Sterling Thermal Technology

Taking the heat

Although its name may have changed in recent years, Sterling Thermal Technology (STT) has origins dating back over 100 years as a supplier of combustion and heat exchange technology to the process engineering industries.

Initially formed under the name Sterling Process Engineering, the company is an amalgamation of three different specialist businesses – Thermo Engineers, Contract Combustion Technology (CCT) and Urquhart Engineers. Following the further acquisitions of Argo Flare Services – an operator focused flare service company – and Heat Exchange Industries (HEI) – specialists in compact machine and electric coolers – STT as it stands today was established.

With a customer base that includes the major oil and gas operators, as well as capital equipment suppliers, STT has experience of the standards and requirements of many industries including oil and gas, chemical, petrochemical, process, and power generation. The company is also well aware of developments in these sectors, such as the oil and gas industry’s move into harsher operating climates. Managing director Peter Michaluk highlights how STT is working to align itself with these new challenges: “We have always been able to build equipment to meet almost any environmental challenge or customer specification, taking into account commercial considerations.

“Presently we are seeing oil and gas exploration and production taking place in environments with extreme temperature conditions, which is challenging both the performance of heat transfer equipment and the materials of construction. To address this we are increasingly designing equipment from more corrosion resistant materials such as titanium, stainless steel, and various alloys.”

Other key factors driving STT’s target markets are a need to cut costs and reduce the size and weight of equipment, which is generally achieved by improving the efficiency of products. One example of this is STT’s revolutionary air-to-air cooler called Avantair, which uses sealed tubes (heat-pipes or thermo-syphons) containing refrigerant rather than re-circulated air or water, to provide the heat transfer. The refrigerant in the bottom of the tubes is heated in the hot zone and the resultant vapour travels at very high velocity to be cooled by the ambient air in the cold zone. This causes the vapour to condense and fall back down the tube, and offers highly efficient thermal transfer within a much smaller unit.

“Increasingly the Avantair is being seen as the only cost effective solution for applications where space and weight are limited and local conditions dictate a heat exchange operating at very close approach temperatures,” notes Peter. “The Avantair is continuing to penetrate the market and has been favoured with major orders from several oil and gas operators. Within this market our customers are valuing the opportunity to have a compact heat exchanger without the need for a costly water circuit built from more expensive materials.”

Recently STT has been awarded substantial contracts by Siemens for the Manifa project in Saudi Arabia and by Converteam for new deepwater platforms in the Gulf of Mexico. These contracts bring together many different aspects of STT’s capabilities, including the Avantair and fast track delivery. Additionally, these contracts also required a substantial review of material selection and traceability together with construction methods and certification to be carried out. The endorsement of two of the largest oil companies is testament to the acceptability of this technology.

By continuing to invest in innovation, STT has gained an excellent position in terms of market standing, and remains committed to offering its customers the latest technology. “We continue to develop our existing products with a focus on extending their application and providing the best value solutions. Considerable time and expense is being expended on developing modular standardised designs for our key products and automating the estimating and design process with sophisticated programming. Within the manufacturing side of the business, we are developing and installing new equipment for attaching fins to tubing and for the plastic coating of large fabrications. These developments are in line with our aim to improve operational processes to reduce lead times and lower costs,” describes Peter.

Over the last two years, STT has experienced increasing demand for its products from a broader customer base. There has also been a trend towards the refurbishment and upgrading of existing installed equipment rather than new capital investment – another area where STT is able to lend its expertise. Despite the residual effects of the recession on certain areas of the market, and increasing costs for raw materials such as copper and steel, STT has continued to grow its international export business and in support of this has recently qualified for ASME VIII certification to U, UM, and R standards. The company has also achieved significant success in new markets such as the wind turbine industry through custom designs for volume manufacture.

In terms of progressing the business even further, Peter concludes with STT’s strategy to capitalise further on the heat exchanger market, which includes an imminent announcement of the acquisition of another UK based heat exchanger company: “We plan to deliver significant growth, over the next five years through organic expansion and opportunistic acquisitions. We greatly value the support of our shareholders in order to take advantage of a fragmented market with many small heat exchange companies, and in essence see significant opportunities for consolidation. Acquisitions and joint ventures with companies strategically located close to our key customers will increase our manufacturing capacity, and in turn will reduce delivery costs and lead times on products.”

Sterling Thermal Technology
Products: Heat exchange equipment