As Vice President of Global Innovation for Halliburton, Powers seeks technology that could help his company, even if the technology is not meant for the oil and gas industry. Sound like he’s searching for needles in a haystack? He is!
Russ: Hi, I’m Russ Capper and this is HXTV, championing Houston’s innovators and entrepreneurs. Brought to you by PKF Texas, CPAs and advisors servicing Houston’s innovators for over 15 years. Our topic today is corporate innovation and I’m very pleased to have as my guest, Greg Powers, the Vice President of Global Innovation for Halliburton. Greg, welcome to the show.
Greg: Russ, thanks. Great to be here.
Russ: You bet. So, Vice President of Global Innovation. Not too long ago, the Vice President of Technology at Halliburton. Tell us about this new title.
Greg: Yes. It’s a little bit like A Tale of Two Cities. In my old job as Head of Technology—at Halliburton, that means R&D, creating products. The R&D game is all about structure. Having a set process with a defined set of specifications, timeframe, costs, and the R&D group creates the product within those parameters. The certainty of doing it needs to be very high because those are the products that the company has in their plans to sell. The flip side of my old job is my new job, where in fact, my job is much more about taking chaotic things and trying to make them more orderly but not as orderly as I would have if I was creating a product.
That is, find technologies that are not currently in oil and gas, and bring them into the oil & gas sphere for Halliburton. The people that are creating technologies I’m looking for aren’t thinking about oil and gas. They’re thinking about other things. We’ve decided we will go out and find the needle in the haystacks, and there’s a lot of haystacks, that can impact our business positively. Right now, so, I went from a job that had thousands of people in the organization to my current job is I am the organization. I’m in a department of one. It’s the first time Halliburton has done this and it’s a fascinating and exciting time in the history of the company in the sense that we have concluded we are going to participate in the world’s research economy in as efficient a way as we can. In other words, don’t spend too much money. Find targets and work with them, which can include funding.
Russ: I know your background and it’s about as diverse, in my opinion, as you can get. Is that helping you or is that, do things move so fast now that it’s non-applicable?
Greg: I think a little of both in the sense that here I had to make a list because I can’t remember all the industries I’ve been in. I’ve worked for eight companies in 39 years, 40 years. That includes chemicals, polymers, industrial gases, paint (automotive paint), water treatment, light bulbs, air conditioning, biofuels and now oil and gas. I think this right brain-edness part of me gave me that flexibility to pick up and to go into other industries. I almost never felt like there was something wrong going from lightbulbs to air conditioning. That just seemed like a natural thing to do, because after all, it’s just engineering. Oil is just engineering too. It didn’t seem unnatural to me and maybe that’s what will help me with kickstarting this new job, which also has practically no job scope. Go find technologies we need, period.
Russ: You get to decide. You control the whole department.
Greg: Yeah, I get to control the whole department. I do have to answer to, ultimately, what we really want to do for the corporation, and I will answer these questions for the executive committee, is what are the things we can do which will help us in a number of ways? And that is, lower our costs, increase the productivity of what we do, both our own internal productivity and the productivity that we try to present to the oil companies. That is, make their reservoirs, produce more oil per cost, and then some societal things. Make the environment better, make it a healthier place to work and to live, and make it safer for our employees.
Those are my five attributes that I go after. When I find companies that have technologies, mostly startup companies that have technologies, I’m working now on how do I actually adjudicate which ones have merit in those five categories, how do I predict how well they’ll do, and then how much are we willing to invest in them to help them get there? I’m working on that now. Then, I’ll have a cohort of companies with those attributes that I’ll take to the executive committee and say we need to participate in this.
Russ: For full disclosure, I must tell you, warn you, that I think we have viewers that are keenly tuned into what you’re saying now. That are innovators, small company startups, entrepreneurs with technology, and there’s a chance you’ll be overrun.
Greg: Only if you give them my email or my phone number, not my home phone number or cell. I think I know where you’re going with this, Russ. How can I help focus your viewership to the things that are important to Halliburton.
Russ: Yeah, it would be good to—
Greg: Yeah, that’s right. We are not interested in everything. The things that are important to us right now that are both financially important to us and I think societally important to everybody in terms of hydrocarbon is machines. You know we pump a lot of fluids; we mix a lot of fluids. The machines all have wear characteristics, they have bearings, they have vibration problems, because these are very big machines. Typical, think of a single frac skid is driven by a 2,000-horsepower motor; diesel engine, usually. You can imagine when that thing is operating at full speed or high torque, what the vibration characteristics are in an energy chain that spans about 50 feet, from the engine to the pump, and there’s a transmission in between.
There’s a lot of horsepower being dissipated and how it wears, how it fails, how we predict when it’s going to fail, and how we extend the life of the equipment before it has the kinds of mechanical failures is a really important thing to us. If you’re out in the middle of Texas and you’re out in the desert, in the Permian, and a piece of equipment goes down, now you’ve stopped—
Russ: It’s a big problem.
Greg: It’s a big problem, and we have to remunerate the oil companies when we stop work that we promised to complete by a certain time. That causes us to keep spares on hand and spares are expensive. We’d like to have a minimum capital footprint, so the understanding of the reliability, the predictive reliability and the control of a very complicated ecosystem of machinery operating at just a frac site is very important to us. That’s machines; that’s one. Number two is sensors. When we’re drilling, there’s nothing that you can really—you can’t really image what’s down there very well. We make a lot of indirect measurements.
We make electromagnetic measurements, we make magnetic resonance, we make acoustic, we make nuclear measurements, we look at nascent irradiation and then we also irradiate the formations and look for reflections, we look for vibrations, but we haven’t been able to actually look at the rocks. Visibly look at the rocks. We’re always looking for ways we can make direct measurement of the rocks and the constituents that are in the rocks. That’s two. I’ll go a little faster for the next three. Material science is actually a very rapidly evolving field right now. We think of materials in two different aspects: metals, including alloys, and synthetic organic hydrocarbons as polymers.
Let’s start with metals. We always have corrosion problems and all these abrasion problems down in a drill string with all this rubbing against a rock, twisting, torqueing, and banging. So, we’re always looking for lighter, harder, more durable metals and alloys. When something breaks on the drill string down hole, if you don’t have a spare on the top side, you could have a long, long wait duration to get it replaced. We don’t like any cessation of the operation. Along with new kinds of metals and alloys, we’re looking at how can we get 3D printing, or, most people like to call it additive manufacturing now, how can we get that closer to the well, if not at the well.
So, think about it, here’s a fantastic future scenario: a part breaks on the drill string down at the bottom of the well. It’s four miles away and it will take eight hours to pull out of the hole. If you knew what was broken, because you had enough sensors and you could tell which part broke, and you had a 3D printer right there, you could print the part and have it ready by the time that tool got pulled out of the hole. So, one more, the last one is on polymers. We’re at the very edge of the limit of polymers to be able to survive downhole conditions. We typically use a lot of surprisingly simple things, like O-rings to protect the seals, the fluids, the inside guts of a tool versus the fluids on the outside. There’s a lot going on and it’s all hidden from the rest of the population because it’s a group of people that have these problems in common but it’s a very small society that does it.
Russ: If somebody is watching that thinks, wow, we need to get in touch with that guy, is there an easy way that they can get in touch with you without inundating you?
Greg: Probably not because I don’t have a filter. They can just email me. I will say, the one qualifier and I’ll give you my email here in a second, the one qualifier is we’re not looking for software, per se. I’ll tell you why. We are a hardware company and we do write a lot of software, but we start with hardware and software is written to take the measurements, make the analyses, or perform the control actions associated with the hardware. Therefore, it’s pretty much bespoke. And so, people writing software out there that don’t have my hardware in mind are going to find a very big mismatch with that. We do, we’re constantly looking for who does have artificial intelligence, machine learning, things that can help us with predictive diagnostics of machine—we are of course working on that ourselves.
Russ: Ok, now so you already mentioned it that you’re going to give us your email address for these people to send their ideas. What is it?
Greg: Yeah, it’s a dangerous proposition. Send emails to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Russ: Wow, ok. Heard right here on HXTV. Greg, thank you so much for spending time with us.
Greg: Great to see you again.
Russ: You bet. And that wraps up my discussion with Greg Powers, the Vice President of Global Innovation at Halliburton. And this is HXTV.
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