In 1884, John Bean invented a spray pump to save California orchards from a harmful insect. That innovation gave the ancestor to FMC Technologies its start.
The company is still innovating, but it has moved from agriculture to supplying gear and technological solutions to the energy industry.
Its focus ranges from offshore drilling and exploration equipment and technologies to surface wellhead systems and services to pumps, valves, meters and separation systems.
FMC 's ( FTI ) innovation is drawing plaudits.
Fortune magazine in 2012 gave the company top billing on the roster of the world's most admired oil and gas equipment services companies.
A year later, Forbes magazine ranked FMC No. 17 among the world's most innovative companies.
With 30 production facilities in 17 countries and nearly 20,000 employees, FMC is helping energy companies recover oil from the three-quarters of the globe estimated to be underwater.
The company's second-quarter earnings report, released after the close on July 22, demonstrates its competence in this regard.
For the quarter, FMC reported $1.98 billion in revenue, a gain of 16% year over year. Earnings came in at 72 cents a share, excluding special items. That was up 50% from a year earlier and 9 cents above Wall Street estimates.
FMC also raised its full-year EPS guidance, helping to push shares up 3% to 63.22 on July 23. On Wednesday, the stock traded near 60.
Much attention has been paid to the company's largest division, Subsea Systems, which offers a wide range of equipment and technologies designed to help customers explore, drill and develop offshore oil and gas fields.
Can it fairly be called FMC's jewel in the crown?
"It's so big that it's also the crown," joked Robert Bellinski, analyst at Morningstar.
During the second quarter, FMC's subsea business accounted for $6.3 billion of the company's $7.3 billion order backlog. Its inbound orders of $850 million comprised more than half the companywide level of $1.5 billion.
Nonetheless, the division's inbound orders of $850 million were down sharply from the year-earlier level of $2.6 billion. Cause for concern?
Not according to Bellinski, who noted that the company, like many others operating in the subsea sector, is working off a heavy volume of lower-margin orders dating back three or four years. With these going away, the field is setting up for more profitable work.
Bellinski also cited the performance of FMC's Surface Wellhead division, which he said is seeing increased demand for technology used in such areas as completion and fracking.
Robert MacKenzie, director of research at Iberia Capital Partners, is likewise optimistic about the outlook for both FMC and the subsea sector.
FMC has an "extensive track record and experience in adapting technology for harsh environments below the ocean," MacKenzie said, adding that FMC is "almost entirely leveraged to field development, working with what is there."
The urgency of developing oil fields -- onshore or offshore -- is directly related to the price and supply of oil.
Bellinski noted that most onshore oil reservoirs -- the "low-hanging fruit" of the industry -- are "reaching the state of decline, and new finds are smaller."
These trends have heightened demand for offshore oil.
Bellinski noted in a July report that 2013 saw a record of more than 550 subsea tree awards, up from an annual average of 370 for the five years prior.
Subsea trees are devices used on offshore oil and gas fields to monitor and control production of subsea wells. They also manage gas and fluids injected into the well.
"New deep-water projects continue to be announced as oil companies seek to increase production, which drives our expectation that the number of annual orders will continue to grow," Bellinski said.
FMC's equipment in this area includes its Enhanced Vertical Deepwater Tree, which was first installed in 2008. According to the FMC website, this tree set a world record depth of 9,627 feet at theRoyal Dutch Shell (RDSA)-operated Tobago field in the Gulf of Mexico.
To handle the work in deep waters, FMC and companies like it make use of robotics technology such as remote operated vehicles, or ROVs.
FMC took a big step in this area in 2012, when it acquired Schilling Robotics, a leading supplier of ROVs, ROV manipulator systems, control systems and other gear.
Bellinski says that FMC has a "history of being on the cutting edge" of subsea technology.
That should serve the company well as it comes up against a growing list of rivals in many of its product areas, includingCameron International ( CAM ),Helix Energy Solutions ( HLX ) andOceaneering International ( OII ).
Analysts remain bullish on FMC's near-term growth prospects. Those polled by Thomson Reuters expect the company's full-year earnings to rise 30% in 2014 and another 22% in 2015.
The coming need is for new technology that can perform under ever more difficult conditions and meet increasingly stringent requirements.
FMC seems poised to lead the pack in this regard. On July 21, it announced a pact with industry stalwartsAnadarko Petroleum ( APC ),BP (BP),ConocoPhillips (COP) and Shell to develop the next generation of subsea production equipment.
In the race to develop subsea and deep-water technology, and move more activity from the surface to the seabed, FMC has become the "go-to" company, MacKenzie says. "Their ability to push more and more activity onto the seabed will mean much higher than average earnings for many years to come."
The views and opinions expressed herein are the views and opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Nasdaq, Inc.