Extreme Engineering

2007 Winner: Outstanding Commercial Achievement in Alberta Science and Technology (Sales less than 25 million)

Engineers Bank On Their Talents And Become World Leader In Oil-Patch Technology

The Yiddish term, “Chutzpah,” is hard to define, and so is often explained this way. “Chutzpah is demonstrated by the man who has just been accused of killing his parents and throws himself at the mercy of court on the grounds that he’s an orphan.”

Going for Broke

Alternatively, you could describe it by using the story of Derek and Glenna Logan, Paul and Margaret Camwell, Tony Dopf, and Wendell Siemens. In 2001, they took a huge chance, leveraging nothing more than a belief in themselves and years of oil-patch and engineering experience to start Extreme Engineering Inc.

Their concept was to put disruptive-enabling technology called acoustic telemetry into a small package that allowed real-time oil drilling readings. They made some initial progress with the technology and started bringing on researchers but no cash was coming in. So the main project was put aside and they raised operating revenue by pitching their engineering expertise, taking on projects that allowed them to use client money to develop technology whose intellectual property Extreme would retain. How’s that for know-how mixed with Alberta entrepreneurial spirit?

Pretty soon they had a group of platforms. Then they started supporting the platforms and kept expanding around the acoustic telemetry technology in which, six years later, they are the acknowledged world leaders, with offices in Denver and Fort Worth, in addition to their Calgary headquarters.

The Inspiring Team

Derek graduated from SAIT and is a huge fan of the Calgary-based institution. Extreme works closely with SAIT people and, essentially, using it as the company’s feedstock. In fact, it’s the SAIT alumni who typically who create practical applications for the extraordinary research developed by the 25-or-so engineers and scientists who work out of the company’s 12th Street headquarters in southeast Calgary. The firm has been so successful that it now employs over 90 people. And while he figures he still knows 70 of them and their spouses by name, he shakes his head ruefully at the rapid growth.

“Six years ago we had a dream and we just figured out a way to keep going until it started to happen. It’s hard to believe we’ve come so far, so fast.” But he’s quick to add success requires a total team effort. “If you have the right people, challenges will drive them and all of a sudden nothing is impossible. Sometimes it just takes a little longer, that’s all. We have a lot of expertise and are capable of handling a whole project, from soup to nuts. But it’s not just an internal team.”

He ticks off on his fingers the various groups responsible for the terrific progress. “I really want to acknowledge all the people on the outside on whom we continue to rely. For example, there’s the Government of Canada’s Industrial Research Assistance Program, our remarkable board of directors who challenge us daily, our legal counsel, and even our bankers. They’re all terrific.”

The Pure and the Practical

What’s remarkable about Extreme’s success is that it’s the result of finding a solution to a problem the oil patch has been trying to figure out for 50 years. That magic combination of pure researchers working with the practical SAIT-trained gang has allowed the company to create the next generation of real-time telemetry, effectively putting eyes and ears into the end of a drill bit thousands of feet below the surface, punishing the sensors with incredibly adverse conditions, and providing an accurate wireless feed back to the surface. And the acoustic telemetry isn’t their only successful gambit. Along the way they’ve become the only company in the world to offer electro-magnetic and mud-pulse telemetry systems. In the latter case, reducing the human resources required to run the technology by 95%. Whereas a company once needed two people topside working with the mud-pulse equipment at any given moment, Extreme’s technology allows seven people to run 50 sites by remote.

Importance of Good Technology

Derek loves the fact that the technological advances have helped stabilise an industry that is cyclical. As a 25-year oil-patch veteran, he’s seen the boom-bust cycle a couple of times and knows that if a lean drilling company can operate effectively with a small workforce during the peak years, it doesn’t have to lay off its people in difficult times, and will better survive the downturn. He figures that’s as important an impact on the Alberta economy as the exceptional quality of the high-tech products Extreme has so successfully marketed over the last half-dozen years.

Of course, he’s not blind to the fact that the technology itself is a great source of pride for everyone involved. He points out if you can develop technology that is applicable in the Canadian oil basin, it can be used anywhere else in the world. You have to be practical developing concepts here because margins are far tighter than they are in more traditional extraction areas.

“If you can make it here, you’ll make it anywhere,” he laughs. In effect, he and his partners have created a company that can have a significant impact internationally, further cementing Alberta’s reputation around the world as a leader in oil extraction technology.

Strong Family Bonds

It’s not really surprising that Derek Logan ended up as president of a successful engineering firm. He’s always loved tinkering, going all the way back to when his dad would bring home old beaters they’d fix up together. It’s a tradition he continued with his own sons, Aaron and Justin.

Six years ago, when the boys were 15 and 12, respectively, the three of them rebuilt a 1952 Chevy pickup. Now electric blue and equipped with all kinds of cool extras, the truck has won prizes and is the family’s pride and joy—at least, it will be until they complete their next project, a 1965 Cobra “replicar”  that they hope to have on the road next year.

In the meantime, he and Glenna, who just celebrated their 25th anniversary with a cycling trip at the Fairmont Sonoma Mission Inn & Spa, are watching their kids with pride, enjoying the fact that Justin has just joined his brother at Queen’s University’s School of Mechanical Engineering. It seems the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree. And what an apple. Derek’s come a long way from his days as an industrial tire-man in Saskatchewan’s coal mines. Then again, perhaps he’s not all that far removed from those mines. Now he makes his living on the far side of drill. We’re glad he is and look forward to watching the continued success we know will characterise Extreme Engineering Inc. of Calgary, Alberta, Canada.