools, says Luis, don’t need a lot of lubrication, to get the best performance they still need oil. Another concern is that most customers don’t always have the proper airline or air network installed on the rigs.

As a consequence of regular feedback, which is invaluable to the manufacturer to stay one step ahead of its competitors, Luis explains CP subsequently goes back to the drawing board to try and find out how it could solve these problems so that if a situation occurred that was especially bad, the tool would still perform and be able to do its job. Luis also explains that you cannot take a standard impact wrench even from a premium brand that maybe great on a car assembly line and then put it in an offshore environment – it will not work. The reason why is that for manufacturing applications, the tool design is much focused on size and weight – very much ergonomic driven, and those type of tools have very low tolerances and need extremely clean air.

“In the CP world we assume already that customers will not have lubrication and that you will have contaminants, and we simulate that environment in order to still be able to perform in harsh conditions of use. So it definitely means that we take a little bit of a different approach in our tool design to reach the best reliability.”

Added value

Luis believes the drive for quality includes the importance of added value: “We look at how easily the product can be used and make the user’s life easier. If we look at a grinder, when we were designing the CP3850, we made sure that it had a very low and lean profiles. So it would give the operator the chance to see better what he was working on. You can look at other grinders and they are quite bulky. Of course you can still see the tip but you can’t see as much as you can with ours. Although this design addition is not needed to comply with CE or ISO standards, it is something we can sell on top and give it as a benefit to the user.

“We also have on this tool what we call an auto-balancer. Today it has become something that others have copied. But the auto-balancer is taking away the imperfections of the disc you are using and making it vibration free or reaction free in the hand of the operator. You can remove more material as a result, and you will get less vibration for the operator. So you get the benefit on the productivity and for the operator himself - you also reduce the amount of discs you use in a year; you produce more because you cut more material; but you also give a benefit to the user because it is also vibrating less. We also added a side handle, which is there not to just support but also to absorb energy. So again it’s an added value for the user. This is a very ergonomic focused product for a heavy duty grinder.”

Luis explains that CP is also pushing further on its extensive tests for health and safety: “Safety is always in our mind and is at the forefront in everything we do.”

While I was visiting Chicago Pneumatics, I was invited to see first hand its testing facilities. One of the numerous testing rooms I visited was where CP tests its grinders, which includes a drop test and durability. There was also a bench to grind and to define power and vibration, and another bench, which looked like a wooden box where CP makes the grinding wheel burst to see the different projections and what is happening on the guards. This test is done in order to secure the operator. Luis explains: “What we are trying to do after it is damaged, is to see inside the box what has happened, and where it has hit.” He highlights that some of the CP test procedures are going much beyond the ISO standard. For example if you look at the drop testing, there is no standard for grinders drop test – so CP created its own: “It is very simple - you have a bar that is one metre high, you drop the tool on to a very hard surface. But what is valuable, is how we do it. We do it with every product, with six different positions. We drop it in normal temperatures, then place it into a freezer and make it very brittle and then we drop it again. And that’s a little bit of the CP quality and safety detail that you will not find with our competitors. They don’t do it, they don’t know it. We drop ours and we also drop our competitors and we easily see the differences. With this information we then go back to our CAD software to look at the stresses on the design and other data. This is not required in the relevant standards, they are not in the certification, they are not a requirement for safety but we still think it is something we want to test and pass ourselves. We over engineer because we believe that CP should be the leader in quality. We don’t just do it because it’s an oil and gas tool, we do it across the full range of CP products for all sectors – 100%. We expect all our tools to be of high quality and durability across all CP tools and for every industry we serve.”

The future

Luis concludes that a lot of the company’s future focus in the oil & gas sector will be on ensuring more of its range is ATEX certified: “We are looking at developing other products for the oil and gas market – for example saws and other cutting tools that are not only grinders like we do today. If you want to be the number one source for industrial MRO in oil and gas you need to have these products.

“CP is also looking into tightening tools with battery. This is something we’re already examining. Battery technology is part of the future of industrial tools overall. Not yet huge, but it will continue to grow because it is much more flexible.”

Luis’ top five tips

• Users should always look for a reliable product – the cost of it not working is too high.

• It should be full proof to the relevant environment you’re working in – you really need a product that can fit that environment.

• You should select a product that is applicable to the application – you should not risk using an alternative tool that is not specifically designed for that specific application.

• Make sure you have enough source of energy to run the product efficiently – this means to set the tool up with the right airline accessories and compressed air set up.

• Must meet safety regulations. For vibration – always check the specifications, make sure you know who you are buying from and that they conform to the CE standard both for noise and vibration. Because the CE Standard is very strict. There are many suppliers that don’t follow CE regulations even in the offshore markets. If you look at some Asian brands, many companies don’t follow CE Standards, and we know that these end up in the European markets even though they’re not accredited.

For further information please visit: www.cp.com

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