A tour of Balmoral Offshore Engineering's subsea test facility

Materials World magazine
1 Feb 2019
The Balmoral subsea facility

In October 2018, HRH Prince Charles officially opened Balmoral Offshore Engineering’s subsea test facility in Aberdeen, Scotland, at the conclusion of its two-year £20m investment programme. Ellis Davies talks on the facility, its capabilities and various testing methods.

Since January 2016, the new Balmoral Offshore Engineering (BOE) subsea test facility building has been taking shape, now covering the area of more than six tennis courts, rising to 18m in height with a craneage capacity of up to 40t. The company blasted through 15m of Aberdeen’s granite sub-strata to accommodate the new underground pressure test vessels.
Balmoral Offshore Engineering Chairman and Managing Director, Jim Milne, told Materials World, ‘I am immensely proud of the facility and hugely grateful to my colleagues and subcontractors who have worked extremely hard to create this facility in what is our 38th year of operations.
‘In these highly risk-averse days, the requirement for materials and product testing and the complexity of materials and the size of products is ever-increasing.’
Test house capabilities
The facility covers a range of procedures, including hyperbaric, mechanical and laboratory trials, providing a comprehensive resource for a variety of extreme pressure testing. New and upgraded vessels simulate conditions to pressure equivalents of 700bar, and most are positioned underground so access is at ground level, making handling easier and safer.
Bespoke software has been created to allow full test traceability and real-time observation from anywhere in the world. This level of monitoring is a first for the industry and allows for remote monitoring of current testing.
The centre is predominantly used for in-house testing and development work, spanning energy, defence and oceanographic and academic sectors.
Hyperbaric testing
The facility houses 23 test vessels, 5-40t craneage capability and remote monitoring procedures for independent testing of all types of subsea equipment, including long-term hyperbaric testing, valve testing to API 17D, flexible and rigid pipe collapse tests, control module tests, powered and unpowered, cable and harness verification, housing and vessel water ingress proof testing and integrity testing of all types of components.
Ranging from 1,010–10,400mm in length, with internal diameters of 360–2,500mm and testing to pressure equivalents of 700bar, most products and components are accommodated.
Balmoral Group spokesperson Steve Gibb told Materials World, ‘The test vessels and digital analysis equipment allow product testing to extreme depths in a tightly controlled environment, while procedures can be monitored remotely via an online link. Subsea products can be tested for a relatively short period of time, and the extrapolated results will demonstrate how the asset will perform over a set period of time which could be up to 25 years or longer.’
Standard test procedures include uplift determination, water ingress, instrumented buoyancy loss, hydrostatic compression and creep, hydrostatic collapse, bulk modulus and buckle arrestment performance.
The hydrostatic vessels use air-driven liquid pumps and can accommodate electric, hydraulic and instrumentation connections. Each vessel can be fitted with chart recorders and pressure and temperature data loggers to provide highly detailed results for analysis. A computer controlled hydrostatic test system, which automatically performs customised tests using high-capacity intensifier pumps, is available on various vessels. This allows pressure and temperature data to be fed back to a networked server for remote real-time test monitoring, and a pan and tilt subsea camera can be placed in the vessels to visually monitor tests.
In terms of mechanical testing, a multi-purpose load rig performs axial and lateral slip loads to 60t, static loading and three-point bend to 100t, compression and shear testing to 200t, tensile testing to 150t and dropped weight and swing arm impact testing lifting point/insert load testing.
Development and test laboratories
Due to the complexities of bespoke project testing, stringent specifications and compliance to standards such as API 17L1, BOE invested in state-of-the-art laboratory test equipment to ensure these requirements are satisfied.
The company’s technical team occupies new custom designed laboratories adjacent to the test centre. The temperature and humidity-controlled environment is furnished with a suite of chemical, thermal, hydrostatic and mechanical test equipment, including a range of testing machines that perform fatigue, tensile, compression, flexure and hydrostatic testing using a complementary pressure vessel at temperatures of -70oC-+350oC, with a maximum load of 10t. The centre also includes:
Dynamic fatigue equipment for testing polyurethane materials at elevated temperatures
Differential scanning calorimeters for determining specific heat capacity, glass transition temperatures and oxidation induction time of polymer products
Lasercomp Fox 50 thermal analyser determines thermal conductivity
Gas pyknometers determines material densities including powders and gels
Temperature controlled water ageing baths
Hydrothermal ageing cells for long-term analysis of materials up to 260oC
Laboratory scale pressure vessels capable of operating at sub-ambient temperature to 200C and up to 700bar, 10,150psi
Temperature and humidity environmental cabinets
UV weathering cabinet
Karl Fischer titrator for water content determination
Automated titrators for quantitative analysis
Lab-scale CNC machine for test piece preparation
Product weight in water and air, product submersion and functionality, submersion and gas leakage, underwater non-destructive testing inspection, flotation and stack up trials can be carried out using submersion tanks. 
Materials World spoke to Steve Gibb, a spokesperson for the Balmoral Offshore Engineering about the subsea test facility.
Could you summarise the facility?
The Balmoral Subsea Test Centre stands out as being a fully comprehensive facility that carries out long and short-term hyperbaric testing to pressures of 700bar as well as offering mechanical and submersion tests on all types of equipment from the smallest valve to the largest buoyancy modules.
What is tested?
We test all sorts of subsea equipment – from buoyancy modules to valves, engineering, mechanical and electrical assemblies, even portholes and pigging devices.
How is the facility used? 
The centre is used predominantly for in-house product testing and R&D purposes. However, with 23 pressure vessels available, supported by the mechanical and submersion test equipment, it is also used by the offshore energy and oceanographic industries, defence and academia. 
What is the centre's main focus?
To provide a fully comprehensive surface and subsurface product test facility that is accessible and available to a wide range of sectors. Mainly carrying out hyperbaric testing to determine uplift, water ingress, buoyancy loss, compression, creep and collapse.
How will this capability effect Aberdeen and Scottish industry?
Balmoral has been involved in the subsea sector since the 1980s and has always had an in-house test capability. However, the new centre has significantly expanded this offering meaning there is no requirement to send larger subsea equipment overseas, as has previously been the case. We test equipment from all over the UK, Scandinavia and mainland Europe and that can only be good for the local, and wider, economy.
What can the centre do for the UK’s energy sector?
With greater emphasis being placed upon the move from fossil fuels to renewable energy – especially offshore wind, marine and tidal power – the test centre is more than capable of servicing these sectors so, in effect, it is future-proofed.
It is designed to meet the needs of the subsea community from exploration to production, harvesting to decommissioning. As the UK energy mix evolves, the Balmoral Subsea Test Centre will fulfil this requirement for many years to come.