This article has been issued in “Inside Oil And Gas Magazine”: Sofis – Inside Oil & Gas (insideoilandgas.com)
Sofis is the leader in creating smart valve solutions, such as mechanical valve interlocks, portable actuators and valve position indicators in combination with specialised services, for the energy, chemical, power and water industries. As safety expert Sofis provides a variety of solutions for controlled, safe and compliant valve operations protecting people and property worldwide. Hannah Barnett spoke to Managing Director Henry Langston and Commercial Director Linda Schulte.
Sofis is making the working environment safer, offshore and onsite. The company has installed around half a million interlocks worldwide, and developed several unique safety solutions that can be mounted on valves, making it a market leader in solutions for valve operation and maintenance. The company is now bringing these to a new generation of infrastructure, supporting the energy transition and other key trends, such as digitalisation.
“Fundamentally, safety is linked to sustainability, because every time there is an accident it typically involves a loss of containment,” said Henry Langston, Managing Director: “and a loss of containment not only impacts people, the operations of the plant, and the business that owns it, but also the environment.
“So every leak we prevent, every time we stop an accident from happening, we are already making a positive contribution. We’re really proud that our solutions are also being adopted into new green applications, like hydrogen plants, offshore windfarms and carbon capture.”
Interlocks guarantee a predetermined sequence of valve operations that is often customer specific. All Sofis products are bespoke to fit the valve, and the company provides a complete set of services to support clients throughout the project, including installation and maintenance.
“Fundamentally, safety is linked to sustainability, because every time there is an accident it typically involves a loss of containment, and a loss of containment not only impacts people, the operations of the plant, and the business that owns it, but also the environment.”
“A lay person might think: ‘an interlock is just a simple lock,’ right?” said Commercial Director Linda Schulte. “Our customers know better: the interlocking solution is part of the process safety onsite and is totally customised, we work from A-to-Z and our project managers know everything. Winning the order is one phase, then there is the design phase, the engineering phase and the manufacturing phase. We maintain a lot of contact with our customers throughout the whole process and they appreciate it.”
From its HQ in the Netherlands, Sofis employs around 100 people, with three main offices and sites around the world, plus several satellite regional offices and partners representing Sofis worldwide.
Sofis is closely involved with the emerging green hydrogen industry, based on deep experience with grey and blue hydrogen applications. However: the recent increase in the number and scale of plants producing the light, flammable and highly explosive gas has introduced several new safety challenges.
“A great example is in refuelling which involves loading and offloading of liquid hydrogen under extreme temperatures and pressures for new applications,” Mr Langston explained. “Because the pressure needed can vary hugely for each application: and if it’s wrong, there can easily be an explosion. So we protect that process by making sure that the right valve for the right pressure line is the only operable one. Simple things like that become important, when getting it wrong means blowing up a hydrogen fuelling station.”
The company is also moving into electrolysis for the industrial hydrogen market. “This process requires compressors, pumps and pressure safety valves,” said Mr Langston, “all things that have a lot of manual valves to protect. So we adapt to ensure that we can serve those hydrogen markets, because we cater to very small valves, very large valves and different classes of valves with our solutions.”
The company recently attended the Hydrogen Technology Expo in Germany where it was able to demonstrate its active engagement in this new market.
“Many companies across the supply chain were there, but not all of them had an active solution yet,” said Ms Schulte. “We had actually delivered a safety solution to a station in the UK, which impressed people. However, we were not necessarily there to sell our solutions, but more to learn from people and pass on what we have learnt.”
“There’s going to need to be another €600 billion in capital commitments to meet our 2030 targets for hydrogen production globally,” Mr Langston added. “That’s two to three times what’s already been committed in the last few years. There’s a real awareness that it is an industry-wide effort to get it right, because we are scaling up and developing a whole new generation of infrastructure. No one company has all the answers. But we all have an important role to play.”
The company supplies and supports its products globally, including to notable offshore projects in Saudi Arabia. And at one of the biggest new LNG export facilities on the US Gulf Coast, Sofis saved the customer millions in CapEx by using portable actuators instead of permanently installed ones.
“The thing that makes us unique, is that we look to engage throughout the value chain to create solutions,” said Mr Langston. “It’s not just about customers coming to us for a product: it’s that deep application knowledge and unparalleled experience that we offer, alongside our ability to service and support clients onsite, through maintenance and inspection.”
One particularly innovative solution is for the Equinor Northern Lights project in Norway; the largest carbon capture operation in Europe, where the company has integrated one of its newest technologies, a key management system (KMS).
“The thing that makes us unique, is that we look to engage throughout the value chain to create solutions. It’s not just about customers coming to us for a product: it’s that deep application knowledge and unparalleled experience that we offer, alongside our ability to service and support clients onsite, through maintenance and inspection.”
KMS offers an auditable level of safety, including a record of everything going on in a plant. It also keeps sites in optimum maintained working order, avoiding downtime and therefore a loss of earnings. “The Northern Lights project is the new standard,” said Mr Langston. “We are going to deliver several more of these solutions as part of large upgrade programmes to existing offshore assets. We’re seeing new builds integrating this kind of additional digitalised administrative safety. It adds a huge amount of value to our customers.”
Partnerships built to last
Sofis prizes the strong, reliable supply chain relationships that contribute to the company’s overall success as the synergy is passed on to customers too.
“We have trust from our suppliers that has built up over many years,” said Mr Langston, “and that supports how we deliver with flexibility and agility towards our own customers – whether on the other side of the world, or around the corner. We view what we do as very much a relationship-driven exercise.”
Going forward, Sofis will continue to raise its profile and create awareness throughout the industry about its capabilities. “We have a deep application knowledge on process safety,” said Ms Schulte. “If we’re involved in the beginning of big EPC projects, then we can really add value and reduce CapEx. Getting involved earlier and being seen as the safety expert: that’s commercially one of my challenges. We are also creating a Sofis Academy to share knowledge with our distributors and customers.”
Indeed, it is clear that Sofis solutions truly make a difference in the lives of those who use them.
“We have a deep application knowledge on process safety. If we’re involved in the beginning of big EPC projects, then we can really add value and reduce CapEx. Getting involved earlier and being seen as the safety expert: that’s commercially one of my challenges. We are also creating a Sofis Academy to share knowledge with our distributors and customers.”
“Linda and I were in Abu Dhabi for ADIPEC,” concluded Mr Langston, “and we listened to customers talking about what it’s like for their operators to be out in 45 degrees Celsius, turning a valve 200 times in a hot petrochemical environment, wearing PPE. Sometimes it might be a very urgent or safety-related procedure, so it’s important that we make valve operations easier, faster and more efficient.”