Following on from 2020, a year that was considered extremely challenging for both businesses and the general public across the globe, the past 12 months have been somewhat stable, yet precarious in equal measures.
In this article, Aubin’s business development director Ray Stirton provides his insights into how the last 12 months has changed the way in which his team does business, whilst sharing some skills and lessons learned along the way.
How would you describe the last 12 months?
“The last 12 months have been very mixed. Following an extremely tough year, we began 2021 focussed on ensuring continuity of supply and working with customers to gain visibility of business developments. There was still a great deal of uncertainty, business was quite slow and many projects were still on hold. However, as we entered Q2 we began to see signs of recovery across our well services, pipeline and decom divisions and by the end of the year, we are operating at levels near a similar level to those seen pre-pandemic.”
Would you say that Covid-19 still has an impact on the business?
“We’ve definitely had to change how we do things. We’re much more flexible in our approach, and I don’t think we will ever go back to working 9-5 in an office again.
“Business travel has been significantly reduced and while face to face meetings remain essential for some meetings, I don't see us returning to the same level of travel. People demonstrated that they are far more resourceful and have a greater capacity to adopt change than we considered pre-Covid and I think that many of the changes made have improved the work-life balance and are here to stay.”
What were the biggest challenges faced this year?
“As with most industries, one of the biggest challenges that we have faced is access to raw materials and market volatility.
“Both domestically and internationally we’ve had to tackle significant challenges that individually would have had a serious impact on our operations, so cumulatively demanded our utmost attention.
“One of the initial impacts of the pandemic was a reduction in raw material manufacturing productivity and this scarcity inevitably led to rapid price increases at rates previously unknown. Our experienced supply chain team played a vital role to ensure that deliveries were not missed and raw materials procured at the most competitive rates.
"In the UK, Brexit combined with Covid-19 to create a ‘perfect storm,’ resulting in the reduced availability of imported raw materials and lack of trucks to deliver them. And across the globe vessels and containers are out of position, which means loading and unloading operations are severely disrupted.
“Deliveries that would have once taken 4-6 weeks can now take up to 14-16 weeks. As an industry that traditionally operated the ‘Just in Time’ model, this was no longer viable. We knew that something had to change, so we worked with our customers to establish extended forecasts, and plan ahead to ensure that the products were always available on time. The important thing is that we’re transparent about the challenges that we are facing and work together to establish a solution that works for everyone.
“Another big challenge is developing new relationships, whether that’s with customers or new team members. As much as the technology and the ease of chatting over conference calls are great, it does impact our ability to build rapport with new people. I’ve certainly come to realise just how important body language is when we are communicating. So communication is definitely something that we’ve had to work at, but over the last 12 months I feel that we’ve adapted well to achieve this.”
What do you believe were the biggest opportunities that arose during the last 12 months?
“It has to be changing the way that we do things. Although some of these changes were forced upon us, and caused a great deal of stress at times, taking some time out to re-evaluate how we do things, such as hybrid working, has really worked out.
“In November all attention was on COP 26, and I consider the climate challenge as a tremendous opportunity for us to excel, by helping our customers reduce their carbon impact and to support the emerging offshore wind market. Supporting the just transition to net-zero forces us to think more imaginatively about how we leverage our technical expertise and product knowledge. The team at Aubin embarked on this process almost 3 years ago, and we are now developing opportunities within the foundation, monopile and floating wind sectors.
“We are also very excited by the potential of our groundbreaking technology Xclude, to easily and cost-effectively support the rigless plug and abandonment of wells. We are having several discussions with regulators and service providers considering the use of Xclude to plug the reservoir and thereby prevent methane escaping to the atmosphere from many thousands of “orphaned” wells.
“We are hopeful that 2022 will see the first applications of Xclude for this purpose. Methane is a major greenhouse gas contributor, many times more potent than CO2, and Xclude provides the ability using conventional oilfield pump skids to plug the formation and significantly reduce these emissions.”
What was key to your success?
“Without doubt, it has to be our team and their overall performance. Pulling together to help one another, and maximise our talents, we were able to manage the challenges and respond quickly when the market recovered to respond to the uptake we saw in the second half of the year.
“Everyone has their own stresses, whether that was homeschooling, working from home, or the inability to travel to see family etc - but each and every member of our team has taken this year in their stride and worked together to support not just the business but each other.”
What have been your personal highlights from this year?
“From a personal perspective, it has to be becoming a grandad, which also made me ask myself what kind of a world would I like my grandson to inherit and what can we do to deliver it. Although this year produced many challenges, it has not been without its perks. Restrictions in travel have meant that I’ve spent more time at home, and as a result, with my family. I just hope they agree with me!
“But from a business standpoint, I’m really excited about the changes that we’re making within the business. As a team, we are committed to making the transition towards net-zero and are continually looking for ways in which we can improve our operations to reduce carbon emissions.
“Last month I was accepted onto the Entrepreneurial Scotland Green Leadership for Low Carbon Business programme which also includes a course by Babson College in the US to support innovation and growth towards a sustainable world - and I’m delighted. It’s such a fantastic opportunity!
“I’ve worked within the energy industry for over 35 years and have developed a great deal of experience, but the industry is changing. This old dog is looking forward to learning new tricks, and I’m excited to apply the new ideas and develop our process as we expand upon and introduce Aubin’s low carbon and net-zero enabling technology to the market.”
What opportunities do you think you will have in 2022?
“Next year is looking strong already. There’s a great deal already in the pipeline and we’re still in 2021.
“We’re hopeful that Q1 and Q2 next year will see us conducting field trials of Xclude in Australia and the UK to riglessly plug and abandon or repurpose oil wells. If all goes to plan and the trials are successful, we’ve had significant levels of interest from operators in the UK and across the world, so this really is a huge opportunity for 2022.
“Additionally, we are completing our fit for offshore renewables process (F4OR) early next year. There’s a real buzz within the team around expanding our offshore renewable offering. From mooring, ballasts and buoyancy, the opportunities to help our customers within this sector are huge.
“But it’s not just our new technology that’s exciting, some of our tried and tested technologies are being used on some major decommissioning projects early next year. Based on the trials, we’re expecting some great results - even with the existing products you still get a buzz when you’re able to help customers find the perfect solution.”
What challenges will you face?
“The biggest challenges we face is managing raw material volatility and availability combined with the logistical pressures on the supply chain. We expect that these will last into Q2 2022, and then like everyone else, hope that we can get back to more predictable and reliable ways of working.”
“This has not been helped by the exit of Britain from the EU chemical safety management system REACh. Thankfully, our government has extended the deadline to fully register chemicals within the UK REACh database to Oct 2025. Equally importantly the UK government is exploring a new model for UK REACh registration that will reduce the need to replicate data sets that have previously been generated to comply with EU REACh requirements. However, whatever system is finally arrived at this will be an additional burden adding cost to the UK chemical industry supply chain and potentially reducing chemical availability.
What are your team’s goals for 2022?
“There are the standard business KPI’s but, at the risk of sounding like a broken record, our main goal is to develop products that will support the transition towards net-zero.
“ESG plays a big part in our overall strategy, and it’s important to the entire team that we continue to develop and grow our green offering.
“It would also be great to see everyone having a bit more fun in the business and getting back to being in the office again.”
Is there anything exciting planned for 2022 that you can share?
“We’re expecting to see significant growth in 2022. Once we’ve completed field trials of our Xclude and Xmax technology, the opportunities really are endless for our well technology division.
“We’re continuing to grow our fracturing capabilities within the Middle East and we are targeting 2022 as the year we make our first commercial deliveries.
“But the most exciting part of 2022 is the potential solutions that can be achieved through working with our partners. We have big collaboration plans for next year, and I can’t wait to see what the future brings.”