Innovation vs. Standardization

flaskSparx recently participated in a Houston area workshop on oil and gas chemistry.  Oilfield chemistry can be largely divided into chemical analysis, viscosity control, and fluid management.   Each of these areas depends heavily upon the use of organic polymers with mineral additives.  While drilling and completion operations may be viewed as unique projects, these operations share a common lineage of chemical expertise.  Ironically, while the chemistry is indispensable, it is the empirical function of these systems to a working specification that is important.

Like most industries, industry standard testing (ASTM, ISO, UL, etc.) drives commercial validation of new products.  While these tests serve as an important benchmark of minimum performance, is it worth considering the effect of these tests on innovation?  By definition, innovation pushes technology beyond what is known, to something new.  Is it necessarily axiomatic that new technology that works, must pass industry standard tests to be accepted?  While many innovations may fit this paradigm, true invention may generate technologies that fail industry standard tests, not because they do not work, but because the properties and function perform outside the scope of what the test measures.  How do innovators with limited resources overcome such burdens?  Referenced burdens are not being associated with the performance in an industry standard test, technically, but the often exorbitant pricing for such testing and the resistance to change by industry leaders?

One such example in the oilfield is rheology testing.   Viscosity measurements are critical for the performance of a drilling mud, or fracturing fluid.  Industry standard viscometers largely based upon technology that is certainly over 50 years old.  While these systems are sound, robust and reliable, rheology is a complex branch of fluid dynamics through which performance depends upon how the viscosity is measured.  In other words a fluid that performs well on one instrument may look equally poor on a second instrument that ostensibly is measuring the same thing.  Similarly, a new viscosified fluid may perform poorly on these industry recognized standards, may perform a new function that is not being measured adequately by existing standards.  In a resource constrained world with accepted standards and experts that decide how those standards may be accepted or changed across industries that reach billions in revenue, then what incentive is there for change?  What we’re discussing then are not incremental changes of existing technology that marginally effect cost or supply, but those disruptive technologies that drive rapid innovation.  Those exceptions to the rule dictate standards that redefine success.

As pressure mounts for improved resource management for the harvesting of minerals, both in consumption (water), energy balance (output greater than input) and monetary (yield exceeds investment), might we reexamine the industry standard paradigms?  Shall we question whether the fee to play system may have diminished the original intent of having standards in the first place?  Are we sacrificing technologies that could improve the environment, for satisfying the expected?

As Einstein said, “We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them.”

The Sparx team manages and executes complex projects and has the experience and knowledge to impact these areas for your innovations.

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