Advantage Products: Imitated But Never Equaled

Date PublishedSeptember 10, 2012
CompanyAdvantage Products Inc.
Article AuthorMarkham Hislop
Article TypeSeptember 2012 Issue
CategoryArticles, Cover Story
Tags, , , , , ,
HUB SEARCHAdvantageProducts
PULSE Interactive

Advantage Products: Imitated But Never Equaled

AdvantageOne reason Lloydminster is the capital of heavy oil production is the incredible innovation by companies like Advantage Products Inc. and its principal, inventor Jim Weber.

Alberta has been a beehive of technical creativity for decades. If an oilman couldn’t buy the tool he needed for a job, he looked around for a local machine shop or one of his rig workers that was handy with a welder and had it made. The Foothills Industrial Park in Calgary and the manufacturing areas of Edmonton, not to mention plenty of small manufacturers scattered throughout the province, are a testament to the inventiveness of the Alberta oil patch.

But no region has depended on innovation quite like Lloydminster.

For starters, heavy oil is so viscous that just getting it out of the ground is a challenge.

How viscous are we talking about? The consistency of ketchup – or worse. Pumping ketchup with a typical downhole pump and pumpjack is just not a paying proposition. Enter the progressive cavity pump, commonly called the PC pump or screw pump. Or if you’re French, like PC pump inventor René Moineau, you might call it the Moyno or Mono pump.

Whatever you choose to call it, the PC pump enabled the development of heavy oil fields. Jim Weber estimates there are 100,000 PC pumps in use the world over, most of them in Canada, but a fair contingent in the heavy oil fields of Latin America and, to a lesser extent, in the United States. That’s a big market if you’re developing new technology for the PC pump, which is what Weber has been up to since 1986.

As is often the case with inventors, the spark that lit the innovation fire was trying to fix a problem that really required an entirely new approach. A decade ago Weber and the Advantage team tried to develop a braking system for PC pumps. Brakes are necessary because if there is an interruption of power to the pump, the weight of the fluid in the pipe string causes the motor to turn in the opposite direction as the fluid drains back into the reservoir. Backspin can cause a drivehead to overspeed, with potentially catastrophic results. The consequence is lost production and lost revenue for the producer.

Weber quickly realized that the basic design for driving PC pumps was the culprit. The wellhead drive consists of a gearbox or belts and sheaves a sealing system, a brake, and a connection for the polish rod. Power for the drive is either electric or hydraulic. Connecting the drive to the pump required belts and sheaves or gears, systems that sometimes broke under the strain of the backspin.

One solution is the direct drive, which did away with the belts and pulleys. Direct drives also permitted the use of variable speed control, enabling producers to easily choose the speed and torque applied to the pump.

But in 2003, as far as Weber was aware, no one had designed a direct drive drivehead for a PC pump. So he and his team set out to come up with an ideal design, one that currently uses permanent magnet motors. These types of motors use high flux magnets made of rare earth metals. The result, according to Weber, is the best direct drive yet and the solution to many of the problems currently plaguing the PC pump industry.

The PULSE sat down with Jim Weber to talk about his new top drive, which Advantage plans to debut at
the Lloydminster Heavy Oil Show in September.

PULSE: What’s innovative about Advantage Product’s new TorqDrive?

JW: Around 2003 we started developing a braking system for PC pumps that could be retrofitted to work on all drive heads, since that has always been the real issue, breaking drive heads during backspin. And the further we got into it, the more we realized we have to just develop a completely new technology and do away with the need for braking.

So several years later we have something called the TorqDrive, a permanent magnet motor. Generation 2, which we’ll be showing at the Lloydminster Heavy Oil Show, is half the size, half the cost, half the weight, and more efficient than the previous generation.

The TorqDrive is a top drive designed to eliminate belts, gears and sheaves.

You can speed them up with constant torque from minimum 30 RPM right through the maximum designed running speed, which is currently 500 rpm, and it’s over 97 per cent efficient, 97.9 to be exact. No one can touch that efficiency. No other competitor, as far as I know, can get close to that efficiency.

Another advantage will be ease of use. Our intention has always been to make this drive very user-friendly. Variable frequency drives lets the operator speed up or slow down by pressing arrow up and arrow down on the interface. Really simple.

We are also quite excited about the possibility of replacing hydraulic drive units. The TorqDrive can do the same amount of work with a much smaller environmental footprint. It’s also far more efficient. Small block V8 engines driving hydraulic, pumps driving a hydraulic motor are very effective, but they’re very inefficient. And they also need to be repaired often. Our Genset and TorqDrive combination will be able to replace that unit without any major maintenance other than changing oil in the electric motor.

We’re very close to the final TorqDrive design. As with most new products in the oil patch, we need to get some more in service. We have nine in the field at the moment.

We have had some issues with Generation 1, but they were primarily quality control issues. The design is solid. We had one drive head on for over a year without any issues at all, turns out that that may have been a lucky accident. Because we have had some major issues with quality control with Generation 1. It’s a bit of a struggle to keep them running, but as far as we know that customers are reasonably excited about that technology.

PULSE: Are competitors working on something similar?

JW: We have competitors who are pursuing this avenue, but as far as we know, we’re considerably ahead in development because we’ve been out at longer. They don’t have the efficiencies or the RPM range yet, either.

The TorqDrive is the only product in our company that there’s no patent associated with. And I have no intention of doing any patent work on that, because it appears that patents are all merely an invitation to a lawsuit.

The big dog around Lloydminster has taken several competing products and encouraged competitors to infringe on patents. They were all lower cost, but they failed. Our equipment doesn’t fail. It stays in a while. Our torque anchor, for instance, is good for repeated runs in the well without any type of service at all and is by far the most rugged, robust torque anchor on the planet.

Our intention with the TorqDrive to be the first in the market place and penetrate the market more effectively than the competitors and stay ahead of the pack. We will be very competitive on price point as well. With the current technology, we will be very competitive with the current Induction motor technology, gears and pulley – they are currently low cost. We intend to be the low cost option for the engineers.

Generation 2 of the TorqDrive will be displayed at the heavy oil show. Two versions of the Generation 2 will be displayed and we hope we to have them operational, at least spinning.

PULSE: How far away are you from commercial production?

JW: We anticipate full commercial production during the first quarter of 2013.

PULSE: Will you be manufacturing it yourself?

JW: We will be in full control, 100 per cent of the manufacturing process. All assembly and testing will happen in our plant in Didsbury, Alberta.

PULSE: Have you got any commercial contracts lined up yet?

JW: We do not, at this point, it would be premature. We want to prove our worth and we are confident we’ll do that. But I do anticipate large orders likely by the end of the second quarter 2013.

PULSE: I noticed in your website, there’s a fair amount of research and development in the testing, can you talk more about that aspect of your company.

JW: My founding partner and myself, our philosophy is if we can’t break it, it should be good enough for the customer. Because their business is producing oil, it’s not repairing and maintaining equipment. Our intention has always been our philosophy to provide the most rugged, robust dependable equipment possible.

We developed the TorqStopper to generate enough revenue so we could develop all the other ideas that we had in the pipeline. I’m quite happy to stand on my record with the TorqStopper, as the original inventor of torque anchors. It still has the lowest cost of ownership of all the competitors put together. They were all lower cost but they failed. Our equipment doesn’t fail. It’s good for repeated runs in the well without any type of service at all and is by far most rugged robust, torque anchor on the planet. The final design for the TorqStopper design has not changed since 2001 nor have the prices. The TorqStopper has, by far, the lowest cost of ownership due to its extremely robust construction. The
TorqStopper has been imitated but never equalled.