Article for Sea Technology

A cost-effective single-source packaged back deck solution for the global subsea industry.

A strategic cooperation agreement between Aquatic Engineering and Construction Ltd., an Acteon company, and James Fisher Offshore (JFO), part of James Fisher and Sons plc, has resulted in the formation of a new partnership called the Aquatic–JFO Alliance. The two companies, both specialists in offshore equipment and flex-lay solutions, can now act as a single-source supplier that offers a streamlined and integrated service to the oil, gas, telecommunications and renewable energy industries.

The Aquatic–JFO Alliance provides an expert supply chain for critical-path activities for efficient operations and reduced costs in stringent economic conditions. So far, it has completed its first global collaboration project and has mobilized for its second. With four more projects won, and a further half dozen in the pipeline, it is off to a good start.

The oil and gas industry has historically been slow to adopt new technologies and methods of working. But as the economic climate leads to the need to balance costs and current production threatens longevity, the industry must innovate to achieve smart cost management through increased efficiencies and enhanced collaboration.

New technology developments will be related to maximizing economic recovery to achieve a sustainable future. A new era of collaboration and a new, better way of working across all levels of the supply chain are required, incorporating innovative technology that facilitates smart cost management.

Aquatic remote monitoring

Aquatic spends an enormous amount of time and energy designing reliability into its machines, but, inevitably, problems can occur. While a telephone call will often suffice, the option of sending a technician is always available.

In an attempt to offer greater resilience and rapidity, Aquatic sought a way to be able to remotely monitor, interrogate and fault find, giving the client extra peace of mind. After successful trials and use offshore, Aquatic has fitted these capabilities to its fleet of tensioners. By mid-2016, all of Aquatic's two-track tensioners and three of its four-track tensioners will be equipped with TVPN (Tensioner Virtual Private Network) remote connectivity. All tensioners will have this facility by the end of 2017.

The Aquatic TVPN system provides "live" engineering backup from a shore-side team; the ability to download log files, allowing these to be formatted and presented to the client even before the vessel leaves a prospect; and the ability to upload improvements, software updates and client specific changes to the control system. This three-stage secure system can be connected via the vessel's marine VSAT Internet (Cat5e cable connected to Aquatic control cabin or HPU using an RJ45 connector), or, as a contingency, the router can access the Internet via its own,  inbuilt GSM (up to 3G) antenna, which requires the kit to be within a 6-km radius and line of sight of a mobile phone transmitter.

The benefits of the TVPN system include: downtime significantly reduced under fault conditions; manpower, flights and hotel reduced substantially should external help be required under fault conditions; high security using the Talk2M network and firewall; and no bandwidth use when "sleeping". When "woken up" by an engineer shore-side, it only uses a maximum bandwidth of 128 kbps. Connection can only be established one way (from onshore to tensioner), so no unauthorized bandwidth is used on the vessel side. It can be used to download log files for a quick turnaround for the customer, instead of waiting for the ship to demobilize equipment, as well as upload client-specific modifications to the control system or improvements. It can help train the onboard team, via the HMI, in the event that client or  product-specific additions are required. An entire team of engineers is available shore-side should onboard Aquatic technicians run into fault-finding issues.

An example of collaborative engineering occurred late last year. Aquatic was challenged to devise an innovative way to make a customer's project preparatory works more cost effective and time efficient. To reduce mobilization time and sea-fastening costs on a newly commissioned offshore construction vessel, the contractor's project team had decided on an inventive solution of integrating a track system into the deck. Their initial project scope called for a rental company to adapt their equipment to the vessel. The Aquatic Engineering and Technology team offered to create a slider (skid) system that would be adapted to Aquatic equipment instead.

Following weeks of research, development and collaboration with the project team, Aquatic's engineers and fabricators created adaptor plates that interfaced the existing slider system and the integrated track system. An Aquatic engineer was given unprecedented access to the vessel and host project team both in the U.K. and Norway. Creating and maintaining a single point of communication for this project reduced errors and unnecessary delays. Innovation isn't just about technological advancement; it is also about breaking down communication barriers between vendor and customer for mutual benefit.

JFO technical innovation

JFO is a specialist subsea and topside service provider that has supported the offshore, subsea and marine industries with a comprehensive range of equipment for sale and hire for over 10 years. With the largest fleet of topside and subsea equipment available in the North Sea, JFO provides high quality and fit-for-purpose equipment to meet customer-specific project requirements. JFO continuously develops new methodologies and invests in equipment innovation to support the ever-evolving requirements of the offshore industry. In recent years, JFO has focused on working closely with its customers to fully understand project applications and deliver increased operational efficiency for critical-path activities in complex subsea construction, drilling and decommissioning projects. 

This direct customer focus has led to the opening of strategic global bases in its customers' areas of operations to deliver enhanced local support, including mobilization and demobilization, supporting industry cost reduction and operational efficiency initiatives. And as part of James Fisher and Sons plc, JFO is also well placed to provide group-wide complementary capabilities and technical innovation to its customer projects worldwide.

In partnering with its customers to understand project applications and emerging industry requirements, JFO identified a gap in the market for a fully rotational and easily deployable subsea winch and created an innovative design with a gravity base with full 360⁰ rotation that allows 30-T line-pull in a variable wire take-off angle with no further stabilization required following deployment, allowing efficient and reliable mobilization. Key to its design is the all-in-one setup, helping to ensure continuous subsea operations and reducing the likelihood of equipment failure.

The gravity base has the potential to have a gross weight of 60 T, eliminating the need for additional fastening or grillages. With a 30-T safe working load (gross weight 10 T) winch, a further 20 T in weights can be added. The winch is controlled via hotstab, ROV or downline, with two-part rigging. Alternative options of line pull are available. A vented floor prevents suction, there is a suitable crash frame, and the winch is fully depth compensated. Winch sizes range from 10 to 50 T. 

Another JFO equipment innovation was the bespoke design of a subsea saw developed in conjunction with one of JFO's key customers that required an engineered solution to quickly and safely carry out flange stud cutting. The subsea saw was designed as part of a contingency cutting spread to cut subsea pipe flange studs between the flanges during pipeline intervention on a tie-in project. The subsea saw spread includes four circular saws with bespoke fabricated frames for remote diver operation. The saw blade combination gives a cutting time of around 30 sec. on a 36-in., 900-lb. flange c/w 92-mm OD studs, with 5 min. preparation time to fit saw the jig to the flange assembly. Full product trials and diver user testing were undertaken at James Fisher's in-house National Hyperbaric Centre water tank facility in Aberdeen, providing a realistic recreation of the subsea environment to ensure diver safety and validate the design. With the project complete, JFO now has the unique subsea saw as part of its equipment fleet available for subsea cutting projects, including options to cut studs between flanges and excess protruding ends. 

As well as technical innovation, James Fisher Offshore continually invests in its equipment fleet for a full back deck offering to support customer operations. A recent subsea spool development project off the Ivory Coast was a testament to the depth of JFO's equipment fleet. JFO was contracted to assist in a subsea spool upgrade project for the Baobab field. The work, performed at a depth of 1,200 m, required a complex series of cuts to be performed on spools in piggyback with a total diameter of 350 mm. JFO's team of experienced technicians deployed its diamond wire saw, subsea basket and ROV dirty work pack, as well as full 24-hr. offshore technician cover for safety. Suitable buoyancy and framework were also fabricated to control the orientation of the diamond wire saw during the crucial cutting of the subsea spools. JFO also trialled several types of wire at its facility to determine the most efficient methodology for cutting this particular type of coated pipe, ensuring the work scope was carried out in a timely manner.


The current offshore climate has meant that service providers not only have to deliver a packaged back deck solution that combines favorable contract terms, available kit, flexible teams, and people interested in forging long-term business partnerships for mutual benefit, but, perhaps more importantly, to demonstrate progress and technology innovation.

The creation of a combined Aquatic-JFO project delivery team was motivated by a willingness to provide an alternative and responsive collaborative service. The single interface offers multi-disciplined experts to ensure the combined service is fully supported and delivered to the highest standard.

The Aquatic-JFO Alliance has completed its first global collaboration project for Ocean Installer Inc. in the Gulf of Mexico (GoM). The project scope included the recovery and reinstallation of mooring lines on a GoM production facility in ultra-deepwater (more than 5,000 ft./1,500 m). The Alliance provided a full back deck solution and equipment spread that delivered significant cost savings and minimized interfaces for the customer. The provision of a range of easily accessible equipment and an experienced team of technicians demonstrated the effect of a coordinated approach at a local level, while bringing together two highly skilled and dedicated teams whose expertise reaches around the world.

The Alliance's integrated back deck solution provides significant added value to customers globally by delivering reduced costs and streamlined operations. By working together, the capabilities and expertise of Aquatic and JFO provide a single-source solution for customers globally. This integrated solution delivers greater operational efficiencies and an enhanced customer-driven service that addresses the evolving needs of the industry.