Bitten by the valve bug

Bitten by the valve bug

Valve World recently sat down for an Interview with Greg Whitaker who, whilst just in his early thirties, has already amassed a vast amount of knowledge of isolation, control and pressure relief valves.
 

He may look and sound like an Englishman through and through, but in fact Greg's place of birth was Hungary. Family circumstances brought him to the UK at the age of four where he went on to earn a degree in Design Engineering from the University of Derby.

Upon graduation in the summer of 2004 Greg took up his first job with Oliver Valvetek, a leading manufacturer of high pressure valves such as small bore ball and gate valves for deepwater use. Although he confesses he'd never seen a valve before joining Oliver, he quickly became fascinated by all aspects of valves and the valve industry.

Indeed, Greg recalls his first encounters with valves with a big smile: "I was completely green and my new colleagues threw me in at the deep end. But this was a wonderful opportunity as I quickly learnt about standards and design features and then started to perform simple calculations on my own, such as working out wall thicknesses, evaluating torque limits, etc."

Finding that he really enjoyed the world of valves, Greg soon realised that there were plenty of other valve companies and that the world really was his oyster.

For example, following a move to Lincolnshire he had no trouble finding work as a design engineer with Denholm Valvecare.

The work involved service and repairs and also making modifications to valve designs wherever necessary. His boss was obviously happy with Greg's abilities and willingness to learn new skills as he soon entrusted his young employee with a major responsibility.

Greg: "Valvecare acquired a company manufacturing relief valves and had all the equipment delivered to our factory. When it arrived my boss turned to me and said ‘you are now in charge of sales and design, and I want you to purchase all the raw materials and instruct the workshop crew accordingly'."

Greg stepped up to the challenge and, as he recalls, learnt a lot very fast.

However, he remained keen to learn even more about valves, so when a former colleague set up Control Valve Solutions in Liverpool and was looking for additional staff, Greg was quickly taken on the pay-roll.

"Control valves is yet another completely distinct field of engineering within the valve family," he states. "You have to know about topics such as cavitation, cage design, instrumentation, electronics and pneumatics, to name but a few."

Still, Greg was up for the challenge, be it sat behind a computer or out in the field. "Oh yes, I've lain on my back on many a dirty factory floor and I've also climbed to the top of a ride on the Blackpool Pleasure Beach to work on control valves," he recalls with a grin.

Soon after, his work took him to Aberdeen, one of the engineering hubs for the North Sea oil and gas industry, and here too Greg found a new job with amazing ease.

"Thanks to my network, I got a job with Severn Ball Valves, part of the Severn Glocon Group. So I helped with the design, service and engineering of the valves. However, what I really learnt during this time was the importance of testing and how to apply standards."

Indeed, standards are a clearly a big topic for Greg.

"As an engineer you need to know the standards inside out. And that is no easy task, as there are a multitude of standards, and in many cases they reference each other. This is something that I would like to stress to any new engineers straight out of university. Read the standards very thoroughly, and make sure your experience is well rounded. So don't just focus on valve designs, but learn about materials, corrosion, coatings, painting, inspection techniques, etc."

Having worked with manufacturers and suppliers Greg then jumped the fence and took on an important valve role in Total's Laggan-Tormore project.

"This is a jewel in Total's crown," states Greg. "Laggan-Tormore comprises gas and condensate fields west of the Shetland Islands that, since coming on-line, have started to deliver large volumes of gas to the UK. Moreover, the pipeline infrastructure is very clever as it will allow future tie-ins from developments in the vicinity."

Together with a second valve colleague, Greg was responsible for all the valves to be procured. Although much of the design work had already been performed during the FEED stage, there was still a lot to do as regards the technical reviews for the project, he recalls.

"It was an eye-opener to work on a major project like this one," comments Greg, "as in addition to the actual engineering components we had to be aware of budgets, staff issues, ensure any missing items were quickly sourced, etc, etc,. This really was the sharp end of engineering."

Shell oilrig
Currently a member of the Shell Projects and Technology valve team, Greg has amassed extensive valve experience working with manufacturers as well as engineering companies and end users

This first experience of working with an end user obviously appealed to Greg for, on spotting an opening with Shell in Rijswijk, the Netherlands, he applied for the job right away.

"The interview was charming yet most thorough and it was clear that the widespread knowledge I had gained from each of my former employers was a definite advantage."

And so, despite never having even visited the Netherlands before, Greg quickly found himself living and working in and around The Hague.

Today he is part of the valve team within Shell Global Solutions which provides consultancy services on pipeline, topside and sub-sea valves to all of shell's assets. This can include advising on projects as well as trouble-shooting day-to-day issues.

It's a job which he finds very fulfilling, he says." As an engineer I really enjoy working on valves as the role is varied and interesting. And certainly my visits to manufacturers in Italy, China and elsewhere have been a rich cultural experience. This is a super industry to be in. I remain on good terms with former colleagues and in fact have even been back to order valves from a past employer. On a personal level my partner and I are very much enjoying life living in The Hague. I'm surrounded by some super colleagues here at Shell and I am looking forward to all the challenges this job has to offer."

 

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