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Interview with Thomas Sunde, Vice President of Technology at Subsea 7

Interview with Thomas Sunde, Vice President of Technology at Subsea 7


Many industries are being completely transformed by new technologies in recent years, but hasn’t the subsea sector always been highly innovative?

The subsea sector has always been innovative but we’ve faced a challenge to actually bring out the full potential of technologies. We have worked at times in isolation: we looked at technical challenges - how we can solve them. We looked at cost challenges, how we can reduce cost - but until now we’ve struggled to take the next step, which has been to take a “total system” approach and work in partnership together across barriers.

Other industries are transforming through digitalisation. How is Subsea 7 working towards that?

The subsea industry is moving fast into digitalisation now, applying digital technologies from other industries and allowing us to move very quickly in changing the way we’re working - creating greater efficiency and a higher quality of decision-making. One example is our Life of Field programme. We’ve partnered with a company called Leidos who have decades of experience in other industries and we’re now bringing into use examples of visual recognition software and machine learning that increase the quality of our decision-making, and also significantly change the pace we can work at.

How has Subsea 7 managed to expand its technology development so dramatically?

We started several years ago looking at how we can create more value through technology, and then we identified what the key developments are, and asked what are the future challenges we face. We looked at how we can create real value out of technology, how technologies can change the way we’re working, fundamentally change development concepts, reducing cost and increasing the reliability of the systems.

What are the main strategic goals for Subsea 7’s technology development?

The main strategic goal for technology development in Subsea 7 is value creation. It’s creating a combination of step-changes, changing the ways field developments are performed, changing them into a total life-cycle perspective, knowing that what we install on the seabed, what we have designed, is going to be operated for the next 30 years. So, our goal is bringing the Life of Field perspective into our design while also continuing with incremental developments, continuing to push down costs and improving the reliability of subsea systems.

What are the market-ready technologies which will make an early impact?

There are a number of market-ready technologies, or near market-ready technologies, that are already making an impact on the industry. One example is our heated flowline system, the Electrically Heat Traced Flowline (EHTF), which allows us to change how we actually develop a field using electrical heating in the system in a very effective manner, both from an electrification and from a cost point of view. We have our first job now with Aker BP with Ærfugl but we also see at least 12 new prospects globally that have benefits and value from utilising EHTF technology.

Another example is our Pipeline Bundle technology which we started 35 years ago, installing Bundles in the North Sea. We’ve installed over 80 bundles to date, building experience to enable us to greatly improve Bundle functionality. We’ve driven down the cost of Bundles but in the process we have also recently created a new product, the Submerged Production Unit (SPU), which allows us to install larger structures with the same methodology, manufacturing and testing everything onshore and towing it out with local smaller vessels to site, with significant benefits in sustainability.

What existing technologies underpin these new products?

Some good examples are the selection of flowline materials. This is a primary driver on cost, and in recent years we’ve seen a move to more expensive and exotic flowline materials.

We’re now taking that experience of 30/40 years working with sophisticated flowline materials and working towards countering high material costs by creating new systems. We’ve moved towards non-metallic flowline materials in a significant way, and we can see that becoming a big step for the industry, making more use of polymers in the systems to reduce cost and weight and also allowing us to enhance manufacturing flowline insulation in new ways.

Now, moving to the next stage, what are the next-generation intervention systems that we can use?

One example is the control room we’re now standing in, which allows us to operate ROVs from an onshore base, reducing dependency on vessels and ultimately moving to a point in a few years’ time where we’re actually hosting the ROVs on the seabed and remotely controlling them from onshore control rooms, which will completely eliminate the requirement for a support vessel. Seabed-resident ROVs significantly reduce the cost of operations and also give flexibility and direct access for our clients to carry out inspections and intervention work from their own control rooms.

For more information about our transformative technologies, have a look at our technology magazine ‘deep 7’ will soon be available on our website


Published: 30-01-2019
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