Project to develop a WA-based hyperbaric chamber shows the strength of clusters in action

16 May 2022

The Western Australian Government has announced the development of a WA-based hyperbaric chamber facility capable of testing and repairing subsea control modules (SCMs) that will dramatically streamline testing processes — an important step in establishing a new facility for deep-water testing in the state.

Jointly funded by the WA Government’s LNG Jobs Taskforce and WA-based energy technology company Baker Hughes, the $1.2m project will see an existing chamber owned and operated by Matrix Composites & Engineering in Henderson, WA, modified and upgraded to be able to deal with SCMs, used in the oil and gas industry.

Presently there is no similar testing facility in Australia, meaning oil and gas operators and service industry companies must send their SCMs overseas for testing and repair. The newly modified chamber will mean this process can be conducted locally, providing considerable savings in the carbon footprint incurred through the need to transport equipment overseas and time and money, and will provide industry with greater supply chain certainty. The facility will enable repair and inspection work to be delivered here in WA and will grow inspection, maintenance and repair expertise and provide local businesses with a new revenue stream.

The development and establishment of this new facility was driven by Subsea Innovation Cluster Australia (SICA), the country’s first subsea cluster. SICA was established with NERA’s backing in 2017 to bring Australian SMEs and research institutions specialising in subsea inspection maintenance and repair (IMR) together with LNG operators and tier one contractors, as well as the defence sector and emerging offshore renewables.

The cluster facilitates homegrown technology development and strengthens connectivity within the Australian oil and gas supply chain to grow commercial opportunities for local businesses.

SICA’s role in driving this project clearly demonstrates how clusters can foster the essential collaboration between industry, research and governments needed to accelerate technology and grow innovative SMEs.

SICA cluster manager Dr Colin McIvor says: “The project started at the very first collaborative workshop run by SICA with the oil and gas operators, who cited the challenge of having to send equipment to the UK or US and the need to hold backup stock for the period the equipment was overseas.

“As an independent third party, we were able to canvass input from a wide range of stakeholders. We saw that sending the SCMs overseas was a very costly operation in terms of time, money and carbon footprint, but we also knew that to build a new dedicated facility would simply not be economically viable.

“Through the cluster we determined that one of our members – Matrix Composites and Engineering - had an existing facility that could easily be modified to carry out the SCM testing. This was our opportunity.”

Dr McIvor added that SICA’s extensive overseas network meant they could leverage insight and learnings, including costings and economic modelling from subsea clusters in Norway and the UK, which had previously established hyperbaric chambers in Europe.

With all of that knowledge and the opportunity to create new jobs and capabilities in WA, SICA successfully approached the WA Government’s LNG Jobs Taskforce to discuss financial support. SICA also set up an Operatory Advisory forum to ensure consistent engagement with industry to ensure the facility would be fit for purpose and meet their requirements.

Clusters are one of NERA’s key strategies to build an energy innovation eco-system, accelerate technologies and connect SMES to industry challenges to foster co-creation and innovation partnerships. In addition to funding and supporting SICA, NERA has established the Hydrogen Technology Cluster Australia (H2TCA), a network of 18 regional technology clusters to build the skills, capability and commercialisation opportunities in the emerging hydrogen equipment, technology and services (HETS) industry. NERA also supported the establishment and ongoing operations of the Australian Ocean Energy Group, an industry-led cluster aimed at strengthening collaboration, accelerating innovation and increasing the current markets for Australia's ocean energy sector.

NERA CEO Miranda Taylor says the hyperbaric chamber project is a clear demonstration of the strength of clusters.

“SICA has been instrumental in securing this fantastic initiative, positioning WA and Australia to be the APAC regional centre for subsea tech expertise and inspection, maintenance and repair capability, demonstrating the value of cross-industry and SME collaboration and innovation."

“In Australia, SICA provides SMEs with a direct connection into operators, their challenges, needs and opportunities. And for operators, SICA provides a single point of contact and coordinated access into Australia's leading subsea, IMR capability."

“Clusters like SICA have been formed across the world, aimed at bringing together expertise to improve business models, supply chains and innovation."

“These clusters drive a shared economic vision, through innovation, collaboration and competition and provide a vehicle for SMEs and innovators to build resilience and capacity to compete in national and global markets.”

Find out more about SICA here.