Recently our Marketing team sat down with Chief Technical Officer, Christian Knutsen, to find out more about him, his 30+ year career and what he gets up to in his spare time. As you'd expect of a man with 30+ years in the industry, it's not a short story. So make yourself a coffee and enjoy this interview with Christian.
Tell me a little bit about yourself.
Of course! I’m Christian Knutsen and I’m the Chief Technology Officer for IK-Group. I am located here in Stavanger (Norway) but originally, I am from the east of Norway not far from Oslo. Away from work I am an active person. I regularly partake in running, skiing and windsurfing. Not everyone knows but following high school, wind surfing was a big part of my life. I travelled a lot and competed in several championships.
Tell me about your background, how did you originally get into the industry?
I moved to Trondheim to study for an MSc in Civil & Structural Engineering. I was there for 4.5 years and then my first role out of University was for a Pipeline Operator doing inspection programs for subsea, pipeline inspection and other good stuff related to maintenance and operation. I worked on two pipelines there, both of which are famous as they were the first export pipelines out of Norway. One was a gas line that ran from Ekofisk to Emden in Germany and the other was an oil line which again began at Ekofisk but went all the way to Teeside in North East England. Both are still live today.
After doing that for a number of years, the natural progression was to go to an Operator or National Oil Company and become a Project Engineer, however I decided to go back to the drawing board and start doing designs and modifications for existing platforms in the North Sea. I was regularly travelling out to platforms, mapping their problems and proposing designs and solutions for their issues. I think back then a lot of my friends were surprised I took this route but for me it was the right decision, it was something I was and still am passionate about and it excited me.
I then took a slightly different route in the early 1990’s. I joined a medical company called Laerdal here in Stavanger. I was the Project Manager on the development of a suction unit for clearing patients’ airways. The link came in the use of internal pipelines, housings and mechanical parts. It was a fascinating project, but I learned that my passion was in the Oil and Gas industry.
So after my couple of years away, I came back into the industry in the position of Engineering Manager with a subsea construction company. My department had roughly 120 people in it which was a new experience for me. It was a real learning experience because it reaffirmed my passion for being hands on with the designs and less with the administration!
You’ve been at IK for a number of years now, how did this first come to be?
It was quite a coincidence how it happened. Summer 2000, I got a call from Christian Bull Eriksson (Ex-CEO of IK). He said there is a company in Stavanger looking for a manager, I think you’d be a great fit. But at the time it wasn’t right for me and I didn’t give it more than a consideration. Fast forward to 2001 and I was lighting the fire at my house using scraps of newspaper. As I was breaking it up, I happened to notice that IK were again looking for a manager and so this time I thought OK, I’ll get in touch and get some more information. It obviously all worked out as I joined IK in May 2001.
Back then we were a small company, about 20 staff, but the core of the business was the same then as it is now, we still focus on repair & modification, pipelines and pigs and I really believed in that market.
In 2005 we got a chance to buy the company from the previous owners, so we did. It was at this point that we got Christian Bull Eriksson into IK as Chairman. Prior to this, Christian was running a company called PSI which was a spin up from IK. They had grown tremendously, so much so that in 2004 he kicked us out of the IK building to get more space for PSI. However, there were no hard feelings as Christian joined us full time at the end of 2006 due to the good reputation that was growing around IK. It was in 2006 that I took the position of Technical Manager and I’ve been doing this now for 14 years. Christian had the business acumen to make this company grow and I took care of the technical aspects, so it really worked well.
Chief Technology Officer – what does your roll include today?
Up until 2010, I would be involved in projects from start to finish. That would normally be the initial design and engineering phase right through to completion. However, by 2010 we had grown sufficiently to allow me to be involved in the initial design phase, but I could then successfully hand it off to the Project Manager and get involved in another project. I think my biggest asset is the knowledge I have gained in this industry and indeed with IK over the past 19 years. It is being able to look at a new problem, understand what proven technology we have to fix it and how to implement that. That in essence is what IK is – brilliant engineering, proven solutions.
My main role now is working in the tender process. Projects are always filled with problems, some big, some small. This is important because if you are seeing a project through and you are encountering problems that need solving, it can be very difficult to then focus on the tender at the same time. This is where my ability to drop in and out of projects is beneficial for our clients.
It is important when you are designing bespoke solutions that you have focus. You must be able to solve the whole project theoretically in only a few days. You need to describe the solutions, define the risks, evaluate, publish your qualifications about scope and then you find out if you are successful or not.
So, can you tell me about some projects you are particularly proud of?
For sure, a project from 2009 really comes to mind. We were contacted about a broken pipeline that required rapid engineering. It’s been quite well documented, but it was a 24” line in the Ekofisk field. The pipeline had been located on the seabed for roughly 20 years and overtime as you know there is often subsidence. In this instance it had subsided by about 8 to 10 metres which brings with it compression and tension in the soil which forced the pipe to buckle in an upwards trajectory. We designed and manufactured a repair solution using a clamp in 18 days. It was then sent out and installed and the pipeline was back in operation in 24 days from when we first received the call.
That same summer, it was August 2009, a boat had collided with a small wellhead tripod platform which was live and was at risk of a blowout. The platform was quite badly damaged, and we needed to design a clamp to repair a broken leg. Again, we needed about 4 weeks to engineer and manufacture the clamp and a further few days for installation. The project again ran smoothly, and we successfully delivered another brilliant solution.
One thing that sticks in my mind from the debrief with the client was their gratitude; they were incredibly pleased with how quickly we were able to mobilize and deliver our solution. However, they finished by saying we hope this is the last time we see you! This is often the issue when you are doing repair, when you meet clients, they’ve usually ended up in a situation that they really don’t want to talk about. But, I think these two projects really emphasize why IK has the reputation that it does for rapid response and excellent solutions that work.
What is IK’s key characteristics as a company; why do so many clients keep coming back to us?
For me that one is quite simple – our people. Within our walls we believe we can make things and by that, I mean we believe we can solve even the most complex problems. There are a lot of excellent engineering companies who make things and they are maybe not time critical or they are from a fairly standard set of drawings. We are almost always racing to find a suitable fix to a time critical problem and we are working from scratch each time, albeit we have a solid playbook to look back on.
I first noticed this when I joined the company in 2001. I remember speaking to an engineer about some lifting tools he was designing; they were quite advanced for the time. However, he did not seem to be fazed by that as this was the norm within IK. We still see it today with the AOGV, an isolation tool that does not require shutdown, we continue to innovate and find new solutions to continue to improve on what we are doing. Our people have the attitude and mind set of ‘yes we can!’.
Of course, sometimes we are too brave and we don’t succeed but this is very rare. In our line of work we are constantly facing new problems, we are not a company who produces the same products on mass scale. We also ensure that we are managing the risk and we do not leave the customer without a solution. Risk handling is a skill in itself and it is something we are very accomplished at. It is also important to not underestimate the joy of doing new things and the pride we take from completing every single project, regardless of size.
What is IK doing to innovate and reaffirm its position are as a world leading engineering company?
Traditionally our core business has been repair and modification. Now we are moving more and more into the repair and asset integrity world. If you have an issue, we will be able to evaluate your issue and if it is a problem we can repair. Following that we can then give you input for the inspection program. This means we are not just doing the repair we are solving the whole life cycle for the issue to prevent more in future.
And finally, what are the biggest challenges facing our industry right now?
The volatility due to the nature of our industry will always be there, so that is a challenge. The low oil price is far from ideal but nothing new. We have seen it go up and down many times in my career. Those cycles are a challenge, but we are built to cope with those challenges and much like our ability to engineer solutions to complex problems, we are built to navigate the volatility too.
There is also the image of our industry and how that is changing. Maybe not now but in years to come, the oil and gas industry is often seen as a bad industry. So as renewables continues to grow bigger, as it should do, the industry may find it an issue to continue to recruit good people. However, we are in the pipelines industry and pipelines will continue to flow up until the very end. So, I potentially see a challenge when systems begin to age, and our services are still required. We need to focus on producing high quality solutions but continue to put the safety of our people and our clients at the heart of everything we do, this cannot be compromised.
If you would like to know more about IK's capabilities, then feel free to email Christian directly here