At a time when economic growth has slowed for many companies, Filterboxx experienced a 3,500 percent growth rate over the last five years. Janice Gable Bashman reports on how this company provides custom, high-quality potable and waste water systems and plants for the oil and gas industries.
Filterboxx entered the market in 2001 as a two-man team to provide high-quality potable water and waste water systems for remote operations in the oil and gas industries. The first year saw $600,000 in business. This year, a mere eight years later, the company realized $40 million, representing an astounding 3,500 percent growth rate over the last five years. Alongside this, Profit magazine recognized Filterboxx as one of Canada’s fastest growing companies for the past two years.
In 2001, Kevin Slough and Troy Lupul started Filterboxx after they both saw a need (and an opportunity) to provide high quality potable water and waste water systems to meet environmental regulations. Slough (who has an engineering background) and Lupul (who has an operations background) were working as consultants in the industry at the time and had been brought in to look at waste water facilities for oil and gas companies that were not in compliance with current regulations. The oil and gas companies wanted advice on how to fix the plants, but Slough and Lupul discovered there was effectively nothing that could be done to meet these needs. After experiencing this situation on numerous occasions, Slough and Lupul started Filterboxx.
The company remained small for the first few years but grew quickly as its reputation for providing high quality equipment spread throughout the industry. In early 2002, the company obtained a contact with EnCana to provide a large waste water plant for its Foster Creek facility. “This was a breakthrough because it was a big showcase for us in the industry,” CEO Kevin Slough says. “It was one of the first large skid-based waste water treatment plants that really met compliance with environmental regulations. Prior to that, a lot of these remote facilities didn’t meet compliance because the systems were not well designed and the companies didn’t have a lot of knowledge as to how a system was supposed to function.”
In 2004, the company hired its first employee; today there are 75. That same year, Filterboxx (the original business unit) started a rental division, now called Combo Energy Services, to provide systems for larger camps on a short-term basis. In 2005, in a departure from potable water systems, Filterboxx built a boiler feed system for Shell, which helped Filterboxx expand into the process water end of the business. Boiler feed systems treat river water, and the resulting high quality water is used in boilers. From there, the company was hired to create additional process water systems for a variety of clients.
The company evolved to provide rentals on a 20-person waste water plant to a 1000-person waste water rental treatment plant. The company also introduced its utility combos, which were well received in the industry.
In 2006, Filterboxx introduced a rig combo to provide small wastewater plants for rig crews at drill sites. These complete utilities packages included water systems, gensets (power generators), safety showers, light towers, etc., and were provided on a rental basis. In addition, the company provided contract operators to run the facilities. That same year, the company provided SunCor with a small system, which then led to an ongoing relationship. Filterboxx also provided water reatment systems for Canadian military bases in Afghanistan in 2003 and 2007.
Although the company has been largely focused on Western Canada, it has done international work on an opportunistic basis and is focusing on expanding into the Middle East and into the United States. The company expects to take contracts in the Middle East starting in early 2010.
Filterboxx is not restricted in its ability to provide equipment to its clients. The company operates out of two field offices (Stony Plain and Grande Prairie, Alberta, Canada). Manufacturing is completed off site at numerous facilities, all of which fabricate to Filterboxx’s quality control standards. “We saw early on that we’d never have the right size plant, so we decided to take an outsource model,” says Slough. “This model doesn’t tie us to a restriction in our capacity. We can take on as much work as we can handle. We’re also not stuck with an oversized plant if there’s an economic downturn.”
Filterboxx custom engineers its systems to meet client specifications, so rather than offering several standard size units from which the client can pick, Filterboxx addresses the client’s needs and builds to those. Although some companies may offer cheaper systems, Slough says these are made from plastic. Those made by Filterboxx are built to last, so the clients are assured they will get a long and useful life out of Filterboxx’s equipment.
In addition, because Filterboxx is a smaller player among large water treatment divisions within big multinational companies, it has the ability to introduce new products and applications into the market much faster. “This puts us more on the leading edge technology-wise,” explains Slough. “We can rely on our ability to execute with excellence; we can move quickly, and we have excellent execution. Our reputation grows through word of mouth through the industry.”
Filterboxx is ISO 9001:2008 certified and believes the processes instituted through this management program enable the company to see where it makes mistakes, allows it to make adjustments, and ultimately saves money. The program also has been useful in providing a solid foundation for this rapidly growing company, and the certification gives Filterboxx an edge when facing very large competitors.
NEW AND EXCITING
One product of note is Filterboxx’s mud stripper system, which removes solids from water-based drilling muds, allowing a higher percentage of water recycling during the drilling process, reducing the amount of water lost and, ultimately, saving money for the drilling company. Filterboxx sold this portion of its business in 2007.
The company’s most recent products feature silica carbide ceramic membranes, which are an extremely chemically-resistant material. Most other products are metal oxide based, inconsistent, and unable to treat heavy oil. Ceramic membranes provide a consistent quality regardless of feed water quality. Using this membrane, Filterboxx is able to provide ultra filtration for many streams that were not able to be treated efficiently, and the company is able to do it at a high temperature. This process is used predominately for de-oiling. “The in-situ process uses technology called steam-assisted gravity drainage,” Slough says. “In this system they inject steam into the ground and get the bitumen and water out, but you need to separate the bitumen from the water. The water is then made into steam again and injected back into the ground. In conventional de-oiling, the temperature must be reduced prior to separation of the bitumen from the water, and then the water must be reheated. Our product eliminates the need to reheat the water.”
Another application for the silica carbide ceramic membrane is in systems where enhanced oil recovery is needed. When an oil reserve is aging, it loses its pressure, and the amount of water that comes out with the oil is increased. To maintain this pressure, water is re-injected back into the oil formation. Filterboxx’s membrane separates the oil from the water and provides oil-free suspended solid-free water, so that fouled water is not re-injected into the formation. This improves efficiency and decreases the risk of fouling a well.
Filterboxx has four core values: quality, constant improvement, profitability, and fun. Filterboxx strives to provide superior products through high-quality employees, service, and components. The company also seeks to complete each project in a manner that is better than the last. And if the company discovers an improved way to do so that uses new technology, it will go that route. Also, if a product does not exist on the market but Filterboxx recognizes a need, it will pursue creating that product if it makes sense to the future of the company. Profits are the bottom line for every company, and Filterboxx strives to increase profits while maintaining its high-quality products and reputation. Finally, the company believes its employees should have fun and enjoy their jobs.
For a company that started out small, Filterboxx has grown tremendously in the short time the company has been in business. With its rapid growth and profitability, Filterboxx seems positioned to stick around for a long time.