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Master Builders of a Faraway Land

Date: 09/01/2009
Location: Paris

Tucked away somewhere in Ultima Thule, virtually unknown in our vast industry, what in the world could this diminutive enterprise have to offer giant Schlumberger? You might be surprised.

Some stories have no beginning. Just when you think you’ve found it, another door opens, leading you through a gallery of new discoveries. Then another, and another, until you decide you might as well stop searching and just enjoy the view so far.

Such is the story of Lyng Drilling, a small Norwegian drill bit manufacturer acquired by Schlumberger in 2006, and which today promises to be a key component in our bid for increased independence in selected drilling markets around the world.

Founded in 1984 in the tiny port town of Vanvikan, a 25-minute ferry ride across the fjord from Trondheim, Lyng Drilling can be said to have begun as one more in a long line of self-imposed challenges for Bjorn Lyng, a talented Norwegian inventor and entrepreneur. In a sense, the last thing Lyng needed at that point was another challenge. At 59, he had already overcome a great many in his professional life—conceiving, building, buying and selling a number of successful companies of all variety. But what was one more mountain for a climber of Lyng’s ilk?

Born just 30 km north of here, in what is certainly one of Europe’s most remote extremities, Bjorn Lyng made a fast and early start to his career. At age 14, with just seven years of school under his belt, he arrived in Vanvikan to establish a blacksmithing company. Within a year he had three employees and business, making crane claws for the logging industry, was booming. One of young Lyng’s initial technical triumphs involved building a hydro-electric generator to power his forge.

But that was just the first beginning. There were many more over the next 40 years, during which Bjorn Lyng successfully invented, built and/or marketed wood stoves, drain pipes, plumbing fixtures, diapers, electronic wall safes, smart cards, and more.

The trick this time would be to improve on existing designs for “fixed-cutter” rotary steerable drill bits—a new technology in the early 1980s, and a popular one with Statoil in the North Sea market. Once again, Bjorn Lyng had spotted an opportunity.

So after learning how to make fixed-cutter bits with help from a Norwegian research organization, Lyng and his team undertook to make better fixed-cutter bits, ultimately achieving two significant advances. First, they moved away from existing single-piece bit design models, opting instead for a unique three-piece assembly process which makes Lyng bits easier to repair and therefore longer-lasting. Second, Lyng invented “anti-bit balling coating,” a metallurgical process that prevents water-based drilling mud from clogging the bit matrix and slowing operations—a common problem for Statoil in the North Sea, where environmental regulations prevent the use of oil-based drilling muds in some applications.

“Lyng bits remain unbeatable for their anti-balling properties,” says Lyng Drilling Engineering Manager Kjell Haugvaldstad. “All our competitors continue to have balling problems. Not us.”

Having worked all 11 years of his professional career at Lyng Drilling, Haugvaldstad now shares a vision for Lyng technology and its international market penetration with General Manager Maran Balasubramaniam, a 15-year Schlumberger veteran via our one-time drilling subsidiary, Reed-Hycalog. Together they see opportunities in the joining of Lyng and Schlumberger. “Lyng brings us excellent technology,” says Balasubramaniam, “and we offer Lyng access to new markets as well as to all our technical know-how and our extensive testing facilities. No matter how you look at it, this is a win-win deal.”

Down on the shop floor, where half of Lyng Drilling’s 36 employees spend their days, Maran Balasubramaniam is now overseeing the reorganization and streamlining of Lyng’s entire production process. Based on a Schlumberger-supplied Lean Six Sigma model, the new plan is expected to significantly boost Lyng Drilling’s annual output.

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Long before retiring there in late 1990s, Bjorn Lyng built a 300-unit seaside resort in Spain’s Canary Islands. The only trouble with the spot was its total lack of fresh water, so Lyng invented his own desalination system. The old Norwegian died on the dry Spanish island in 2006, but AquaLyng, the desalination plant company he founded in 2001, lives on—in a building right next door to Lyng Drilling, and just 100 meters down the road from the little waterfall that used to turn Bjorn Lyng’s

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Northern Light
You might be quick enough to catch her for a minute, but it’s going to take longer than that to figure out how Anne-Karin Bjoernsvik has mastered so many different jobs within the Lyng family of companies. Twenty-three years after starting as the switchboard operator at Lyng Industries, this Vanvikan native now effectively acts as personnel manager, chief invoicing agent and head of logistics coordination at Lyng Drilling—an indispensable Jacqueline-of-all-trades, so to speak, who also wears the hat of company historian. Of Bjorn Lyng himself, for example, Anne-Karin remembers an extremely approachable man who looked at his employees as equals. “He never just sat in his office,” she recalls. “When problems arose on the shop floor, he would come downstairs and help find a solution.”

Anne-Karin’s longevity with the company makes her a reliable telltale of her coworkers’ state-of-mind following the Schlumberger acquisition. “At first, people here were afraid of leaving the Lyng Group, but now we’re getting used to things like RIRs and commentary drives, and people see these as positive changes.”

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