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Dan Jackson: How a Random Encounter Transformed Two Industries

Pumps & Pipes shows how collaboration across different industries can lead to unexpected solutions.


On a flight out of Houston eight years ago, cardiovascular surgeon Dr. Alan Lumsden and fellow passenger Zeljko Runje, a drilling engineer with ExxonMobil’s Sakhalin 1 Project in Russia, began speaking about their respective professions. The pair realised that, whether drilling for oil or performing heart surgery, it was all a matter of pumps and pipes.

This is the type of conversation that might normally have gone nowhere, yet in this case led to the first Pumps & Pipes session in the U.S. in 2007. This pioneering meeting saw a group of oil, medical, and imaging experts met at the University of Houston’s Texas Learning and Computation Center to explore their similarities in the hope of sparking solutions to problems inherent to both industries.

Since then, Pumps & Pipes conferences have attracted worldwide interest and stimulated discussion, sparked ideas and explored synergies. The fruits of this collaboration include a heartbeat simulator that applied technology from the oil industry to create a fluid delivery system. This new newly developed system was able to simulate heart function and show conditions that were previously not possible to observe in the human body.

Another pioneering project developed uses magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) to produce a 3-D model of the flow direction and velocity inside a gravel pack well. In this case, the energy industry borrowed MRI technology from the medical industry to increase the efficiency and flow of its wells.

Newer partners in Pumps & Pipes also include NASA and the aerospace industry. Importantly, William Kline, drilling and subsurface manager at ExxonMobil Upstream Research Company, states in a paper on oilfield synergies with medical science that curiosity was not the only driver for seeking cross-disciplinary connections:

“Because medical and oilfield interests generally do not compete with one another, many of the usual commercial and intellectual property inhibitors to creative collaboration are not present. Fresh eyes are seen as an advantage, not a threat.”

Kline says medicine and the oilfield are two of the most prominent examples of “operators” surrounded by extensive support infrastructures — equipment manufacturers, service providers, consultants, not to mention dedicated educational and research institutions.

“Innovation, therefore, literally reverberates as its possibilities are presented — think deepwater drilling and synthetic biomaterials as past examples, and nanoscience on the horizon.”

Dr. Lumsden, of the Methodist Cardiovascular Surgery Associates in Houston, gave an update on the Pumps & Pipes initiative at this month’s OTC oil show. He said many of the analytical tools he has are similar to those used by the oil industry.

“Many of the solutions to my problems already have been found. All that is needed to find those answers is the ability to rummage around the other guy’s toolkit.”

Fellow speaker Rustom K. Mody, Baker Hughes’ vice president and chief engineer for enterprise technology, said that technological innovation happened through the cognitive ability of associating seemingly unrelated ideas together and putting things together in unrelated ways to produce something novel and original.

He added that, when oil prices were up, nobody was willing to try new things, but that changed when the oil price was down. Mody also said that applying technologies from other industries such as aerospace to oil and gas was not only being done to enhance efficiency and productivity but safety as well.

As the Pumps & Pipes programme has shown, inspiration and powerful thinking can come from anywhere. Working with other industries, which at a quick glance appear to have nothing in common with the oil business, can lead to a “win win” situation for all involved.

Collaboration across different industries is widely expected to lead to a big competitive advantage in the future. New ideas that reduce cost and complexity and save time should be welcomed with open arms by the worldwide oil business.

(Top image: Courtesy of Thinkstock)

This piece first appeared on the io’s Powerful Thinking blog.


Dan Jackson is CEO of io oil & gas consulting, a GE and McDermott venture. For more information about io oil & gas consulting, visit To read more from Dan Jackson and the team, follow io on Twitter @io_oilandgas.




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