Matrix Composites and Engineering of Perth, Australia, understands what's involved. Among other products, the company manufactures buoyancy modules, measuring 1.4 meters wide and 4.5 meters long, that encase the steel risers which transport oil to the surface of the ocean from a drill site on the ocean floor several kilometers below. In fact, the company supplies more than 40 percent of the global market for riser buoyancy modules
The outer skin of Matrix's buoyancy module is manufactured from a fiberglass/aramid composite which surrounds a proprietary, lightweight, low-density internal foam core. The composite skin is light, but abrasion and impact resistant, and able to withstand the enormous pressure of being kilometers under water where encased risers can weigh up to 4,000 tons. The challenge lies in designing and cutting the tough composite material.
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Since 1980, Matrix Composites has designed patterns and cut the challenging fiberglass/aramid material by hand, always with a cautious eye to RSI (repetitive strain injury) and respiratory health concerns. Several months ago, Matrix purchased and installed an AccuMark pattern design/nesting system, along with a GERBERcutter GTxL automated cutting system.
The prospects for continued demand of composite buoyancy modules is bright. Demand for oil continues to rise throughout the world, driving steadily increasing demand from the deepwater exploration and production markets. In addition, the 2010 BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico has encouraged already established oil drilling companies to take a serious look at their existing equipment and to accelerate plans for upgrades.
With the additional capacity made possible by the combination of its AccuMark CAD (computer-aided design) system and the GERBERcutter GTxL cutting system, Matrix is poised to grow its share of the buoyancy module market. Today, Matrix-produced equipment is used throughout Asia and Oceania, in the Gulf of Mexico and increasingly in waters off Brazil and West Africa. The company also has service facilities in Houston, Texas, and maintains sales offices in Brazil, the U.K. and the U.S.