Are marginal gains any less real than giant steps forward?Monday, 4 April 2022
Ask any sportsman standing on the gold medal podium or one who has just finished in second place and you will be left in no uncertainty that marginal gains, no matter how small, are capable of generating significant results.
The last major breakthrough in elastomer technology for the oil and gas industry is now a relatively
distant memory and although operating conditions may become increasingly tough, the industry
continues to use the same technology with which it feels comfortable. Even when products and
materials may be nearing their limits, the experience of existing technology offers a comfort zone
that exerts a strong pull and we feel safe sticking with what we know.
It is probably also human nature to overlook simple or small improvements as insignificant and
presume the change or action to be too simple to make an impact. But over time these small gains
produce a compound effect moving you into a different league altogether. The key is spotting the
point at which that happens and realising it is time to act or be left behind.
Yes, there are undoubtedly cost implications in qualifying new materials, but at what point are these
outweighed by the enhanced performance offered by the latest technology? Operational
environments have become increasingly challenging over the last 35 years but should we remain
content to use 35 year old technology to face these new challenges?
As engineers it is our job to assess risk and find a solution that offers the best compromise between
operational performance and mitigation of the risk posed by operational challenges. Is adopting an
ultra‐conservative approach and selecting 35 year old elastomer technology based on historical
evidence simply a case of failing to take advantage of enhanced performance that is available with
today’s materials, or is it actually adding to the operational risk?
To conclude by taking us back to the world of sport; how would the best sports stars of the 80’s,
using equipment of their era, fare against sports stars of today with 35 years of marginal gains in
equipment technology and expertise at their disposal?
Hardly a fair contest, don’t you think?
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