SUBCOE is not afraid of tough environments – in fact it is these types of applications where SUBCOE built its reputation of being a top level manufacturer. The Ontario based company builds surface power and control equipment for the artificial lift market that must stand up to the harshest conditions, from freezing northern winters to sweltering desert heat and corrosive offshore installations.
Built for oil field and industrial applications all around the Globe, the company’s Variable Frequency Drive (VFD) systems are crucial accessory equipment – so the team must be sure that their product can endure whatever nature throws its way.
Environmental conditions vary drastically from region to region. Providing flexible solutions to these challenges led SUBCOE to develop their own heating and cooling systems. “In the winter they need heaters to come on remotely to warm them up before starting, in the tropics they require heating to remove condensation,” President Brian Burton says of the company’s products. “So we have designed and built our own custom heating package for our drive units that can be applied to either situation.” And, for places where blistering temperatures are the primary concern, the company has designed custom high capacity passive air-to-air heat exchangers to displace the generated heat. As a result, SUBCOE’s rugged and reliable systems will operate smoothly within a remarkable range of temperatures – from -50°C to over 60°C. No wonder the company’s products are utilized the world over, from North and South America to North Africa and the Middle East.
An OEM vendor to a number of major international pump manufacturers and end user customers, SUBCOE manufactures its own product in a 23,000 square foot, state of the art facility in Edmonton. The team can comfortably produce approximately 400 to 500 high capacity VFDs (mostly 200 to 1500Hp) per year – and recent efforts to enhance efficiency are pushing these numbers even higher.
The purpose built factory boasts a distinct section for each focal area, including Skidded MCC / Power Systems, VFDs, IEEE519 & Sinewave Filters, and sub-assembly components, as well as a well-organized warehouse dedicated to the maintenance of SUBCOE’s extensive stock of parts needed to feed the plant’s manufacturing sections.
Careful system testing and qualification is essential, and SUBCOE incorporates 100 percent qualification testing on all its control systems. As well as multiple power supply for 600V / 480V / 400V, the testing bay also has a heat simulation oven big enough to test all of SUBCOE’s drive products in controlled temperatures as high as 80°C. As a result, all of the company’s products can be thoroughly tested in the same conditions that they will face in the field, ensuring long term reliability.
SUBCOE’s factory is a YASKAWA authorized OEM for International Oil & Gas, which provides the team a solid core of world class YASKAWA components in all of their systems. In addition to manufacturing, the company also maintains a team of qualified and experienced personnel ready to provide global product support as well as short or long term contracted hire.
And SUBCOE does not stop there – the company also designs its own products in order to fill gaps in the market and meet customer needs. “Customers have different requirements of what they would like their equipment to do, so we design the equipment around the customer’s requirements,” Mr. Burton reports. The team specializes in both designing and manufacturing a range of OEM products including control electronics, heat exchangers, enclosures and skid systems. “We assessed the control needs in our market segment and took the design parameters and developed a comprehensive range of control products that we build in-house to monitor and control all aspects of the pump system operation,” Mr. Burton adds. “They autonomously monitor, communicate and control the electrical supply to the motor depending on the conditions that the pump is operating on. The system was developed and is built in-house.” SUBCOE’s range of Control options provide customers with a modular solution, allowing them to add or remove specific system components as required.
Regardless of the product, the idea is to offer a superior solution to what was previously available. “We have moved into technology that offers cost savings to the customer,” Mr. Burton explains. SUBCOE’s regenerative variable speed drive is a prime example. The patented matrix drive technology connects to a rod pump motor and captures the energy that is released on the down stroke of the pump. “Our product has the capability of capturing that power and regenerating it back onto the power line,” Mr. Burton explains. “This can create huge savings for customers that operate large populations of rod pumps where they can distribute the regenerated power within their own fields. Being able to harness that free energy and put it back onto the line should save them quite a bit of money over time.”
SUBCOE was founded in 2003, but with the management team boasting decades of previous experience working overseas for major submersible pump companies, its roots stretch back much farther. “We developed close ties to customers in the different regions of the world,” Mr. Burton explains, which laid a solid foundation to launch a business. When he returned to Canada 12 years ago, those business relationships that he had forged immediately came into play. “I came home and was requested by one of the pump companies to supply parts because of the relationships and trust developed over the years,” he recalls. “We kicked off with the buy and sell portion of the business in 2003 and found that there was a demand for the surface equipment manufacturing side, so we moved forward in that direction in order to capture a portion of that niche market. From there it grew quite well through the years which led to the development of our in-house products.” Now, the team is able to provide a fully individualized solution by designing exactly what a customer needs. “We are working for solutions to any issue that they have,” Mr. Burton states. “We’d like to find a resolution and be their solution provider.”
This custom manufacturing capability – and the team’ ability to control the entire process in-house – is one of the key factors that sets SUBCOE apart from the competition. The close, long term relationships that the team has with customers is another. “It is definitely a customer oriented company,” Mr. Burton adds. “We are working in partnership with our customers to find solutions and leading edge technology for the industry.”
One of the company’s few remaining challenges is finding skilled workers. The industry’s need for personnel is greater than Alberta’s current labour pool, making recruitment a tricky business. “We have been advertising throughout Canada to find competent people who are willing to move to Edmonton, Alberta and come on board with our team,” Mr. Burton reports. The shortage has caused companies “to go around in a circle when they are hiring,” he adds. “They are hiring from other companies [by] offering higher salaries and incentives to have people move across. So instead of moving new people into the industry, it seems to be the same people going around in a circle from company to company. That doesn’t help to alleviate the problem of manpower; it only increases it.” One way that SUBCOE is getting around this challenge is to provide a wealth of in-house training in order to help transition new talent into the industry. “It has been a bit of a challenge, but we have worked through it and we are fully staffed,” Mr. Burton reports.
That’s not the only good news. SUBCOE has also been enjoying moderate domestic growth and substantial overseas expansion. “Our international side has really started to blossom again following the Arab Spring,” Mr. Burton remarks. Supply contracts for Oman and Iraq for low harmonic and regenerative variable speed drives have proven particularly beneficial. With business taking off in the region, SUBCOE is planning to open a new manufacturing facility in Oman this year. “That will help us eliminate some of the cost associated with doing business in that region,” Mr. Burton explains; manufacturing in Alberta and then paying to deliver the product over land and sea simply isn’t cost effective in regions where local manufacturing is not only a viable option but is actively encouraged and incentivized by Oil Companies. Plus, the client has to wait a much longer period of time to receive the goods and after sales support. “Being closer to the market will allow us to react quicker and maintain or lower our overall cost for supplying product in those regions,” Mr. Burton predicts. Backed by years of experience, strong relationships, and an ability to customize products to the customers’ exact need, SUBCOE’s expansion certainly has a solid foundation for success.