The deep blue

Mapping the unknown is not just a concept, and out there in the ocean, iXBlue has products that are assisting the exploration that feeds the oil and gas industry.

Today, iXBlue is a high-technology company designing, developing and manufacturing technologies used for navigation, positioning, subsea imagery, and ocean and land exploration worldwide. With bases in France, the UK and Australia, and ten satellite sales and support offices around the globe employing over 450 people with a turnover in excess of 80 million euros, it is not just a blip on the radar.

Business for iXBlue is split with 70 per cent dedicated to civil maritime and 30 per cent naval defence, working predominantly with oil and gas companies and associated suppliers as well as hydrographic and geophysics companies.

Marketing and communications director Bertrand Laubie highlights the strengths that have plotted its route so far: “We are not just manufacturers of products, we invest 20 per cent of our turnover into research and development of critical components with patented designs. The result is that customers are attracted to our company because we have the capacity to support their needs. We manage the key elements ourselves, we do not depend on the market, and this is very important in the oil and gas industry. For the business it is key that we have a worldwide presence remaining close to our customers by offering technical support through our locations.”

The high performance inertial technology engineered by iXBlue has been selected to provide two UK Royal Navy aircraft carriers with navigational systems meeting the specific operational requirements of the vessels. The solid state, maintenance free unit has also been selected for other prestigious products including anti-aircraft frigates for the French Navy and integration into the Astute class nuclear submarines for the Royal Navy.

Following the development of its new positioning systems iXBlue has established itself as a key partner of main operators in oil and gas. The solutions meet their strong requirements, providing flexibility and reliability.

The company has also announced a partnership with Saipem, focused on the development of quicker processes for metrology. Acoustic products division director Christian Giroussens highlights: “This is one of the most challenging applications for subsea positioning as it requires accuracy to a few centimetres and at the same time requires the measurement as quickly as possible. Saipem published a request for innovative ideas to produce a solution, so we approached them with our inertial technology. We also knew that the combination of acoustic and inertial would be beneficial, providing a quick result that can be trusted. Saipem had a pure understanding of metrology, and with our ideas we have been able to produce reliable and accurate systems that are fast to operate. We had the opportunity to deploy the technology ComMet, in real conditions and compare it to conventional solutions. Sufficient vessel and ROV time with skilled operators helped us reach our objectives.”

Since its qualification the system has been used in projects in West Africa, Egypt and South China Sea. Christian continues: “For the BONGA NW project in Nigeria we had a very small window to complete the processing of the data. An advantage of this technology is the time saved. We were able to complete eight metrologies in 48 hours from deck to deck, so a metrology in six hours as a mean value. This is one of the best turnarounds on the market.”

ComMet is built around a set of products that the company already has in its portfolio. With the ability to operate at any water depth the equipment is made of standard iXBlue positioning blocks that can be reused for other applications whenever metrology is completed. Flexibility has ensured that the company provides the oil and gas industry with navigation systems for 80 per cent of the ROVs on the market.

In 2005 iXBlue launched its underwater global acoustic positioning system. GAPS was an innovative platform with an integral all-in-one construction that was easy and fast to deploy and operate. “The next step was the integration of the product in terms of interface, opening it up to other applications in the range. GAPS-NG is now compatible with other existing systems that can be deployed on the seabed or tracked vehicles. The best example of its concept is that our competitors now copy it,” says Christian.

As business moves into 2014 iXBlue is focused on improving its product range of acoustic positioning and inertial navigation systems. Bertrand summarises: “We are proposing new compact solutions to our range, utilising the same technology. We know that we can increase business in our different areas and regions. We have the capabilities to become the leader thanks to our know-how. We will also be providing full solutions and integrated systems that we know will benefit our customers. The next three years hold great opportunities.”

Services: Solutions for offshore, oceanography, hydrography and geophysics