Much of what we have presented about Vulcan’s offshore adventure has been done in the past tense. This is a little misleading; Vulcan hammers are still used to install offshore platforms all over the world today, simple, reliable and economical as always. The sun still does not set on working Vulcan equipment.
However, it is a fact that Vulcan equipment is not as universal offshore as it was in the 1960’s and 1970’s. The reason for this is due to the nature of the offshore industry today. To use a trite phrase, the industry itself isn’t what it used to be.
The greatest motive force for offshore development–sustained elevated oil prices–was not in place from the collapse of the oil industry in the early 1980’s until the Iraq War in 2003. In the meanwhile, the nature of offshore construction has changed, conventional platforms giving way to all kinds of structures such as undersea completions, tension leg platforms, guyed towers, gravity platforms, and the like. Some of these do not require piling at all; others require underwater hammers such as the IHC Hydrohammer. Horizontal drilling technologies have reduced the sheer number of platforms needed for a given field. In 1977 a consulting group predicted that Vulcan would literally be “left on the shelf” if it did not develop an underwater hammer, which ultimately meant a hydraulic hammer. Vulcan lacked both the expertise and the financial resources to develop such a machine; the larger steam hammers were enough of a stretch. (Click here for Vulcan’s last foray into product development of an underwater hammer, the sea water hammer.) The Gulf was not the ideal venue to develop such a machine; the harsh conditions of the North Sea, along with the superior state of mobile hydraulics in Europe, were better incubators of underwater hydraulic technology than those which were available to Vulcan.
Any product line, however, that can span three centuries and two millenia in active use must have something going for it. Today Vulcan air/steam hammers continue to support one of the greatest expeditions the human race has ever undertaken.