A tactical use of innovative technology and a focus on safety and customer costs have paid off for Dominion Technology Gases, which is celebrating its most successful year to date.

The Scotland-based industrial cylinder gas specialist has rounded off 2005 with a clutch of big contracts with North Sea oil and gas majors while scooping the prestigious Northern Star business award for best use of information and communication technology.

These successes have provided the launch pad for Dominion\\$quot;s expansion into Norway with a new three million pound production and supply plant due to begin operations in early 2006.

Established by Gareth Telfer Jones in 1984, Dominion has seen aggressive competition from multinational rivals in the offshore oil and gas industry.

Jones, 53, started as a marine engineer at Brown Brothers in Edinburgh before moving to Seaforth Maritime in Aberdeen in 1976. After leaving there, he invented a gas meter to manage the recovery of then-expensive helium, a device he patented in 1984.

He set up Dominion as a gas metering company and sold 14 of the meters at about £100,000 each before the price of helium dropped to a level where recycling became unnecessary.

As prices continued to fall, Dominion moved into production and supply, adopting 300-bar pressure cylinders that held up to 50 per cent more than the 200-bar industry standard. A new quad \\$quot;“ a metal frame holding multiple cylinders \\$quot;“ that was lighter than those of rival firms followed.

These two developments allowed clients to get more gas into less space and reduced the number of lifts required to supply offshore facilities, affording substantial savings in shipping costs.

For the last ten years, Dominion has operated a joint venture in Singapore with multinational BOC, and in 1999 the company invested £2.5 million in extending its Aberdeen base and modernising production machinery and laboratories.

The number of staff has grown from the original four to 30 and another 20 new posts will be created with the Norwegian operation. \\$quot;Small compared to its rivals, but Dominion\\$quot;s muscle lies in technology and staff expertise\\$quot;, says Jones.

The company\\$quot;s innovation drive has seen it beat its competition in addressing the puzzle of \\$quot;missing cylinder syndrome\\$quot;. For years, clients have complained that gas suppliers were charging thousands of pounds in rental for unmonitored cylinders that disappeared in the constant turnover of equipment.

Dominion invested £500,000 in new technology to develop CATS \\$quot;“ the cylinder asset tracking system \\$quot;“ whereby individual numbers and barcodes on each cylinder give clients 24-hour internet access to precise equipment inventories, certifications and locations.

Dominion's extensive electronic communications and monitoring system will allow administration and quality control at its Norway plant to be conducted from Aberdeen.

\\$quot;Norway is about 50 per cent larger than the UK oil and gas market, but more than half of Dominion\\$quot;s turnover already comes from outside the UK, most notably from the Far East and West Africa,\\$quot; says general manager Paul McAlister.

Over the next two years, McAlister expects to see a growth of 50 per cent in Dominion\\$quot;s North Sea markets. \\$quot;Over the last ten years, we\\$quot;ve grown at the rate of 25 to 30 per cent per annum and we\\$quot;re looking to implant that success into other markets.\\$quot;

To underpin the expansion, Dominion awarded a five million pound contract to BOC to supply cryogenic gases over the next three years. With two one-year options, the value could increase to seven million pounds.

The firm is also investing one million pounds in promoting and upgrading facilities at the Singapore venture. \\$quot;We\\$quot;ve realised that size doesn\\$quot;t matter if we use technology and innovation to our advantage,\\$quot; says Jones. \\$quot;Nothing beats quality of service when the competition is rough.\\$quot;