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Matrix Composites & Engineering

Making waves in offshore oil and gas

When a company has government, local business on a global scale, employees and industry applauding its efforts, it must be doing something right. This is certainly the case for Perth-headquartered Matrix Composites & Engineering; a major manufacturer for the offshore oil and gas and iron ore materials handling sectors. With around 16 per cent of Australia’s exports stemming from the manufacturing industries for 2009, it is fair to say the group’s core disciplines in research and innovation, quality and popular products and global reach are all aces in its deck, but they aren’t the full story.

“We have built what we believe is the world’s most technologically advanced buoyancy production plant,” Aaron Begley, CEO tells AuBJ.

“We’ve taken the lessons we’ve learned over the last 10 years and applied them to really improve the consistency and product quality of the products we produce, specifically riser buoyancy and also buoyancy for production applications.”

The company’s launch of the plant, located at the Australian Marine Complex (AMC) on Henderson’s coast, has earned it some serious praise—not least from Commerce Minister Simon O’Brien who inaugurated the facility on June 8. But while Begley says the company is thrilled by the response and particularly happy for its staff to get due recognition, there are a lot more facilities, products and company-making moves set to unfold in the coming few months.

Founding Matrix and opening Henderson

Starting out as a heavy engineering company back in the 1980s, Matrix spotted an opportunity in the composite materials market, specifically the oil and gas industry. The group elected to pursue the development of some composite materials and syntactic foam technologies, all done in-house, before really entering as a force in the market in the 1990s, and coming into its own in the noughties. It was then that Matrix introduced some expanded testing capabilities and was able to test to American Petroleum Institute (API) standards.

“Once that happened we became recognized as a serious global player,” Begley recalls.
“We picked up a number of projects through European-based drilling contractors, and that really drove our requirement to build some of the testing equipment we’re currently running. That was really pushed along by some large rig upgrades that were taking place in Singapore for some northern European-based drilling contractors.”

A mere glance at the group’s full year financials for 2010 suggests that its role as a globally competitive front runner has sustained; a record $18.16 million net profit after tax and an 89 per cent on-year record revenue increase of $102.6 million. The company listed just shy of two years ago, and as of March, its share price had soared to $9 from its original issue price of $1 for the IPO. Its multitude of divisions demonstrate how the group has positioned itself to provide such an array of products to so many different client requirements too, and the group now incorporates Subsea, Umbilical, Risers and Flowlines (SURF) applications, well construction products, subsea operations, installations and intervention, downstream work, general offshore services and more engineering to boot. Its most well recognized activities, in marine riser buoyancy, have been cast into the limelight with the opening of its Henderson buoyancy production plant; a facility which Begley says Matrix believes to be the largest and most technologically advanced of its kind in the world. The setup includes the plant itself, a subsea workshop, and spans 20,000 square metres.

“We’re basically on the water, being part of the AMC’s subsea cluster, and that gives us access to local support businesses in the area that we can draw from very quickly if we need to, and those businesses are currently supporting the oil and gas sector,” Begley says, shedding light on quite why local industry has viewed Matrix’s arrival so keenly, and why it has been such a favourable option for the group.

“We’ve able to draw on companies that are used to supporting and supplying for the oil and gas industry, and also the facilities that are provided by the AMC, the common user facilities, mean we’re able to utilise the deepwater port, the ship lift facilities, the cranes, the loading areas, the assembly hall—all on our doorstep.”

Not content with one doorstep to work from, Matrix is also going about expanding its global network through a number of well-placed distribution centres. With 90 per cent of its products seeing export to the U.S., Malaysia, Singapore, the U.K. and Korea, it was only ever going to be a matter of time before the group’s foot in the doors led to taking up residence and holding court where market demand requested its skills.

Firm footings in key locations

In just three months Matrix will open its first overseas distribution base in Houston, Texas, and Begley explains that following the success at the Henderson facility, this move will be a big day for the group in 2011.

“That will be one of the first of the many distribution centres we’ll have around the world, as we start to roll those out,” he says.

“We’re looking [at] potentially Singapore, South Africa and Africa and we will do something in Brazil, we have people there at the moment and that’s a work in progress.”

Given Matrix’s background of recognition as a top exporter, the establishment of each centre will be highly beneficial for each respective location, as well as for the company itself. There was the Large Advanced Manufacturing category win at the 2010 Australian Exporter Awards, Best Global Exporter in the Inaugural Subsea Energy Australia Awards, and various other accolades besides, and Begley says it is important to notice that almost all of them concern Matrix’s role as an exporter.

“We’ve received state, national and industry exporter awards and it’s good press, it gets our name out there which increases brand recognition, and amongst the broader community as opposed to just the oil and gas sector—and a reasonably narrow field within it. It’s also great for our staff, from a HR perspective it’s good for them to be recognized as part of one of the best manufacturers in Australia,” he explains.

“That comes off the back of the fact that we’ve been able to increase our exports significantly, grow our revenue and grow our profitability, so that’s all tied together; the awards are a consequence of our growing our export revenue base.”

It’s not only the company’s work in marine riser buoyancy that’s spearheading innovation and new product development either. Begley says that the SURF products Matrix makes for subsea pipelines and rises, generally supported by subsea buoyancy (another company core discipline) represents another significant application for projects all over the globe today.

“One of the big growth areas we see is our move into production of SURF-related buoyancy products,” he says.

“There are a number of projects in Western Australia, the Gulf of Mexico, West Africa, Brazil and even South East Asia that utilise products like that.”

And once again, where demand makes for requirement, Matrix will surely follow and provide best-in-class products and assistance. First it was proved by working with hyperbaric test chambers in the early 2000’s, then by the launch of the Henderson facility, and soon by the company’s stationing in Houston.

Great results ahead

As with any company that gains weighty recognition for excelling in a particular engineering discipline, Matrix has become well known for its work with marine riser buoyancy, but Begley says it’s important to appreciate that the company is as much a subsea and offshore equipment manufacturer as we are a materials engineering company. Henderson is designed to produce not only riser buoyancy, but buoyancy for a number of applications, he says.

“We also have several new product launches coming up, and we’re involved in the down-hole products sector too, supplying products to the construction market such as composite centralisers and drilling equipment.

There are also new products coming into the subsea installation and production market in the next few months,” he says of the coming year, and products including a new range of insulation materials for subsea and cryogenic applications.

Matrix’s enduring success on all fronts really is important to manufacturing in offshore oil and gas, subsea and other materials handling industries. The group’s story is one of transferring knowledge in multiple activities to closely associated sectors; with great results. The group is on track to double revenue—again—from year-on-year 2010. Houston will be all systems go imminently, and plans for Brazil are unfolding. The Henderson facility also demonstrates continued growth and development at home, and put simply, with the regional subsea market set for significant growth in 2012, Matrix is in a highly desirable position.