Bringing an end user perspective to an EPC firm
After spending 30 years working as an end user doing specifications and engineering focused work, Glen Beal began working for EPC companies. Despite his busy schedule, Mr. Beal took the time to speak with Valve World about his new role as Piping Engineering Section Manager and his thoughts on moving from an end user position to an EPC role over the past number of years.
Article by Sarah Bradley
Interestingly, Glen explains that he in fact stumbled into the piping industry: “My school was very engineering focused. Nearing graduation, engineering experts came in to speak to the students and the guy who talked about piping had the most character. Ten of us in the class went on to work for DOW Chemical that semester because of that guy. I spent 30 years at DOW Chemical, 20 of those years working on piping specifications and engineering type work.
I was able to work my way up the chain into SME (Subject Matter Expert) and leadership roles. Since leaving Dow Chemical I’ve been working for a couple EPC companies. I have found EPC work to be very different. Through the years I have worked with EPC firms on many projects as the client and end user – I must say it’s very different. Thankfully, my current employer appreciates that I can bring that end user perspective and experience to their project teams.”
Increased focus on cost
From the outset it is clear that Glen knows a lot about the industry, having worked in both an end user position and now working in an EPC business. As the latter position is newer to him, he finds that he has to regularly caution himself out of the default mode of an end user. Working for an EPC company, Glen feels that he has “to be very flexible, especially when assigned to differperspective to an EPC firment projects running simultaneously with very different or unique perspectives of best practices. The dynamics change constantly; what may be conservative on one project may not be on another.” In addition, in the current economic climate Glen feels that clients are making more aggressive decisions depending on cost.
His projects involve mostly revamp work, no major new facilities; he sees that clients are just trying to expand or maintain their current facilities. Irrespective of the issues the economy is facing, Glen describes why he loves his new position: “I am responsible for the piping specifications and material engineering needs of various projects. My job is to ensure staffing needs are met for the different projects, that they have enough resources, also ensuring deliverables are received on time via standard work processes. As section manager I am responsible for ensuring the company’s procedures and practices are maintained and applied appropriately. I used to love the problem solving aspect of being a piping spec engineer, but now what I find most enjoyable is the people; helping people to reach a conclusion, to see individuals grow and to see the team satisfied with what they are producing.
My team’s immediate concern is delivering the piping specs but the reality is that we are part of the team building a whole facility. The piping specs can and do influence the whole project team; everything from vessels, pumps, supporting steel and stress analysis is impacted by the piping specifications that the team develops. I enjoy being able to sit down with everyone in my group and getting to know them personally and participate in their learning and growing. I enjoy building a team from a group of diverse skills, goals and personalities.”
Cryogenic valve testing
Having moved from an end user position to an EPC position, Glen outlines that the one thing that remains consistent is the types of valves and the valve needs that he works with. He works with manual valves; gate globe and check valves as well as quarter turns. “The goal is to spec out the right valve for the application. To do this you have to have a full understanding of the variables related to the application and this has to be coupled with a strong understanding of valve types and characteristics. Ultimately everyone wants a device that will open and close/seal reliably.”
He adds, “the more complex the valve the more unique the application is going to be.” Glen further explains that he has had to deal with cryogenic valves in the last few years and, more specifically, cryogenic valve testing. He explains that neither an EPC nor the client want to test every valve, but want and need to test a minimum amount in order to instill (in the US) the confidence the client needs. Glen also explains the problems that he hears about are common; leakage of some type or wrong metallurgy.
Client and supplier in the same room
Glen is pleased that in his organization there is a strong expertise base (across the different functions and the different disciplines) and a strong culture for teamwork to combat and resolve issues. “Keeping up with the current industry standards and practices, and knowing what the newest applications are is very important – and that’s a lot easier to do through teamwork.” Issues can arise if a client has not kept up with industry development or does not fully understand what they need. On the subject of low emission valves Glen offers advice on how to manage cost while simultaneously addressing the need, “If they ask you to keep in line with emission regulations and you ask them from what aspect you may learn that the client is not able to define the specifics. It is very easy to escalate the cost of a valve.
If you go the most conservative route, from an engineering perspective, you can be confident that you’ve answered all questions the client didn’t know to ask; but more often than not the client is not going to appreciate that approach. The best thing to do is the get the client and the manufacturer in the same room to discuss all the nuances that link the changing regulations and valve designs, as well as the client’s needs. This cut to the chase approach can save you a lot of time and headaches.”
New valve solutions on the horizon
Keeping with this topic, Glen expands by giving his views on obsolescence. While it is an aspect that concerns many in the industry, Glen feels that clients today are more likely to want to replace like for like rather than try a new or different style of valve. Glen explains, “There are a lot more options in valve design and valve applications than there were 25 years ago. Once the economic climate changes I believe we will see a willingness to introduce the new and different valve solutions...”
Still on the topic of products and challenges, Glen elaborates on his dealings with corrosion resistant alloys, such as nickel alloys and duplex stainless steels. While these alloys are normally needed for chemical resistance and corrosion issues, they come at a high cost and unbearable deliveries. As an EPC firm, Glen explains that they need to receive realistic delivery time information with inquired, which can prove challenging with some manufacturers.
“It only takes a manufacturer one time at missing a project’s delivery requirements and that’s what the whole project team remembers and they never want to use that manufacturer or valve type again. No matter how much the spec engineer justifies the application it is hard to change the mind of someone who has had that bad experience. Long delivery times are hard for a project team to deal with but its far worse (for everyone) for a supplier or manufacturer to make false promises that were too aggressive to ever be realistic.”
While working with an AML (Approved Manufacturers List) is common, in the EPC business more often than not, the end user brings his own AML, says Glen. “Still there are clients who rely on us for guidance and recommendations. On a recent project we recommended a ‘C ball’ type valve because it was a simpler seat design for the application. It was rewarding to be able to present the case for change to the client and have the client say: ‘that makes sense’. It is good to be able to bring innovative solutions to the table.”
Glen explains that during his time at DOW a big part of his role was to work directly with manufacturer approvals and solving quality issues. In his new roles with the EPC firms he has had less day to day interaction with valve manufacturers, the quality department, or the client has been at the front line for the basic supplier issues. He and his specification team provide the technical support and guidance to the procurement department, the quality department and the various engineering disciplines to ensure projects are using the right valve sources where specific design feature are critical. Towards the end of the interview, Valve World was keen to get Glen’s views on the future of the industry. He highlights his desire to see relationships strengthened in this difficult time in the economy: “it has been challenging as these slow times continued, but I believe this is a time for the loyalties of the valve suppliers and manufacturers can shine. I hope that they will focus on establishing and strengthening relationships during these down times.”
Glen also gives his views on a topic that is prominent at the moment; the gap in the transfer of knowledge from experienced engineers to junior engineers: “As an industry we have to embrace the new engineers. Sometimes, they do things differently and it may seem really dramatic, but they have to be given a chance to prove themselves. After all, it’s often the use of non-conventional approaches that bring those new out of the box developments. The valve industry needs this; we cannot restrict ourselves to the traditional approaches and expect to keep up with the demands.”
About the expert
Glen Beal started his career at Dow Chemical, as an engineering specialist (Standards & Specifications). In 2002, he became Global Technology Leader at the American multinational.
After two positions, respectively at WorleyParsons and IHI E&C International Corporation, he accepted his current position at Jacobs as from July 2016.