As a company that takes pride in the speed of its order-to-shipment process, Gulf Coast Seal recognized an opportunity to improve its turnaround time by investigating the benefits of Solvay Solexis’s Tecnoflon fluoroelastomers.
Gulf Coast Seal is a worldwide distributor and manufacturer of high-performance sealing products and solutions for energy, oil, and gas applications. The company’s custom-molded sealing products are a key component used in subsea oil and gas drilling equipment. This equipment must perform under the high pressures and temperatures encountered during energy exploration and production.
In October 2003, while attending a seminar sponsored by the Energy Rubber Group in Houston, Jeff Lynch, the engineering manager for Gulf Coast Seal, first learned of a new Tecnoflon fluoroelastomer technology. The product promised all of the excellent mechanical properties he needed to produce — including improved compression-set resistance — and offered a critical new advantage that Lynch wanted to pursue.
Traditionally, Gulf Coast Seal’s production time (and that of its competitors) for fluoroelastomer components, was extended by a post-cure time of 24 hours. The post-cure time is the time following molding of the rubber product, during which it is heat-treated to remove moisture and develop required mechanical properties. Because the seals manufactured by Gulf Coast Seal are custom made in various shapes and sizes, it would be ideal if the company would like was able to begin production as soon as it received an order for a fluoroelastomer-based seal.
“In the past, the shortest lead time we had for these types of products was several days to several weeks,” says Lynch. “The alternative was to carry a large inventory of the various shapes and sizes our customers require to be in a position to ship the product promptly.”
Following his technical presentation to the Energy Rubber Group, Steve Jagels, materials engineer at Solvay Solexis, was approached by Lynch, who had several questions about how Solvay Solexis’s Tecnoflon fluoroelastomer might improve Gulf Coast Seal’s turnaround time and reduce its inventory by decreasing post-cure time. Gulf Coast Seal was not a Solvay Solexis customer at the time, but after initial discussions, the two believed they had identified an excellent opportunity for both companies.
Solvay Solexis’s Tecnoflon HS product offers good compression-set resistance and tensile and elongation properties, and it is easier to mold because it is very forgiving.
“I knew that Jeff [Lynch] needed a material that would maintain his products’ excellent properties of high heat and aggressive chemical tolerance, but at the same time reduce his post-cure time. Tecnoflon’s outstanding performance has been proven time and again in this type of environment, and its patented polymer technology is unrivaled by competing products,” says Jagels. “I was optimistic that it would offer a good solution for Gulf Coast Seal.”
For the next few months Gulf Coast Seal and Solvay Solexis worked together to perfect a compound to meet Gulf Coast’s needs. The Solvay Solexis Development Lab tested a variety of formulations.
“The people at Solvay Solexis were extremely easy to work with,” says Lynch. “The lab work they performed saved Gulf Coast Seal thousands of dollars we would have incurred if we had done the testing on our own.”
According to Lynch, the collaboration Gulf Coast Seal shared with Solvay Solexis was unprecedented. Typically, he says Gulf Coast Seal has had to hire a chemist and work through an independent laboratory at significant expense. “In my experience,” he says, “this was a very unique thing for Solvay Solexis to do.”
“I knew that Tecnoflon HS could provide them with a real advantage,” says Jagels. “I worked very closely with Gulf Coast Seal to develop compounds that exceeded every material specification and that could be processed in a wide variety of tools.
“Tecnoflon HS is manufactured in our new state-of-the-art facility, where we have the ability to closely control the polymerization reaction and impart new properties,” he says.
According to Jagels, Tecnoflon HS has several advantages. Primarily, he says, it develops superior compression-set resistance with a very short post-cure time. Further, he says it offers a more consistent compound with higher filler loadings for lower compound costs.
Within three months, Gulf Coast Seal and Solvay Solexis finalized a compound based on Tecnoflon polymer. Gulf Coast Seal now maintains inventory of the compound in raw material form at its production facility in Houston.
The Tecnoflon-based compound allows for a post-cure time of two hours (a 22-hour reduction), while providing superior compression-set resistance and tolerance for higher temperatures, which is a characteristic that meets the needs of today’s deeper drilling applications. Gulf Coast Seal now receives orders, molds and cures a custom product, and ships to the customer in one day. The decreased post-cure time also allows the company to increase output and reduce energy costs and inventory. “This was not possible pre-Tecnoflon,” says Lynch.
Since converting to the Tecnoflon compound and thereby improving turnaround time and the properties and processability of its products, Gulf Coast Seal has increased sales of the impacted products by 25 percent.
“This has provided Gulf Coast Seal with a huge competitive advantage,” says Lynch. “It has allowed us to take considerable market share and increase our inventory turns dramatically in the last six months.”
With Gulf Coast Seal’s customers located throughout the world, responsive turnaround time is a critical aspect of customer service. Reducing production time for its custom-made seals means that its customers’ equipment is not idle, waiting for parts not inventoried at the jobsite.
“Our customers are quite pleased with the performance of these products and happy that we can turn them out in the same day in a variety of shapes and sizes,” says Lynch.
The Tecnoflon compound has been such a success in the United States that the companies have shared the results of this joint effort with Gulf Coast Seal’s affiliate in the United Kingdom. In addition, Solvay Solexis and Gulf Coast Seal have begun work on other joint-development projects, including development of an explosive decompression-resistant compound. While tough and resistant, the proposed product is expected to also resist the explosions caused by rapid gas decompression that can occur in subsea applications.