Facing the historic economic meltdown in 2008, Acadiana Cooling and Compression refused to lay off workers, and then opened a second location to serve oil and natural gas companies.
Acadiana Cooling and Compression was launched in early 2008 and it didn't take long for the Louisiana-based company to run into choppy waters.
Mitch Dortez, founder and president, came to the business with extensive experience in the radiator/cooler field of oil and gas services, and leaned on a core group of experienced technicians to build the new company. Brian Geoffroy, Acadiana's general manager—who oversees sales and receivables—says Dortez's focus on building and retaining an experienced technical/service staff helped the company clear the biggest hurdle in its brief history.
"The toughest challenge we had was in 2009 when the market was bad," Geoffroy says. "We didn't lay anybody off, but we struggled to keep them busy." Retaining workers through historically tough economic times has paid off in employee retention and recruitment as the gas industry has ramped up recently, Geoffroy says. And that has brought consistent and quality service as the company has begun to mature.
Keeping it cool
Acadiana specializes in the maintenance, repair and installation of cooling and compression equipment. It works with oil and gas producers both offshore in the Gulf of Mexico and onshore in both southern Louisiana and in a second region that spans shale plays in northeast Texas and northwest Louisiana. The company works primarily at producing well sites, but also services equipment on gas pipelines.
The compression equipment serviced by Acadiana is used to match the compression of gas coming from a well field to the pressure flowing through bulk pipelines. The cooling equipment reduces the temperature of the gas to match fuel already in the pipelines. Both the compressors and the coolers are powered by large industrial engines fueled by the natural gas the wells are producing.
When production slowed due to declining prices, the demand for Acadiana's services also declined, forcing the company's managers to do whatever was necessary to maintain a quality workforce. Now that the gas and oil industry is running strong, Geoffroy says recruiting is highly competitive in Acadiana's markets.
"Everybody fights for the better workers. We just wish we could get more," he explains. The general manager says it can be difficult to compete with larger service providers for top technicians, but Acadiana's decision to avoid layoffs in 2009 is paying double dividends now.
First, he says, the company has nurtured a core of loyal employees. Second, he adds, "People were getting laid off elsewhere and even if we weren't hiring, they may have watched us a year or two. They saw that we didn't lay anybody off and they made the decision to apply."
Geoffroy says the result is an experienced pool of applicants for Acadiana, allowing the company to move new employees into the field right away to meet the growing demand for service. That's important since the company took a major step forward less than a year after it was launched, opening a second office in Kilgore, Texas, in late 2008.
The Kilgore office has dispatched crews as far as Dallas, southern Arkansas and southern Oklahoma. The Kilgore office has 10 mechanics, two cooler technicians and two working supervisors.
Acadiana has 42 employees, 30 working in the field as technician/mechanics. Although most of the field technicians specialize, Geoffroy says, "The ones that work on the radiator/cooler side also double up on the mechanical side and a lot of the mechanical guys can work on the cooler side." Cross-training makes it easier for the company to respond to emergency calls or sudden shifts in client needs, he explains.
Although the majority of Acadiana's work was offshore when the company launched, the rapid growth of gas exploration and production in shale formations — along with the expansion of pipeline networks — has shifted much of the company's work to land-based clients. The company both services and installs cooler and compressor packages.
Ounce of prevention
Although it provides 24-hour emergency service, the company's greatest focus is on preventive maintenance, Geoffroy says. "Our job is to keep them running efficiently ... to make sure they don't have emergencies. A lot of our work is scheduled maintenance."
The preventive maintenance is offered as a benefit for customers, but it also helps Acadiana manage its resources. With scheduled maintenance, Geoffroy says, "You know you have work every day." When an emergency call comes in, Geoffroy says the size of the Acadiana workforce gives it the flexibility to shift resources quickly. He notes that managers in the office are also experienced in the field, and are available to step in when there is a need for extra hands.
Most of Acadiana's work is done on site. "We do overhauls in the field. We do retubes in the field," Geoffroy says. "Some customers have spares and they will pull the equipment and send it to our shop, but 90 percent of what we do is in the field."
Compressors with engines below 500 hp need preventive maintenance every 30 days, according to Acadiana salesman Andre Dore, who has also worked in maintenance. Engines above 500 hp get preventive maintenance every 90 days of operation. Cooler units are cleaned and serviced at the same time as the engines powering them.
"Regular preventive maintenance has been proven time and time again to improve overall run time and ultimately improve production which, in turn, means increased revenues to the owner of the machine," Dore says. "Preventive maintenance can be scheduled around the clients' scheduled downtime, minimizing loss of production, again saving money and minimizing impact on overall production."
Acadiana recommends annual major maintenance and inspection of heavy-duty compressors and coolers.
Equipping the crew
The company supplies work trucks for its field crews, but Geoffroy adds, "We have some guys that come in and want to use their own trucks and we'll pay them for that."
All of the mechanics and technicians have their own tools, but, "we provide them with many specialty tools such as dial indicators, micrometers, specialty seal tools, centering sleeves, liner pullers and laptops with the latest software for troubleshooting," Geoffroy says. "The list can go on, depending upon the need.
"A lot of the specialized engines they work on—like a Caterpillar 3600—require special tools. We have Cat 3600 toolboxes so our guys are equipped to do the job when they get there," Geoffroy says. The company also maintains a specialty tool box for the Waukesha AT engine.
At both its Broussard and Kilgore offices, as well as at a satellite building in Sibley, La., Acadiana maintains utility trailers with larger maintenance equipment such as air compressors, welding machines and wash rigs that field techs can take with them when a job calls for it. The company designs and equips its own wash trailers.
Like the cross-training of its employees, Geoffroy says, the flexibility of the shared trailers helps Acadiana serve customers, "because every location is going to have different needs."
Because the company focuses on hiring experienced technicians, it does not have to do much basic training for employees. "For the most part, a lot of our work hasn't changed much. The basic knowledge is what is important," he says. But when the equipment or the technology does change, Acadiana sends technicians to focused training programs.
"We make sure our people are certified on the specialized equipment they will be seeing in the field,'' Geoffroy says. "When manufacturers introduce something new, they usually have their own schools and we'll send someone. We'll train key people and they share that knowledge with the rest of the team."
To keep pace with the industry, Acadiana technicians are certified on all the Caterpillar engine types, including the Cat 398, Cat 3500 and the Cat 3600 lines, Waukesha Engine (GE Energy) lines from VRG to AT and other major brands of engines. They are also certified on Ariel, Dresser-Rand (GE Energy), Worthington, GE, Gemini and Gardner Denver compressors.
Because some of the cooler and compressor equipment Acadiana services has outlived the suppliers, parts are sometimes difficult to secure after a breakdown. That's when parts and shop manager Keith Boutte is tapped for his experience. "He's been in the industry a long time and he has his own little notebook of sources where he can find things that nobody else can find."
Lloyd Romero is Acadiana's service manager responsible for scheduling crews for maintenance work and calling out technicians for the company's 24-hour emergency services. Chris LeMaire manages the Kilgore office. Marshall Robinson is the working supervisor in that office.
Because his office's work is land-based and his clients have specific expectations of their service crews, LeMaire has developed a standard service truck package for his compression technicians to take in the field.
For the compression side of the business, Acadiana's Kilgore office starts with a Ford F-450 service body truck and adds a 4,000-pound Auto Crane. They also add a 12 hp Ingersoll Rand air compressor and a 3,000 psi Hotsy cold-water pressure washer with a 100-gallon tank.
LeMaire says the pressure washers are included in the standard package so the technicians can clean the compression equipment before they begin servicing it and again before they leave a client's well.
For cooler work, technicians are dispatched with pickup trucks stocked with the necessary tools. The Kilgore office also has two trailer-mounted Hotsy pressure washers that are used to clean the coolers. The trailers are equipped with 300-gallon wash tanks.
New workers needed
Recruiting enough qualified technicians to keep up with the demand for Acadiana's services can be daunting, LeMaire says. The company is willing to take on less-experienced technicians than they sought in the past as long as the workers show an aptitude in fields such as welding, mechanics or cooling.
LeMaire is willing to take a chance on a well-trained student who demonstrates a good work ethic.
"Most of what we do is highly specialized," he says. "But they've got to start somewhere."