Tuesday, 16 August 2016

Innovation Downunder




In the early 2000s, Matt was working as a geophysicist at BHP Petroleum. He was also adjunct associate professor of geophysics at Curtin University in Perth. Keen to start his own geophysics software business, Matt saw in PhD student Troy a potential partner with a brilliant mind who could ‘do anything’. Matt and Troy were working on software techniques to ‘invert’ seismic acoustic survey data to a quantitatively useful parameter such as the probability of hydrocarbon. In late 2003, Matt left BHP and together with Troy, founded Downunder GeoSolutions (DUG).


Processing seismic data requires banks of computers to perform parallel computations on terabytes of data. Matt and Troy installed a network of PC computers in a shed they built in Matt’s backyard. They immediately encountered an overheating problem with their massed PC computers. The solution was to stack the PCs on their sides, fit the shed roof with an array of exhaust fans sourced from the local hardware store, and drape a curtain from the window to direct outside air up through the PCs to cool them. After about three months, the processor boards started turning green from the humid air and within a year they fell apart, but the first DUG supercomputer had done its job.

The company struggled to make money in the early years, surviving on grants and piecemeal consulting projects. Then in 2006, Matt and Troy had an opportunity to apply their technique to a data set from Western Australia for US oil and gas giant Apache. Three dry holes had been drilled in the licence area and Apache had an obligation to drill one more well before they could relinquish the licence.

Matt and Troy took on the job with more bravado than confidence, and after six months of processing they produced the world's first hydrocarbon probability volume map. Their interpretation showed why the initial wells had failed, and Apache used their results to drill the first discovery well and a further 18 accurately predicted oil and gas wells. The Julimar oil and gas field, which now supplies gas to the $30 billion Wheatstone liquid natural gas plant, is the result. This success launched the company, allowing Matt and Troy to open new global offices and invest in new supercomputers, expand their processing capability and take on new customers.


Today the company has outgrown the shed! DUG has grown to 350 employees and is the third largest seismic processing company in the world, and the largest land seismic processing company in the United States. They operate a network of massive supercomputers in London, Houston, Kuala Lumpur and Perth, each cooled with DUG-patented oil cooling baths, and service the seismic processing needs of oil and gas companies around the world.
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Company: Downunder Geosolutions
Source: Matt Lamont and Troy Thompson discussions with Mike Adams and Sue Findlay
Reference:
Story Type: Company Creation
Labels: Innovation; Start-Up
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For Story Students:
The Setting: Early 2000s in Perth, Western Australia
The Complications: Struggling to succeed as a company
The Turning Point: A successful interpretation that discovered a gas field
The Resolution: DUG operates supercomputers in Perth, Houston, London, Kuala Lumpur and Jakarta serving oil and gas companies all over the world.
The Point of the Story:
How to use this Story:  Used by DUG customer facing staff and a great example of a company creation story

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