Moosomin, Wapella – He was working on designing farm equipment when Dan McCarthy came up with an idea for a new pumping unit to replace the venerable walking beam pumpjack.
Now, his company, IJACK Technologies Inc., has been gaining market share in Manitoba and has since branched into two other products for gas compression. Most of this has happened during the worst oil downturn seen in decades.
IJACK Technologies Inc. is based in Redvers, and is currently working out of a shop just down Highway 1 at Wapella. That’s going to be changing soon, however, as the company is building a brand new and much larger facility on the north edge of Moosomin.
The company was incorporated in 2010, and started actively selling its hydraulic jack, the UNO, in 2013.
McCarthy said he had two partners out of Virden, Man., Craig Davidson and Darren Bryant. He bought them out last year. “They had connections, they did sales. I did the rest,” he said on Nov. 7 in the Wapella shop.
“I was hauling a prototype combine on a trailer near Carnduff back in 2008, watching all the pumpjacks. The guy I was working for had success adding hydraulics to machines,” McCarthy recounted. So he asked himself, “Why couldn’t we do that hydraulically?”
He talked about it for 2.5 years, during which time he got plenty of warnings about the challenges. For instance, units tried in the 1980s had cylinder seals made of leather.
McCarthy grew up on a mixed grain and cattle farm south of Moosomin. “I’m from the agriculture world. I didn’t know anything about the poor reputation of hydraulic jacks,” he said, noting hydraulic jacks have been around for a long time. As such, he came at the concept with a fresh perspective. McCarthy had never worked in oilfield maintenance, either.
“I think that’s beneficial. I bring in tech from agriculture,” he said.
That might have resulted in him being “super naïve” (his words), but he was also stubborn and didn’t give up.
The first prototype went to work with a small company oil company in Manitoba. “Every problem I encountered, I tried to make possible changes so it wouldn’t happen again.,” he said. That has meant taking the time to upgrade every machine in the field to current specs.
“Software was absolutely huge, and still is,” he said, aiming to have software that will “cure itself” when the unit has issues.
McCarthy isn’t coming at this as a tinkering inventor, but as a professional engineer with a degree in industrial systems engineering from the University of Regina, where he graduated in 2006.
Indeed, he is now part of a family of engineers, as McCarthy’s wife, Olga, is an industrial engineer, as are her two parents and sister. They emigrated from Ukraine when Olga was younger.
“She runs our business model,” Dan said of Olga. The two have two young children, and these days Olga focuses on professional photography.
McCarthy worked as an engineer at Bridgeview Manufacturing at Gerald, Sask., developing a patent for them for bale processing. He also worked with Riteway Manufacturing in Imperial, Sask, working on the design end of heavy harrows and rock pickers.
At the time McCarthy had his inspiration for his hydraulic pumpjack, he was working for Les Hulisco, the owner of Riteway. He also owns Sweeprite in Regina, which makes commercial street sweepers and pothole patchers. McCarthy worked on refining the design of the pothole patcher. At that point he was headhunted by Brandt Ag Products, where he continued to develop his concept for the hydraulic pumpjack.
McCarthy was designing grain carts and heavy harrows when the first prototype was put together, welded by a buddy. That was installed December 2010 at Cromer, just north of the Enbridge tank farm.
It ran for three-quarters of a year, and had obvious issues, McCarthy said. He was still working at Brandt as he designed the next generation on evenings and weekends when he simply got too busy. In April 2012, he made “a big jump.”
“At the time, it was a tough decision,” he said. “I never paid myself for years and years.”
His two partners each made cash investments, and a sizeable sum came from his parents. That money was spent on materials to make something work.
An advantageous move to Moosomin from Regina, when it came to housing prices, made it a lot easier for the McCarthys to be able to afford to live while the company was in its infancy.
The second generation was two units. He explained they didn’t work very well. “I learned a lot,” he said.
Part of that was learning about 24-hour operations in cold and hot conditions, about things like cylinder seals and pump flows. Simplifying design was another area.
This led to three units in the third generation, and all three are still operating today. The UNO had matured.
It was in 2014 he realized, “This is really going to take off.”
Their most prominent customer told Pipeline Newsin a previous story printed in August, 2017, that the IJACK UNO’s variability in operating parameters is a key point for them, as well as its small footprint. The IJack UNO simply bolts onto the wellhead, and does not require a pad or pilings.
McCarthy explained that the UNO can run from 0.2 to six strokes per minute.
“It’s self-adjusting, while the well declines, based on the surface card. It’s got a huge stroke, and no changing of shivs, and no VFD (variable frequency drive),” said Tim Beals, who recently came onboard to handle sales.
The UNO’s adoption, particularly around Cromer, has seen a substantial number of walking beam pumpjacks supplanted by these hydraulic units in recent years.
Unfortunately, the end of 2014 saw the start of the oil downturn that the industry still hasn’t fully recovered from.
At that point, he hadn’t taken a dollar out of the company, and was used to running very lean.
At this time, gas compression was born. A nearby oil company wanted to make more oil from the wells they had. Using gas compression resulted in a two-to-five times increase in production.
This resulted in two different products – first the DGAS, which is a gas compressor piston bolted onto existing walking beam pumpjacks. While there are other manufacturers of similar products, the IJack version does not involve welding, and is adjustable for different sizes of pumpjacks.
“That really carried us through the downturn,” McCarthy said.
Its drawback is that slowing down the pumpjack resulted in less gas compression. This, in turn, led to their second version of gas compression, the EGAS.
Instead of being mounted on the pumpjack, it’s a standalone unit with two opposing hydraulic cylinders operating a central gas piston. The system is mounted on its own stand, about waist height, in a horizontal configuration. EGAS is capable of handing liquids, while the DGAS cannot.
The power units, for both the UNO and EGAS, do not use a variable frequency drive (VFD). Instead, the power unit uses variable displacement pumps.
One power unit can be used to operate an UNO hydraulic pumpjack and an EGAS compressor unit, a configuration they call UNOGAS. An EGAS gas compressor can also be hooked up to several wells. It is capable of moving twice as much gas as a DGAS unit.
Next edition: Part II will focus on IJack’s manufacturing in Saskatchewan, part of our special on Made in Canada.