Volume 15 | Issue 1 | Year 2012

Based in Edmonton, Alberta, and established in 1979, Thermo Design Engineering Ltd. (TDE), has grown to become a leading Canadian petroleum and petrochemical process systems specialist.
“We were formed by people who already had extensive involvement in oil and gas production equipment for the Alberta market,” relates TDE’s Vice President of Business Development Sean Montgomery.

Since its formation, TDE has provided engineering design and fabrication services to energy-related industries. Today, TDE is an EPF (engineering, procurement and fabrication) enterprise for oil and gas production facilities.

But don’t let the capsule description or the initial comments make you think this is a national enterprise. TDE’s activities have taken it far beyond Canada’s borders. “We pursue markets wherever there is gas and oil,” says Montgomery, adding that its big markets reside in the Middle East, Russia and CIS (Commonwealth of Independent States) nations, which include places such as Azerbaijan, Kazakhastan, Turkmenistan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan. “We’re also active in Southeast Asia, China, Brazil and Africa, both in the north and west regions of the continent.”

Why such broad global coverage? “You have to pursue all markets to expand the business,” explains Montgomery.

TDE’s business has certainly expanded, especially in recent years. “From 2005 until 2011, we’ve doubled our sales revenue,” says Montgomery.

That translates into a current figure of about $120 million, which results from purely organic growth. “No acquisitions have come into play,” says Montgomery. “We are a private company.”

WIDE RANGING CAPABILITY AND CAPACITY
As far as specific offerings, TDE engineers, designs, and builds oil and natural gas process plants, systems and equipment, and it offers a broad array of related services. Its range of capabilities and services include feasibility studies, project management, process design engineering, equipment design, procurement, equipment fabrication, joint venture engineering and fabrication management, site construction, supervision, commissioning and start-up, personnel training, after-sales service and parts supply. For sure, TDE is as comprehensive as it is capable.

“It’s a full suite of engineering capabilities that we offer, and it covers a full range of disciplines,” describes Montgomery. “These include areas such as process, mechanical, electrical, instrumentation, controls, piping, drafting, and civil structural. As such, we offer a turnkey solution, which is one of our most attractive elements.”

TDE understands what needs to be done, and it can delineate someone’s needs in a fashion that is as perceptive as it’s concise. “Once we get the basic information, we engineer the turnkey solution – which includes the necessary engineering, procurement and manufacturing – which we can accomplish in house. From there, we can ship overseas, wherever necessary. In addition, our start-up crews and construction supervisors put the plant together, get it up and running and then turn it over to the end user.”

Training, for the company, is an essential element in this equation. “We’ve transformed farmers into gas-plant operators,” says Montgomery. “Company competency resides at every level of the organization, and our people are very capable when it comes to making the customers feel comfortable with the facilities that we build. That’s one thing that we assure.”

And that assurance goes out to major-leaguers such as Chevron, Exxon, Shell and BP. “But in specific geographic areas, we also work with state oil and gas companies, such as in Kuwait, where we work with the Kuwait Oil Company,” describes Montgomery. “The same thing happens in places such as Turkmenistan, where we work with their gas company. In Brazil, we work with Petrobas. In Mexico, that would be Pemex. Essentially, you tell us the country, and you describe a company’s need, and we can demonstrate what we have accomplished – and what we can offer.”

And it follows up on that offer. That’s why its relationships result in repeat business – ask anyone in any business about their key to success, and they will tell you that repeat business is essential to survival. “You don’t just do an ‘okay’ job and then move on to the next customer or next job,” comments Montgomery. “That’s not our approach, and that’s why we’ve developed business relationships that have lasted for more than 20 years.”

Provide an effective solution, and that solution will save the customer a lot of money – that should be the company’s mantra. It describes industry success in a nutshell.

“Our approach is very attractive to customers,” continues Montgomery. “I some cases they typically don’t have a lot of involvement in the areas we focus on. Still, they have a clear idea about what they need and what they want. Our turnkey solution makes it a lot easier. Our clients don’t have to engage with multiple parties, where engineering is done here and fabrication is done there. We provide what I call a ‘grass roots’ option.”

ONGOING COMPANY DEVELOPMENT
At its outset in 1979, TDE provided high-quality and innovative designs for modular process plant packages for Canadian upstream oil and gas clients. Indeed, TDE helped pioneer the modular design concept of natural gas processing plants, according to the company. Today, that kind of innovative attitude is exported to many countries (as is advanced technology).

The modular concept is ideally suited for remote installations, describes TDE, adding that all of the major equipment is configured and assembled to prefabricated structural steel skids. These skids, in turn, are sized in accordance with local transportation needs and requirements. The skidded components or modules are then shipped to the field where installation and commissioning can take place in the matter of days.

Exportation of expertise began in the late 1980s, when the company began pursuing opportunities in international markets. “It started with China, moved to Russia and then into the Middle East,” recalls Montgomery. “From there, things snowballed.”

In recent years, TDE’s growth has been rapid. Increased presence in the international arena has been accompanied by product diversification. As the company reports, projects have been shipped to Alaska, Angola, Brazil, India, Indonesia, Kuwait, Libya, Mexico, Pakistan, Syria, China, Poland, Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan. TDE has also conducted engineering design and studies for Cameroon and Egypt.

With its increasing scope – combined with its increasing size, capacity and capability – the company has been able to successfully take on ever larger projects, reports Montgomery. Further, TDE’s export work has led to Alberta Export Development awards.

FOOTPRINT FIRMLY PLANTED IN CANADA
The progression to larger scale projects allowed Thermo Design to expand and amalgamate its design and production facilities. “Right now, we have about seven different shops, and operations are consolidated on a site that measures about 30 acres combined,” says Montgomery, describing the Edmonton headquarters and its main production plant. “The shops range from about 10,000 square feet to about 35,000 square. Inside this operation, we have crane capacity of up to about 250 tons, meaning that we can handle just about any sized vessel.”

And as TDE has expanded both operations and international scope, it hasn’t forgotten its roots. It is becoming increasingly active in Canada’s energy industry. Indeed, energy industry trends bring it all back home.

“For instance, in Alberta, there is this large oil sands deposit, and in the last four to five years, we’ve grown our oil processing division to offer multiple products for projects related to this,” says Montgomery.

He references company capabilities and products such as oil treating, free-water knockouts, de-salting, steam condensate packages, sulfur recovery plants, as well as packaging of the pump and auxiliary equipment that relates to the aforementioned. “Up north, we’ve become very heavily involved with some of the largest companies involved in the oil sands discovery and their subsequent efforts,” says Montgomery. “That means that we have grown our own related division, and that we have become a major player in this area.”

CRYOGENIC ADVANCEMENTS
Another area that is fueling TDE’s growths, he indicates, is cryogenic technology. “That has really come into the forefront in the past year, what with lower gas prices and higher oil prices,” he relates. Such circumstances have created a demand for cryogenic gas plants. “What these do is recover more of the propane, butane and condensate liquids by the deployment of cryogenic gas processing equipment,” he describes. “Several new plants have pushed forward the recovery of such liquids.”

Creation of these types of facilities have been absent in the Alberta area for the past decade. Interest has been reawakened. “As such, we’ve witnessed further success by being awarded contracts for projects related to that,” Montgomery reveals.

REACTING TO TRENDS
Looking at the Canadian market, Montgomery says TDE has been able to react very quickly, increasing its presence, due to oil sands and cryogenic demands. “As far as cryogenics, we have a lot of expertise in that area,” he says. “Typically, we’ve built one such plant on the international stage each year. But we are now increasingly involved locally in the engineering and fabrication of such plants.”

So, it is a very exciting time for a company such as TDE. “Cryogenic projects have been a very exciting development, especially for a company such as ours,” Montgomery enthuses.

But the company has a lot more to be excited about. “Much of our work has involved export, but in the recent years, we’re looking back at the Canadian market, and we are also seeking opportunities in the United States, especially with all of the shale gas that’s being found down there.”

TDE is not a company to let an opportunity go untapped. It’s a brave new energy world we move into, and TDE will be one of the wagon masters that lead the way into the new technological frontier.