Reports circulating in the industry predict that in excess of 650 new work class ROVs will be required to meet industry demands over the next five years.
While the industry is reported to have spent $1.6 billion on ROV operations during 2008, this figure is forecast to rise to some $2.4 billion by 2012. With a shortage of vehicles and personnel, demand will continue to outstrip supply, even in the medium term, with costs having escalated by almost 50% during 2008 alone.
Continued high levels of activity in deepwater hotspots such as West Africa and Brazil will ensure vital technologies such as ROV operations will continue to flourish even during short-term oil price dips.
Expenditure on new-build ROVs is expected to top $2 billion during the period 2008-12.
High performance: increased uplift
Balmoral Offshore Engineering, the Aberdeen-based subsea polymer engineering specialist, has been working with the industry to create a new range of ROV buoyancy to meet continuing deepwater demands.
The company's latest high performance low density composite is available in five standard grades: The 415kg/m3 LD1500PF system is depth rated to 1500msw; LD2000PF is a 430kg/m3 system rated to 2000msw; LD3000PF is 470kg/m3 3000msw; LD5000PF is 510kg/m3 rated to 5000msw while the LD7000PF at 540kg/m3 is rated for work to 7000msw.
The improved low density materials allow for increased levels of uplift within a defined volume. These advantages can be used in a number of ways such as reducing vehicle dimensions or increasing uplift without changing the overall dimensions, or both.
These high performance syntactic foams are now being specified in the construction of ROV and tooling pack buoyancy.
Setting deepwater standards
Dr Bob Oram, Balmoral's technical director, said: "We're recognised as innovators and technical leaders in the field of subsea buoyancy and the introduction of these new materials represents a period of sustained R&D investment and effort from the company.
"The components and production processes which have been developed are, to the best of our knowledge, unique to BOE. Ultra-high performance binder systems have been identified, and specially-processed glass microspheres adopted, to produce syntactic foams which set new standards of performance for deepwater syntactic buoyancy material.
"We're confident the LDPF range will open up new opportunities for ROV design and construction companies."
Chairman and managing director of Balmoral Group, Jim Milne, said: "Our philosophy isn't about being just another supply company; it's about working in partnership with clients to develop enabling technology.
"We have a solid background in providing class-leading materials and systems that have been put to the test in the most demanding situations imaginable. The hybrid insulation and buoyancy system developed for the Girassol field is a good example.
"Balmoral invested $20 million in R&D for that project, developing cutting-edge technology for the industry along the way. To this day, we are still the only company to have deployed such a material, no-one else has managed to replicate our technological breakthrough."
Can't compete on price alone
Milne feels that his company's reputation is built on a high technology platform and believes that you have to offer much more than a competitive price.
"Our products are used on major multi-billion dollar projects which can be a bit overwhelming at times, but that's where we like to be; at the sharp end.
"Our brand is recognised for the quality and reliability it provides. We work hard to ensure those values are instilled in everyone associated with the company. This is something we are extremely proud of but not something that will allow us to become complacent.
"We continue to push the technological boundaries because we believe passionately in what we're doing."