Materials Engineering Limited Aberdeen
Issue 05 2010
Based in Aberdeen, Materials Engineering Limited (MEL) has been offering materials testing, failure investigations and welding services to the oil and gas industry since 1980.
Originally operating as Oilfab, before being acquired by the Materials Testing Technology (MTT) group in 1997, the company today offers a wide range of testing, welding and metallurgical services to its many customers across Europe.
Materials Engineering Limited’s material testing department benefits from having an in-house fully equipped machine shop and laboratories with test equipment ranging from a scanning electron microscope, optical microscopes and automatic hardness testers to 2200kN fatigue machines, able to provide both short-term, simple tests to more complex development programmes. Within this section of the business are three main sub-sections, which are mechanical testing, chemical and corrosion analysis and fracture mechanics.
The mechanical testing MEL offers includes tensile testing from five to 2200 KN, tensile testing at elevated temperatures, macroscopic examination, determination of the microstructures and ferrite content, Vickers, Brinell and Rockwell hardness tests, bend and impact testing, and several on-site testing services, like hardness testing and ferrite measurements.
Chemical analysis and (positive) material identification (PMI) is provided both in-house and on-site through the use of optical emission spectrometers and X-ray fluorescence. Corrosion tests cover a wide range from pitting to hydrogen induced cracking and stress corrosion cracking tests. Lastly, this department’s laboratory also offers one of the most comprehensive fracture mechanics (fatigue) and CTOD testing services available.
MEL’s failure investigations department is led by a team of experienced and technically proficient metallurgists, who examine the type and cause of failures of products or constructions. Such failures, which might have led to casualties, injuries or near misses might be the result of fatigue, mechanical overload, creep, misuse, improper fabrication or design or environmentally induced mechanisms like all types of corrosion, hydrogen embrittlement or liquid metal embrittlement.
The final department within Materials Engineering Limited is welding services, which offers an in-house facility for procedure qualifications, welder qualification testing, research and development work and welding consultancy. The facility also offers eight individual welding bays and a fully equipped machine shop for preparing weld joints. Its customers here range from small independent workshops to major players in the North Sea and global oil and gas industries.
Managing director of MEL, Sheffield Testing Laboratories and the laboratories of Schielab in Holland, Lammert Brantsma, also a metallurgist and welding engineer, elaborates upon how the expertise of his company’s staff further complements its service offering: “We have a lot of expertise and facilities not only in Aberdeen, but within the group of laboratories as a whole. Our philosophy is that everyone within the company should understand the technical aspects of its operations. Whether it is the administration staff or the managing director, each member of staff must be well informed about all that is going on within the company. Short lines of communication, sharing expertise and co-operation between departments and sister laboratories are essential. This results in the best possible service to our clients – essentialy high quality answers on questions and the best possible root causes of failures.”
Another of the company’s strengths stems from its diverse nature as a business, and its ability to provide services across these three main sectors, according to Lammert: “We are very proficient in the three areas we operate in, and we can integrate all of the skills from each. Those working in the failure investigation department, for instance, will collaborate with colleagues in the welding department if the cause of failure is welding related. This allows us to ensure a comprehensive and complete service.”
This has allowed Materials Engineering Limited to develop a significant client base over the years, with companies from all over the world taking advantage of its expertise. Lammert continues: “Companies in rig or pipeline construction, integrity management companies, construction companies, pipe fabricators and material suppliers. But also insurance companies, notified bodies, lawyers and safety boards. We serve many different clients, mainly in the UK and in Holland, ranging from the smallest blacksmiths to the largest multinational platform manufacturers and FPSO leasing companies. The demand for our services is high for anyone who works with or deals in metal.”
Despite the high demand, there are still challenges in the market, and these are present within MEL’s Aberdeen-based operations, but also for the operations in Holland and the UK. Lammert explains: “Before the 1980s, the steel industry in the UK was really thriving. Steel producers and several construction companies across the country had their own materials testing laboratories and there were a lot of skilled metallurgists in the industry. The closure of many of these companies during the eighties and nineties saw the closure of many of the laboratories as well, and many metallurgists were out of work. The profession dwindled and we haven’t really seen it recover since, and so there is certainly a lack of metallurgical knowledge in the industry. We do all we can to provide this knowledge to the industry.” Materials Engineering Limited kept the necessary metallurgical and testing infrastructure for the industry in Aberdeen in place.
Lammert believes this dearth of talent could have a significant impact upon the future of his industry, and in order to secure its future, it is something that must be addressed. He concludes: “This has the potential to cause safety problems for the oil and gas industry over the next ten to 20 years, and so it is important that the companies involved can understand this. They should start training more of their engineers the principles of metallurgy and corrosion.”
Materials Engineering Limited Aberdeen
Services: Material testing, failure investigations, welding services