Stilwell Baker recently won two projects for the design and manufacture of new electronic products that will be marketed to the Oil and Gas industry. As a result of the two projects, the Offshore Technology Conference in Houston became a priority destination for me during the first week in May. Yes, Spring is hot and muggy in Houston, and arriving in southern Texas from the cool Pacific Northwest was like being transported directly into a terrarium; but it was worth it. I knew there would be companies that needed custom electronic product design and manufacturing at this show.
As is typical for most industry shows, the exhibiting companies spanned a wide range of specialties—from drilling rigs and platforms to flow control systems, monitoring equipment, and instrumentation. The market segment behemoth, Halliburton, commanded vast square footage on the show floor with the other huge players in the energy market, but there were also hundreds of small businesses at the conference. I spent the majority of my time with the latter.
Most of the smaller companies had been engaged in the Oil and Gas market for a decade or more, and were promoting specific collections of off-the-shelf products that could be customized for integration into existing systems. Developing a new product for the oil and gas market requires a strong knowledge of the customers’ needs and intrinsically safe regulations. My conversations with potential customers centered on understanding their business needs, capturing product requirements, and helping them understand the electronic engineering and manufacturing talent that we have here at Stilwell Baker. It was time well spent; the people were friendly, and I came away with a better feel for the market.
When I returned to the Vancouver office, I found the engineering team mobilized in the lab—entirely absorbed in board bring-up and functionality testing on the first product prototype. During development, they ran into the common challenges facing those who design electronics for the Oil and Gas industry: especially harsh and hazardous environments, and requirements for high reliability and longevity (think of 10 years in a basin of hot crude with 99% outside humidity).
Last week, we delivered the first prototype to our customer for testing in the oil field, and the engineers have moved on to stress testing. Both new products are focused on wireless sensor networks, and though I would love to explain their unique characteristics and the engineering that drives them, my lips are sealed with non-disclosure agreements.