In the midst of an industry lull, Mike Faulkner is helping GPT maintain growth and succeed through innovation and best-in-class manufacturing technology.
(Originally published July 13, 2016)
You get a good view when you’re sitting on top of a pyramid, with the vast landscape lying below. You also can see others trying to reach the top and, in the business world, hoping to push you off your perch.
Such is the world of Mike Faulkner, who is vice president and general manager of Garlock Pipeline Technologies (GPT), based in the Denver suburb of Wheat Ridge. GPT is the no. 1 global manufacturer of flange systems, spring-energized jacketed seals, and electrical flange isolation kits that are critical in the oil and gas industry, as well as the water/wastewater, chemical, energy, construction and infrastructure industries.
GPT is a subsidiary of the global conglomerate EnPro Industries, which had $1.2 billion in sales in 2015. GPT is part of EnPro’s Garlock family of companies, which provide high-performance fluid sealing and pipeline protection products in 75 countries.
EnPro created GPT in 2011 through a combination of two acquisitions, Pikotek, based in Wheat Ridge, and UK-based Pipeline Seal & Insulator Co. (PSI). Besides Colorado, GPT has facilities in Houston, St. Neots in the U.K. and in Dubai.
Nearly two-thirds of GPT products are manufactured at the Wheat Ridge facility, which is also the company’s base of operations. Because the company is so widespread, however, Faulkner only spends about every third week in Colorado. Otherwise he’s on the road at GPT’s other offices or at EnPro offices.
One product GPT is best known for in the oil and gas business are its flange isolation kits. “For oil and gas pipelines, one of the biggest cost areas is corrosion control,” Faulkner says. “We provide controlled voltage into the pipe to keep it from corroding. We are best in class. A lot of companies make isolation kits, but ours are specifically for oil and gas.”
These kits, made in Colorado and the U.K., are designed to seal and electrically isolate pipeline flange assemblies. Used with GPT’s gaskets, they eliminate metal-to-metal contact and prevent corrosion.
“This is a niche business,” says Faulkner, “and it is as much art as science.”
GPT, he says, “owns the top of the pyramid [in pipeline flange assemblies]” because its customers know the cost of pipeline failure is high. “The reason I go to work every day is to protect people and keep the environment safe. We keep the bad stuff in the pipe.”
GPT is far and away the market leader in this area. Its competitors are less than 10 percent GPT’s market share and, since it is a niche market, there is a tremendous cost for customers to switch to another supplier.
“Right now, we own the top,” Faulkner says. “One of our challenges is that our competitors are so far away. We’ve stayed ahead and reinvented our core with new products.” That includes the 2015 release of a VCXT (very critical extreme temperature) flange insulation kit for use in elevated temperature applications found in the oil and gas and chemical processing industries. Another is its VCFS (very critical fire safe) isolating gaskets and kits, which use the Pikotek brand and are designed to withstand temperatures up to 1,500 degrees Fahrenheit.
Other products GPT manufactures include casing spacers, non-isolation sealing products, wall penetration sleeves and disks, wall penetration seals, casing end seals, manhole-sealing products, and isolation joints
The business climate for GPT has been as volatile as oil and gas prices, but 2015 was one of the company’s best ever, Faulkner says. “Pipeline work might be down in one area but they are constantly looking for new areas. There are lots of opportunities for us. About half of what we sell goes outside the U.S. But oil at $50 a barrel makes me feel better than $29 a barrel. Things were looking gloomy last fall.”
Because GPT is in a niche business and Faulkner spends so much time on the road, his view of the Colorado manufacturing scene is narrow. But he says the state has a “highly skilled workforce and I’m very happy to have the plant in Denver. We have incredibly talented people and we have no shortage of people to employ.”
Challenges: “I view it as continuing to innovate and expand our product portfolio to maintain that top of the pyramid,” says Faulkner. “We have to be nimble and cannibalize our own products and bring out new products. We can’t stand still. We don’t want to be caught flat-footed.”
Opportunities: Faulkner is bullish on exports. “The biggest opportunity I see is really penetrating the international market. Gas pipelines are expanding across the globe, in China, Indonesia, the Middle East, in India. That’s a tremendous growth opportunity. We are very good now in the Middle East and are carving a presence in Asia. That is taking more time. There is also a lot more opportunity in America, as we go from being an importer to being an exporter.”
Needs: “For us our biggest strength and need is keeping our engineering resources up to date and advancing the state of the art,” says Faulkner. “A lot of it is relying on the folks we have already. Bringing new people in and embedding them in the field so they understand the customers. The best engineers we have are those in the field who diagnose problems. We have to gain mastery. I’m very proud of all our people. My job is easy, I’m a servant leader. I point the way to go and remove obstacles.”