2015 marks the 30th anniversary of the founding of Surface Equipment Corporation, one of North America’s leading designers and fabricators of pressure vessels and other process-related equipment. Based out of Kilgore, Texas, the company is recognized for not only their quality and efficiency, but their ability to customize and successfully take on “out-of-the-box” projects for their customers as well. Jeremiah Weekley, director of sales for Surface Equipment Corporation, discusses the wide range of services his company provides, the industries they impact, and why, in recent years, bigger truly has been better. Steve Engelhardt reports.
Click here to read the complete illustrated article as originally published or scroll down to read the text article.
Surface Equipment Corporation began back in 1985 when Bart Owens, a chemical engineer at the time, decided to purchase a small fabrication shop in Kilgore, Texas. Having already established himself as an engineer in the oil and gas industry, Owens got his business started by doing work for local gas companies in the area and quickly grew its reputation to the point that it attracted the interest of the ITP Group, an Italian-based global fabricator, who was later acquired by them.
Having been acquired by a major manufacturer, Surface’s capabilities and overall footprint grew significantly. “After the ITP acquisition, we really took on a new identity, as they integrated a lot of their pressure vessels designs into our workload and invested in a bigger facility so that we could compete at a higher level,” says Weekley, adding, “This period really defined what has become backbone of Surface Equipment Corporation’s offering today.”
Some years later, the ITP Group, amidst some financial trouble, decided to sell off Surface Equipment Corporation to local investors, allowing it to evolve itself even further. “After becoming an independent company once again, Surface was able to better hone in on our core strengths, and it proved to be a smart move, as much of our business today lies within fabricating mid and large size vessels for North America’s natural gas sector.”
But to say that Surface simply fabricates pressure vessels wouldn’t do justice to the wide range of services and processes they are capable of, or the quality they achieve within each and every product they make. “We have a full engineering staff capable of designing and fabricating a wide range of products, including pressure vessels and process related equipment like scrubbers, dehydration systems, 2 and 3 phase equipment, slug catchers, sand separators, amine systems and other related equipment.”
Weekley says that while they ensure the same quality and durability in each and every one of their products, perhaps their most popular equipment to manufacture are their slug catchers. And this says a lot, given the fact that slug catchers are responsible for the critical storage of significant amounts of liquids within natural gas pipelines. “Slug catchers have become a bit of a specialty with respect to our offering, and when it comes to the size we are capable of, the bigger the better.”
Surface offers three different configurations of these systems: single barrel horizontal, finger harp style, or double barrel harp style, with each slug catcher is designed for specific applications. Single barrel horizontal catchers are designed for small particle separation (10 microns) in areas where there is more liquid and lower gas flow.
Double barrel harp style catchers are designed for applications where there are high gas flow rates and potentially large slugs, and provide an enhanced alternative to larger buffer vessels.
Finally, finger type catchers provide an economical way to catch large slugs as well, and deliver predictable particle separation in sizes of 50 microns and up. Because of their massive size, these slug catchers are fabricated in sections, and assembled in the field at the actual project site. “All of these models have become in high demand in recent years, with Surface delivering models for over 20 projects within the last three years alone.”
All of Surface’s slug catchers—and every other piece of equipment by extension—are fabricated under the roofs of what has now grown to three separate facilities in Kilgore. “We have divided our work into three different units, Surface Large Vessel (SLV), Surface Medium Vessel (SMV), and Surface Production Units (SPU),” he says.
Weekley adds that most of their major projects are handled at their SLV facility, with smaller equipment fabricated at the other two. “In our SMV facility, we have up to an 80,000 pound capacity and up to 8 feet in diameter and delegate smaller, volume-based projects to our other two shops,” he says, adding, “But with regards to our SLV facility, we can handle just about any equipment demand, with a capacity that extends up to 700,000 pounds and anywhere between 14 and 16 feet in diameter depending on the project.”
With this kind of capacity and process capability, Weekley says that one of Surface’s true differentiators amongst their competitors is their ability and willingness to take on “out of the box” type projects. One concrete instance of this came when the company took on a project with Chesapeake Energy a few years ago, who was in need of a pressure vessel that was actually larger than anything Surface had ever done before. “Chesapeake needed a vessel that ultimately topped out at 500,00 pounds—a piece of equipment whose weight exceeded not only the capacity of our facilities, but most others in the region as well.”
He says that despite the colossal size of the vessel, Surface took on the challenge, first building it in two halves within their SLV shop and then completing final assembly outside after renting a crane to lift the pieces of equipment out. “The project was so big that the freight company shipping the vessel had to order a million dollar trailer to deliver it, and needed to temporarily shut down the interstate in Texas in order to effectively transport it,” he says, adding with a laugh, “and you can be sure that out there, the whole event certainly turned quite a few heads.”
But beyond the company’s open mindedness towards projects, this particular example demonstrated the commitment and dependability that Surface Equipment Corporation brings to each and every partnership it enters into with a customer. And with the company growing its presence in multiple sectors, including offshore equipment manufacturing, a fast expanding base of customers are coming to understand this in many different ways. “We don’t view ourselves as merely a fabricator, but rather as an innovative partner that can take you through the entire process from start to finish, delivering the solutions you need each step along the way.”