Why Material Selection Matters for Bearings and Beyond
Bearings and similar components often have serious implications for the performance and...
The oil and gas industry both literally and figuratively fuels the global economic engine. One of the largest industries in the world, oil/gas makes use of complex, specialized equipment across the entire supply chain. From extraction, to transportation, to refining and beyond, oil/gas operators and OEM’s are challenged to engineer equipment for success across a huge variety of applications; virtually all of it needs to perform in extremely challenging operating conditions. These conditions include high temperature, high pressures, caustic chemicals, and abrasive particulate matter.
All of this infrastructure is necessary for getting oil and gas out of the ground and processing it into final products used in a huge variety of industries. While the most obvious consumer-facing outlet for oil/gas products is gasoline and motor oil, products created by this industry are vital inputs for a plethora of other industries: chemical manufacturing, plastics, and pharmaceuticals, just to name a few.
In this article, we provide an overview of key equipment used across upstream, midstream, and downstream oil/gas workflows.
Finally, we examine how TriStar’s advanced materials are used to manufacture components that address some of the most important engineering challenges for oil and gas equipment.
Oil and gas production and processing requires a complex, multi-stage supply chain. This supply chain is typically divided into three segments: upstream, midstream, and downstream.
We cover each below. For an extremely detailed overview of the entire oil/gas production process, we recommend this guide here.
The corporate organization of these various industry segments varies. Some companies are specialized in extraction, refining, or pipeline operations, while others are integrated operators spread across all of these operational phases.
“Upstream” refers primarily to the various techniques used to extract oil/gas from the earth. The precise extraction mechanism used depends on the underlying grade of oil (see below). Oil and gas extraction are distinct but closely related: in many cases, the release and capture of natural gas can occur during the oil drilling process. Gas is often dissolved in the oil itself.
“Grade” refers to important chemical properties of oil/gas. These properties can vary based on where the media was extracted. For each of these grades, different operational procedures and equipment are required. For example, thicker, lower-grade oils may need to be refined at higher temperatures. Different grades also require different extraction techniques:
The different grades discussed above require different extraction techniques. The most important categories for oil and gas extraction are “conventional” and “unconventional.”
Oil/gas wells are the first part of a huge arsenal of equipment used to get these commodities out of the ground, conduct preliminary processing, and prepare it for storage/transportation via the midstream segment. As noted above, the precise equipment used depends on the oil grade. The sheer variety of equipment used is too vast to cover here. We list some important examples below.
Once oil and gas is safely out of the ground, it is ready for storage and/or transportation to refining facilities where it will be transformed into a salable product (or an intermediate product for use in another industry).
Oil and gas are generally transported long distances via train, ship, or pipeline. There are some exceptions (for instance, freshly mined oil sands may be transported short distances by truck for processing).
Trains and ships offer more flexibility (pipeline’s delivery destinations are sharply constrained by their construction). Pipelines, however, offer lower transportation costs and lower risk of environmental contamination. These pipelines cover vast distances: the United States alone features over 2.6 million miles of pipelines that transport trillions of cubic feet of media every year. These massive volumes are simply beyond the capabilities of any other transportation method. Pipelines are found above ground, below ground, and even on the ocean floor.
The same pipelines transport gas/oil extracted and owned by many different companies. These quantities are separated by “pigs,” small vehicles designed to move within the pipeline itself. Pigs are used not only to separate products, but for cleaning and monitoring/preventive maintenance.
This final industry segment focuses on the refining of oil and gas into various final and intermediate products, along with the sale and distribution of these products.
Once oil/gas have been extracted and transported, they are ready for refining. The precise refining process utilized depends on the end product: oil and gas are core inputs for a massive variety of products. Even among fuel products, different refining processes are used to create:
But these various grades of fuel are only the beginning of many end-uses for oil/gas.
The refining process creates intermediate chemicals which are then transported to the companies that turn these intermediates into final products.
We cannot cover the specifics of the many different types of refining used for all of the product categories listed above. Below are some representative steps in petroleum refining. The U.S. Energy Information Administration provides an excellent, more detailed guide here.
Natural gas has its own unique refining requirements and processes. You can find an excellent overview here.
As the different industry segments discussed above indicate, the oil and gas industry relies on massive infrastructure featuring a huge arsenal of different types of equipment. While the engineering requirements of this equipment vary by application, certain challenges are commonplace.
Components used in oil and gas industry equipment need to be carefully engineered to reflect demanding operating conditions. They need to meet these challenges to ensure both efficient operations and safety.
TriStar works directly with a variety of oil and gas companies to engineer components designed to thrive in challenging operating conditions.
TriStar Components Are:
For a deeper look at specific material specifications, access our interactive materials database using the button below.
The case studies below help illustrate the diversity of solutions TriStar materials have offered throughout the oil and gas industry. In each case, we carefully studied the cost and performance requirements of the application at hand. With this knowledge in place, we were ready to draw on our deep lineup of polymer and composite materials to deliver the optimal component. When necessary, we can create custom formulations to fulfill exacting operational requirements.
The Client: A fracking equipment manufacturer.
Challenge: Fracking powertrains are operated 24/7/365 and require ultra-reliable transmission designs. Our customer needed a custom rotating shaft seal design to elevate industry expectations for transmission efficiency.
Solution: Our engineers studied a 1960’s-era auto transmission design for inspiration. A simple change in seal materials on the powertrain allowed for superior uptime and improved equipment performance. This case is a paradigmatic example of new materials allowing vintage design principles to drive improved ROI for mission-critical equipment.
The Client: A leading oil field services provider with global operations.
Challenge: Phenolic thrust washers were overheating when operating during pumping. Temperatures increase as the well runs deeper, and these washers were operating in an environment that often exceeded 300 degrees fahrenheit.
Solution: TriStar studied the application and identified Rulon 945 as the right material for the application. This Rulon formulation is able to withstand 300 degree plus temperatures. It takes advantage of a proprietary filler system which enables flexible operation in both high- and low-temperature applications.
The Client: An OEM offering a variety of oil and gas completion solutions.
Challenge: Legacy materials for liner hanger designs were no longer available due to environmental issues. Many modern alloys, coatings, and composites were capable of solving the environmental issue and performance requirement, but they were all proving too costly for this consumable component.
Solution: TriStar’s Ultracomp family of products finally hit the sweet spot for an alternative modern material. Ultracomp achieved environmental compliance, advanced composite performance, and a cost structure appropriate for a high-volume consumable.
The Client: An expert oil and gas completions provider.
The Challenge: Cement tools are essential products for constructing well casings. These tools cannot be retrieved or reused. Conventional iron and steel tools were proving too expensive for this consumable application, in addition to being difficult to transport.
The Solution: TriStar analyzed the functional requirements of the casings and provided our CJ filament wound family of products as a more cost effective alternative. Our CJ material brought the requisite strength alongside a substantial cost advantage.
The Client: Offshore drilling equipment manufacturer.
Challenge: a major offshore drilling OEM needed a better material for their drill line spoolers—the spools which control hauling of cable lines. They had traditionally employed bronze but needed a more durable and clean, environmentally friendly option.
Solution: we identified our CJ composites as the right solution. This material does not compromise on strength compared to traditional metal options and can easily handle the required loads and shocks. It will never corrode, even with chronic saltwater exposure. And self-lubrication means grease-free operation, essential in environmentally sensitive marine environments.
The Client: A leading OEM for midstream measurement solutions.
Challenge: Existing flange bearings for compact provers lacked the required mechanical properties, exhibiting cold flow deformation at high loads and RPM’s.
Solution: TriStar recognized this problem as a common issue with unfilled PTFE under sustained rotational stress. We solved the problem with our Rulon AR and Rulon LR materials, which use a filler system which reduces cold flow and enables enhanced efficiency for prover systems.
The Client: An OEM offering a variety of oil and gas equipment solutions.
The Challenge: find the right material that could support competitive prices for the piston rings used in after-market compressor parts. This application would require long periods of high-load runtime.
The Solution: Saint-Gobain has decades of experience formulating compounds for resilience to high wear. They engineered a product specifically to thrive in this application: Rulon 945. This is a black PTFE material that has the lowest deformation under load of all of the Rulon grades and it's an ideal choice for high-demand thermal applications, or anywhere excellent chemical resistance and good dimensional stability are required.
The Client: An OEM offering solutions across a wide variety of oil/gas applications.
Challenge: The legacy material used in diaphragm meters had inadequate lubricity for long life in high-wear applications. Preserving component lifespan and accuracy was an essential requirement for the commercial metering marketplace.
Solution: TriStar supplied Rulon LR, leveraging its proprietary filler system to provide enhanced dimensional stability. This advantage translated to optimal performance even after sustaining long periods of high-wear use, enabling high accuracy and cost-effective longevity.
The Client: Pipe Centralizer OEM
The Challenge: legacy materials for pipe centralizers were bulky, requiring excessive quantities to complete each job. In addition to being hard to work with, these materials’ cost structure was becoming bulky as well.
The Solution: TriStar’s Ultracomp UC300AX offered an ideal solution. The Ultacomp family of products feature industry-leading compressive strength and abrasion resistance alongside exceptional lubricity. These attributes reduce the total square feet of material required. In this application, Ultrcomp managed to reduce install, time, transportation cost, and overall material costs.
We hope this guide has provided useful insight into how TriStar’s self-lubricating materials can help enhance component performance in highly demanding oil/gas applications. In our experience, the right materials selection can help tackle some of the biggest challenges for both oil/gas operators and OEM’s.
At the same time, we never present any of our materials as an all-encompassing solution. To maximize performance, reliability, and efficiency, materials need to be selected based on careful engineering analysis of the projected operating environment.
All too often, bearings and similar vibration- and impact-absorbing components are approached as commodities and sourced from the cheapest bidder. Over the long term, we think an engineering-driven approach to component selection almost always pays off. In many cases, our components are directly price-competitive with traditional metal solutions. In others, they are similarly priced but offer substantial operational benefits that bring far greater lifespan ROI. Oil/gas is a great example of an industry where the cost of failure can be extremely high and a well-engineered component based on the right materials can make all the difference.
To help engineer the right materials solutions, TriStar brings a true consultative engineering approach to our relationship with every client. We work hard to understand not just where materials can function, but where they can solve problems and help equipment work better than ever.
If you have questions about how our advanced composite and polymer materials can tackle engineering challenges for your oil/gas equipment, please reach out to our team using the button below.