This week’s Pipeliners Podcast episode features first-time guest Scott Hamilton of Hex Technology discussing bolting lessons learned from the perspective of a “recovering bolting expert.”
In this episode, you will learn about bolting vs. welding joints, the standards used in the industry, how to optimize the relationship between engineers and assemblers to improve pipeline manufacturing, the importance of continuous training because technology continues to change, and more important topics.
Flange Bolting Lessons: Show Notes, Links, and Insider Terms
- Scott Hamilton is the CEO and Founder of Hex Technology. Connect with Scott on LinkedIn.
- Hex Technology is the premier global provider of bolted joint assembly training. Their curriculums are based on the ASME PCC-1 Appendix A, which is the most robust and trusted source for industrial bolting applications.
- Bolting is the process of fastening or tightening bolts and other materials in pipeline manufacturing. Bolts come in different sizes, shapes, and threading.
- Flange is the ring or collar that attaches to pipe to provide strength and to support leak prevention.
- Gasket is the sealing material applied to pipe that attempts to establish a leak-proof seal.
- Torque Tightening is the process of achieving the correct bolt tension through the proper installation of the gasket. The bolts must be assigned the correct bolt tension evenly divided over the flange.
- Flange assembly is the process of assembling the pipe to be placed into the field.
- Read Scott’s blog: Bolted Flange Joint Assembly: Learning the Technical Aspects.
- ASME (American Society of Mechanical Engineers) develops codes and standards for industrial use to create a safer world. ASME has been defining piping safety since 1922.
- B16.5 (Pipe Flanges and Flanged Fittings): This Standard covers pressure-temperature ratings, materials, dimensions, tolerances, marking, testing, and methods of designating openings for pipe flanges and flanged fittings.
- B16.47 (Large Diameter Steel Flanges): This Standard covers pressure-temperature ratings, materials, dimensions, tolerances, marking, and testing for pipe flanges in sizes NPS 26 through NPS 60. Included are flanges with rating class designations 75, 150, 300, 400, 600, and 900 with requirements given in both SI (Metric) and U.S. Customary units, with diameter of bolts and flange bolt holes expressed in inch units.
- PCC-1 (Guidelines for Pressure Boundary Bolted Flange Joint Assembly), last updated in 2019, outlines the bolted flange joint assembly (BFJA) guidelines. PCC-1 applies to pressure-boundary flanged joints with ring-type gaskets that are entirely within the circle enclosed by the bolt holes and with no contact outside the circle.
- Appendix O introduced a bolt load calculation method to support bolted flange joint assembly. In this new method, the calculation is based on parameters that consider the integrity of each joint component. The parameters related to the gasket are the maximum permissible gasket stress, minimum gasket seating stress, and the minimum gasket operating stress.
- Appendix A introduced training and qualifications for bolted joint assembly personnel. This Appendix outlines a training, examination, and qualification system for ensuring a consistent level of knowledge and experience for bolting assemblers and specialists working on bolted flange joint assemblies.
- PCC-2 (Repair of Pressure Equipment and Piping) provides methods for repair of equipment, piping, pipelines, and associated ancillary equipment within the scope of ASME Pressure Technology Codes and Standards after it has been placed in service.
- PCC-3 (Inspection Planning Using Risk-Based Methods) outlines risk analysis principles, guidance, and implementation strategies. This Standard was specifically developed for applications involving fixed pressure-containing equipment and components.
- AWS (American Welding Society) advances the science, technology, and application of welding and allied joining and cutting processes, including brazing, soldering, and thermal spraying.
- Richard Feynman was an American theoretical physicist that worked on quantum mechanics, the theory of quantum electrodynamics, the physics of the superfluidity of supercooled liquid helium, and particle physics. Richard received the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1965.
Flange Bolting Lessons: Full Episode Transcript
Russel Treat: Welcome to the Pipeliners Podcast, episode 184, sponsored by P.I. Confluence, providing software and implementation expertise for pipeline program governance applied to operations, Pipeline Safety Management, and compliance, using process management software to connect program to implementation. Find out more about P.I. Confluence at piconfluence.com.
Announcer: The Pipeliners Podcast, where professionals, Bubba geeks, and industry insiders share their knowledge and experience about technology, projects, and pipeline operations. Now, your host, Russel Treat.
Russel: Thanks for listening to the Pipeliners Podcast. I appreciate you taking the time, and to show the appreciation, we give away a customized YETI tumbler to one listener each episode. This week, our winner is Daniel Carsrud with 3Bears Energy. Congratulations, Daniel, your YETI is on its way. To learn how you can win this signature prize, stick around to the end of the episode.
This week, Scott Hamilton with Hex Technology is coming on the podcast to share some flange bolting lessons from a self-professed recovering bolting expert. This is a great conversation, so please join me and listen. Scott, welcome to the Pipeliners Podcast.
Scott Hamilton: Thanks, bud. Good to be here.
Russel: I understand you’re a recovering bolting expert.
Scott: [laughs] In our industry, there’s so many experts in bolting. You just have to ask them, and people would be like, “Hey, I’m an expert.” I’d like to consider myself a recovering bolting expert because I’m learning every day when I do this. Yes, I am a recovering bolting expert.
Russel: You’re not so much recovering from bolting as you’re recovering for being an expert?
Scott: Absolutely. Bolting is a newer thing that hasn’t been around for the longest time. The screws been around, but we haven’t gotten into technical bolting a lot. Everybody’s got their theories and conspiracy theories, and that makes them an expert. I just said, I know a lot about bolting. There’s no way because I got to go learn more about the gaskets or whatever it is.
Russel: It’s really an interesting conversation, right? It’s one of those things where there’s a lot of tribal knowledge around how you do things versus research — back engineering, back knowledge — about how things work.
That may sound a bit stilted when you talk about it, but that’s a very important distinction in our business. For us to get to better performance, we need more things that are backed in engineering and research and less things that are “back then; we’ve always done it this way; in my experience, this is what works.”
Scott: I love that you say that. One of my least favorite sayings that is in our marketplace all the time is, “Well, we’ve been doing this for X amount of years.” People haven’t taken on the new research, the new processes, and the new products that could be there. They get stuck in the past.
The other one that you find a lot of people is if they sell one part of the flange assembly, they’re experts on the manufacturing of that, but they don’t go put it together in the field and assemble it and know the other things about the other bits. If you look, bolted flange joints are more complicated than welded flange just because there’s more variables. There’re more parts in there.
If you sell a gasket and you want to consider yourself a bolting expert, but you’ve never used a hydraulic torque wrench, I don’t think you can consider yourself an expert.
That’s the other part of it that I laugh at and say I’m recovering. I go to all these guys and try to talk to them and learn from them. They go to their customer, and they say, “Yeah, we’re the expert. We know gaskets.” They’re like, “Use this tool.” They’re like, “I don’t know how to do that.”
Russel: [laughs] A recovering expert, that’s really on point, Scott. I would frame myself that way. I remember very well when I considered myself an expert in radio communications for SCADA doing a class, and I’m walking through a particular manufacturer’s radio and how it’s built, how it’s put together, and all that kind of stuff. I hadn’t done this class in three years, and we’re doing a little whiteboard exercise. They’re explaining what they have, and they say, “Well, we’ve got this kind of radio,” and they said it’s a grandmaster.” A what?
Russel: I thought they were sending me off for a left-handed crescent wrench. It didn’t seem real, and it was a new product. I didn’t know about it. It had come out since the last time I taught that class. That broke me of thinking I’m an expert.
Scott: There’s always something around the corner.
Russel: There’s a lot of value in knowing a whole lot of history about how things have been done. There’s a lot of value in that. I don’t want to minimize that, but what I’ve learned is that’s only valuable if you understand why you did it that way versus why you’re doing it a different way now.
Scott: Absolutely. In the oil and gas business especially, because that’s what we’re in, what we do are the mid and downstream. We’re all over the petrochem area. You see in the oil and gas industry we all have egos.
Russel: Everybody, except you and I…
Scott: [laughs] Everybody has these egos, and so what ends up happening is you build up this hubris. The longer you’ve been in this game, you build this hubris with your ego, and the hubris is a buffer. You go, “I know I know that. I know I know that. I know I know that.” Then five years later, you look up, and it’s like, “I don’t know that.” But you don’t want to admit that.
Russel: You are right on it. That’s one of the hazards of becoming an expert in our field. There’s a lot of people that 15 years into their career are an expert in some discipline of our business. Then 25 years into their career, they’re not really an expert anymore necessarily.
What I find is the teams that are most highly effective are the ones that they know what they know, and they know where they know it from. They also know the limits of their knowledge, and they’re always interested and willing to listen to others. They’re always asking, “Why?” or “How does that work?” which is really what I’m trying to do with the podcast.
Scott: I love what you’re doing with the podcast because that’s getting people to start listening to other people’s opinions and practices in what they’ve done. Even if you disagree, I love “no” as an answer. No is my favorite answer because yes’es are typically maybes, and maybes are maybes, but no’s are no’s.
If I can learn from you — and I know that that doesn’t work for me — great, checkmark that. I didn’t waste any time. I don’t need to know that. But if I’m asking you a question, and I’m like, “Oh, I didn’t know this. I need to go research it,” then it helps you perpetuate that “expertise” that you have.
Russel: Expertise is a different word than expert, right? It’s like, “I know enough to know how to ask questions in this domain.” That’s very distinct from I know all the answers.
Scott: I was just on a turnaround at a plant in Louisiana two weeks ago, helping them out. It’s funny [laughs] because they call you up, and they’re like, “Are you an expert?” I’m like, “Nope, recovering expert.” They’re like, “Okay, then you know what you’re talking about,” which is funny that people equate that.
They call me out, and they’re like, “So what are the odds that this is going to work? We were doing three different practices for disassembly.” I said, “This one? Probably about 25 percent is my experience. The other one’s probably about a 50 percent, and the third one’s about 95 percent.”
They’re like, “How come it’s not 100 percent?” I said, “Man, if I was 100 percent at anything, I would have just stuck with that.”
Scott: You’re going to fail, right? You’re going to fail, and you got to learn from those failures. That’s what I think that continuing education, the bigger your ego, the less you’re likely to “fail,” which is less likely to learn.
That’s my way of breaking down the barrier with people saying I’m a recovering expert so you don’t have to have your ego out. We don’t have to compare egos in front of each other because I’ve already let down…
Russel: What you’re really there to do is saying, “Look, I’ve driven this road thousands of miles and I know where a lot of the potholes are. I’m not going to tell you I know where all the potholes are, but I know where a lot of them are. I want to help you miss the ones I know about.”
Scott: Exactly, exactly.
Russel: It’s that way. You’re going to tell me about the ones you know about. You might know about some ones that I don’t know about.
Scott: Let me give you the little, funny history lesson on how I became a recovering expert. I was in this plant. We had a leak on a flange. Anybody who tells you they’ve never had a leak on a flange is lying.
Technically, all flanges have some sort of leak. We use LVAR to trace it and everything else. They’re lying to you if they say they’ve never had a leak. It’s either that or they haven’t tried. That’s the way I look at it.
I walked into this plant manager’s office. I’m 40 now. This has got to be probably about 12 years ago. I’m 28-ish, and I was an “expert” at the time. I walk in the plant. He’s like, “So you’re a bolting expert?” I’m like, “Uh huh, I guess.” “Why’d the flange leak?” I go, “Mm mm, I don’t know.” He’s like, “Are you a bolting expert?” I’m like, “Uh huh.” He’s like, “Why’d the flange leak?” I realized at that point in time that I wasn’t an expert. That’s really when it hit me. I was like, “I’m a recovering expert.” Now I know there’s some stuff I got to learn.
Russel: You’re passionate about bolting, but you’re not an expert?
Scott: Absolutely, man.
Russel: This conversation is awesome for a lot of engineers. I wish that I had this conversation much earlier in my career in a way that I could have heard it because I don’t know that I’ve been able to hear it early in my career.
It’s this idea about, “I know what I know, but I know I don’t know everything. I’m confident about what I know, but I’m confident I don’t know everything. I don’t have any ego in being right. I just want to know what I know.”
Scott: It’s funny you say that with engineers, too. Engineers are very black and white individuals.
Russel: We’re trained to be that way.
Scott: They are, and they’re risk-averse, which is good.
Russel: Exactly. Both have good reason.
Scott: That’s the job. What I tell engineers is I said, “Here’s what I want you to do.” There’re two things I always tell the engineers in the plants to do. One is don’t identify a problem without a solution because that’s just frustrating for everybody around, right. That’s a general rule of thumb.
I told my best friend from high school. She’s got two kids. I told her to do that three years ago, and she’s like, “My household is so much better because if the kids come up and go, ‘I want…'” It’s like, “What do you think the solution is?” That’s just a way we should interact with people.
The other one is engineers are very risk-averse. The first thing is they look for failure points in the process before they look for success, which is good in a way. When somebody brings something up, I have them — because I think it’s a good mental practice — name three good things, name three ways this could work. If you can’t name three ways this could work, then it’s definitely a bad idea.
What they do is they poke at the wrong end of the decimal — is what we call that — instead of the correct end of the decimal. They’re looking at like, “Oh well, on this rare case of this rarity of side of things that might happen when the moons of Jupiter align, this could be wrong.” Could that have solved 80 percent of your problems? You would just have to be solving for that one.
Russel: Again, those are things you learn with experience, right?
Scott: Oh, yeah.
Russel: Let’s transition because I brought you on to talk about what you guys do around bolting and talk about bolting in particular. That’s a great idea because it builds some context. You talked about bolted joints versus welded joints. Now, bolted joints have been around for a long time, and they’ve probably been around longer than welded joints.
Scott: For the midstream guys, you got to thank Rockefeller for bringing the pipeline industry into actual existence for the most part. Welded joints, it’s on how you want to define welded joints or bolted joints? When were they invented? The screw has been around since Archimedes. It’s been around forever.
We’ve had this bolt thing around for a long time. Taylor Forge finalized on what we consider flanges between 1932 and 1938, is when we got into the ASME code. Bolted flanges that we know like piping flanges — B16.5 and B16.47 — we’ve had those around for 80 years. We’ve had welded joints forever.
If you look, it goes back in the ’60s and ’70s, we were having a lot of issues with welded joints in the United States. When those issues were coming up, and I’ve just been told this, I haven’t done my proper research. The industry started saying, “We need class. We need an education. We need to understand these welded joints because we’re having so many issues.”
Really in the ’80s, you started seeing this long line of knowledge, certificates, training, and everything else to get us to where we are today with AWS, multiple levels, multiple crafts, that you could go with in welding, everything else. If you look at bolted flange joints, there’s not one universal training organization at all in the world that’s got the majority. It’s crazy.
Russel: That’s really fascinating to me. If you think about corrosion or about welded pipe, since they started creating pipeline standards back in the ’70s — or, I shouldn’t say creating. I mean, standards go back much further. It started really getting focused on construction standards, higher pressure pipe, steel versus cast iron, and all that kind of stuff. They started really looking at materials. We started getting all these disciplines around welding. We got disciplines around corrosion. We got disciplines around metallurgy. We got disciplines around inspection.
All these things, it’s fascinating to me that we’ve never, during that same period of time, built the same kind of intentionality around bolting. Why do you think that is?
Scott: The majority of your audience is pipeline people, right?
Scott: We don’t have a lot of below-grade, bolted flanges and piping. Most of the bolted flanges are above-grade and wide because we know that we can’t control them, and they’re going to leak. If you ever go look on a pipeline…That’s why below-grade flanges are typically super, super critical, and they care about it now.
Back in the day, we had a whole bunch of welded flanges across the board. When you got up top side, you have bolted flanges where if they leaked, it was inconsequential. You could figure it out pretty quickly. You righty-tighty, and you solve the issue.
There was this misconception that bolted flange joints are simple, and they’re easy to fix if they don’t go right. Welded joints are not. When a welded joint busts, you can’t tighten it like you can a bolted flange joints. What you can do at the time, you have to have a little bit more homework done for welded joints.
Bolted joints, there is some fix that could be there that you could use during this. That was one of the things. And, there was no interest in it. It’s crazy to me. There’s the American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME) and then PCC-1 (Post Construction Committee) that was formed in 1995 by ASME because all these ASME standards and codes are for design, not for after you have it in the field.
Russel: No O&M, just design-construct?
Scott: Yeah, just design. If you’re going to design a flange, it looks like this with this many holes and whatever. Then you say, “Okay, it’s been running for 10 years. It’s got a little bit of corrosion or whatever on it. What do I do?” Everybody was like, “Mmm, I don’t know. We know how to design it, though.”
Scott: Which is crazy when you think about it because we didn’t even get to post-construction until 1995, which is when the committee was formed. 2000 — PCC-1 is bolted flange joints. The guideline for bolted flange joints was published. There’s PCC-2, which is online repairs like hot taps and stuff like that, and PCC-3, which is inspection.
PCC-1 was the first one, and everybody got excited about it. We published this little 50-page book in the year 2000. Everybody bought it, put it on their shelf, and did nothing else about it. Then 10 years went by, we did the PCC-1 update in 2010. We did a massive update to the industry. We took about 30 years’ worth of research and put it into the new guideline in 2010.
If you haven’t looked up PCC-1 since 2010, you’re missing a lot. It changed the way we look at things. For example, everybody thinks bolts fail. I would say probably 80/20 rule. 80 percent time, it’s not the bolts. The first thing that fails is the gasket.
We used to bolt to “bolt yield.” We used to torque to bolt yield. What yield on the bolt are you going to go to? 50 percent. Not “what yield on the gasket are you going to go to?” 2010 brought that into play in what we call Appendix O of PCC-1. Everyone was like, “That’s genius. Gaskets fail more than the bolts do. Why aren’t we going off of that stress?”
It’s so now intuitive, but nobody thought about it for years and years because everybody was just doing what they did because that’s just how it worked.
Russel: If you think about it from a standpoint of anybody who’s bolted together above- ground pipe, you’re familiar with the process. You get it all mounted. You figure out how to get it in place. You get the bolts in, and you tighten them up. You pressurize the thing up with nitrogen or whatever, and then you go around with a little slope bottle, and you squirt it. Is it leaking or not? If it’s leaking, you just start cranking on the bolts until it quits leaking.
What’s interesting, I did another podcast about torquing. Everything in the pipeline world is easy until you know enough about it. Then it’s all really hard, really complicated, right?
Scott: [laughs] Oh, yeah.
Russel: The other thing about that is if I’m a bolt guy, then welding is easy.
Scott: Oh, yeah, Welders are dumb just like bolters are.
Russel: If I’m a gasket guy, then the bolts are easy. If I’m a bolting guy, then the gaskets are easy. We tend to not realize that every piece of our business is just wonkily complex.
Scott: It’s absolutely. Look at gaskets. When I was a bolting expert at the beginning of my career, I knew everything about torque wrenches. Now, I knew how to repair them. I knew how to calibrate them. I knew how to use them. I knew everything you needed to know about any power-driven torque wrench that is out in the industry.
I can tell you their rotations per minute. I can tell you everything about it. I knew tools like none other. I walked into that plant manager’s office. He’s like, “Why’d it leak?” I was like, “Well, I wasn’t a tool, so I don’t know.” It’s like, “Oh, man. Now, I got to go dive into gaskets?”
Scott: I spent four years researching gaskets for the most part.
Russel: Your job is to know the tools, but the customer thinks your job is to make sure that the joint doesn’t leak.
Scott: This is a major shift in mentality over the last 10 years. I’m 40. I’ve been in the game about 15 years, 14 years, something like that. If you go back to the beginning of my career, what we would do is we would say we’re going to have a turnaround, a shutdown, an event for maintenance. This is for the most part across the industry.
I know pipeline, we’d bury it for a long time. Even in pump stations and stuff like that, three-year outages, stuff like that. Every three years, we’re going to go in. We’re going to do maintenance, figure it out.
That right there is lost profit opportunity. The company’s not making money. There’s a cost of the turnaround or the maintenance itself, but then there’s also they’re not pushing product through the pipe.
Russel: The lost production is always the biggest cost.
Scott: It’s always the biggest cost.
Russel: The actual maintenance is trivial compared to the lost production.
Scott: Exactly. Nowadays what we’re doing is we’re seeing companies try to prolong these turnaround events, these maintenance events, because lost profit opportunity is there.
That’s another reason why I yell at people all the time and say even though you did it this way for the last 30 years, we’re operating in a different way. We’re operating in a five-to-seven-year turnaround cycle instead of a one-to-three-year turnaround cycle.
The quality that needs to go into your bolted flange joint assembly needs to be two to three times what it was when we were doing it beforehand with impact wrenches and whatever.
It’s something that is a mentality that the entire oil and gas industry needs to shift and say we’re postponing maintenance events, so therefore we need to take — if we want that efficiency there — we need to add efficiency in how we assemble things.
Russel: I know. It’s interesting because you would think about that in terms of all your rotating equipment and you would think about that in terms of the pressure cycles on the equipment, but flanges is one of those things that tends to get overlooked.
Scott: That’s the thing is you could just go tighten it up, and it gets fixed.
Russel: You pull a bolt out. You put another bolt in, and you’re good.
Scott: It’s good to go.
Russel: You don’t replace gaskets.
Scott: No. Don’t even get me started on not replacing…if you ever reuse an RTJ gas ring joint gasket, you’re doing such a bad service for everything, and those are the ones that are typically reused.
When you’re just doing what we call single stud replacement, you’ve got corrosion. It used to be called hot bolting. Now we get confused with hot torquing and all this other stuff. We’re coming out with new definitions. The hot bolting where you take a bolt out. You put a new one in, lube it up, and torque it down. Then you take the old, old bolt out. Right? You don’t replace the gaskets, so how long’s that gasket been sitting in there? People are still…
Russel: That’s my point is you can replace a bolt without breaking the joint, but you can’t replace a gasket without breaking the joint.
Scott: You just don’t know how long they’re going to last for. It depends upon the service…
Russel: Interesting. Tell me a little bit about how do you work with your customers and how are you helping them out? You’re talking about you’re a recovering expert and such, but I understand, Scott, in our other conversations off-mic that you guys are not actually doing bolting or selling products. What are you providing to your customers?
Scott: The main thing we provide is training. I’ve found that the smarter you are, the more solutions that you can find for your company. I got tired. I’ve done the tool sales. I’ve done the service work in my past. Everything was “hire my guys or buy my tool,” and that’s the silver bullet.
I never bought into that myself and I didn’t like that. When I started Hex seven years ago, I went out and I said I don’t want to manufacture, produce, or rep any one brand. Because I’ve got to be able to provide end-users the best technology practices that are out there.
What we do is we do third-party qualification of gaskets, torque wrenches, all of this lubrication. A customer will come and say, “We want to know what the best lubricant is for below-grade.” Great, let me tell you my experience and figure this out.
When you go and buy that lubricant, we work with a company called Jet-Lube a lot. In the downstream side, they’re one of the biggest lubricant people and the upstream side.
Kopr-Kote and 550 eXtreme are the two biggest lubricants in the industry there, so I picked on them. I said let me go do some research and they’ve got the lab to allow us to go do research. We go out and we provide solutions for the issues in your bolting practice and procedures.
The first thing that we tell people is you can’t out-procedure lack of training. That’s kind of a hard sentence. Again, you can’t out-procedure lack of training. It won’t work. We’ve tried that.
The first four years I was with Hex we would always do training for assemblers. I was like, “Why don’t the engineers writing this thing need to go through training?” What we do is we have this group I call the uber nerds. It’s the head of engineering for bolting for the Valeros and the Shells and everything else.
I take them in and I’m like, “You’re going to go assemble that flange right there with this tool and you’re going to understand how this works.” They’re trying to write this procedure that they’ve never even touched. They’ve never assembled a flange in their life from soup to nuts.
It’s crazy. That’s really what we do. We do the training and the consulting for the procedures and practices and products that people are using a lot of times in what they’re doing. Like, Marathon Pipe Line is a really good customer of ours. They said, “What bolting pattern should I be using? With what equipment to optimize efficiency for below-grade pipe?” We went out and we worked with them on it and now it’s in their procedures.
Russel: That’s interesting. That’s fascinating to me. I’m thinking about this. I started out in the Air Force doing facilities management and then I moved from that to construction. I was overseeing a lot of contractors. I could tell you many wacky stories about things that somebody designed and then they showed up to construct it and they’re like, “Oh, that access door to that big air handler for the paint booth is right up against the hanger wall. We’re not going to be able to get in and out of the thing. Let’s just cut a hole over here on the other side.”
Nobody thought about that? That kind of thing. It’s bridging. Engineers are trained really to figure out “Will this device — whatever that device is — do the job I need done?” They’re not really guys typically — there are notable exceptions, for sure — who are actually applying the device.
Scott: You’re absolutely right. I tell guys all the time. One of my all-time heroes is Richard Feynman. If you don’t know him, look him up.
Russel: I love Richard Feynman.
Scott: He was a genius. He could take the most complicated subject matter and make it simple so you would get it. For the people who haven’t seen the Challenger debriefing that they did with the seal and everything. Everybody was arguing about what could have gone wrong and everything else. He just took a rubber seal and a seal clamp, put it in ice water for the length of the meeting, and said, “I think this is your problem.” Everybody’s like, “Oh, my God. That makes sense now.”
Richard Feynman’s my guy. I love him. He takes complicated things and makes it simple. You cannot do that until you’ve put your hands on it. There has to be some hands-on.
Russel: I agree with you. The best engineers I ever worked with were all farmers.
Scott: Oh, yeah.
Russel: They grew up on a farm, and then they went to engineering school because farmers can fix anything.
Scott: [laughs] Right.
Russel: When you combine the ability to fix anything, and the mindset around that of like, “I’m working on a farm here in Western Ohio, and the nearest place I can go to get any parts is 125 miles away. That’s going to take a whole day out of my farming schedule. I can’t do that.”
Then you figure out how to get it done with what you got available to you there on the farm. You take that with good engineering, that becomes people that can do some incredible stuff. How do you go about bridging that in a company?
Typically, their engineering, often that’s outsourced. Then you’ve got your operations and you got the guys that are operations management. You got the guys do it. How do you bridge all that? How do you pull all that together?
Scott: God, that’s a great question. I’ve been spending the last couple of years trying to figure that out. What we typically see is, “Oh, our assemblers need training because our procedures are immaculate.” [laughs] I’m like, “No, no, no. Here’s what we’re going to do.”
Most end-users have some sort of reliability person in charge of process, procedures, bolting, whatnot. I say, “I want you to go through the same class the assemblers are in. Here’s why. Because you’re going to put your hands on tools and you’re going to hear what they have to say.”
What I think a lot of times, that’s the first step. This goes back to our egos, and I’m not an engineer by a degree. I just deal with them all day long because I’m so lucky. I take the engineers out, and I say, “Listen to the assemblers.”
The assemblers don’t know how to…Assemblers are emotional beings, which is funny. That’s why we always hear, “Oh, I’ve had good luck with that.” Assemblers aren’t data-driven people. That’s not how their brain works. It’s emotion, it’s experience.
You have to go see what their experience is and talk to them and figure out how to translate that into data, and that’s typically the way it needs to go. The engineers are so far educated past a lot of the assemblers like myself.
I deal with people who got a Ph.D. in mechanical engineering. I can’t do calculus, man. “You’re way above my head in math and I get that, but let me show you what I can see in the field, and then figure out how to go problem solve that with your math.”
That’s the easiest way to bridge the gap, because also, here’s the other thing. There are fewer engineers than there are assemblers. It’s about a 1 to 50 ratio. Guess who’s got to move to the other person’s camp first?
No matter how big you are up in your organization, if those 50 assemblers that are assigned to you don’t believe in you or know you or understand what you do, they’re not going to follow it anyway.
We send the engineers into the field. Then the second part is we start looking at their process and procedures, and then we go educate the assemblers on it.
Russel: You’re basically bridging the gap and you’re doing translation. I can talk about that in my domain. What you get is two people working on either sides of a coin, and they don’t speak the same language. They use the same words, but they don’t speak the same language.
Scott: It’s funny you said that. One of my customers said to me — we were sitting there listening to what they were saying, and this is on this last turnaround — the assembler was saying something in a similar talk, and I go, “Oh,” and I translated it over into engineer talk, like, “Oh, this is why you would see it that way.” My customer said, “You’re the Rosetta Stone between us.”
Scott: “We just need you to sit here and translate it.” I was like, “I’ll take that compliment any day.” [laughs]
Russel: Absolutely. It’s a great compliment. I’ve certainly had that experience myself. The other thing about this, Scott, when you talk about the engineers, when I’m an assembler and I’m working with an engineer, I know the engineer is a smart son of a gun. I know that. He does not need to prove it to me. I know it. I know that I cannot hang with that person when it comes to what they do. I know that. That knowledge can create a certain kind of an emotional response.
Scott: Absolutely, man.
Russel: I have a good friend of mine. I’ll change the names to protect the guilty, but he likes to tell the story about the smartest guy in the P row. It goes like this. He worked with a guy who was a Ph.D. chemical engineer. They were in a meeting, and this was the kind of guy that always had to prove to everybody he was the smartest guy in the room. That kind of person. I have exhibited those behaviors earlier in my career. I hope I don’t exhibit them anymore. I can relate to this.
Scott: I call it the Muhammad Ali phase. “Let me show you how great I am.”
Russel: This engineer was going to have to go out to a site in the swamps in Louisiana because they were having a problem with gas quality and all that. He’s a chemical engineer, right?
Anyways, my friend likes to tell the story. “I pulled him out of this meeting, and I took him over to a quiet place down the hall, and says, ‘You know, you don’t need to prove to us that you’re the smartest guy in the room. We all know. You don’t need to say anything. We all know you’re the smartest guy in the room.’ And he continues, ‘Let me tell you something. When you get in the P row with Jim Bob out in the swamp, you need to know who’s the smartest guy on the P row.’”
Scott: There you go. That’s a fact right there.
Russel: Which is a funny way of telling the same story we’ve been talking about is those assemblers, in my world, the gas controllers. They know their job, and they know it better than you will ever know it, but there’s this bridge in communication that has to happen. When you get that working effectively, the gain you get in efficiency and safety, and all that kind of stuff is big. It’s big.
Scott: I love that you say that, because one of the analogies that we use is, “In order to get a good grade in class, half of your score is going to be based off of assembly, and the other half is going to be based off of engineering.” You can’t have one without the other. It just doesn’t work.
You can’t leave it up to the assemblers because they don’t know the math side of it, and you can’t leave it up to the math because there’s stuff that happens in the field. 50 percent, think of it as like when you were back in high school, and you were in groups. 50 percent of your grade is based off of engineering, 50 percent of it’s based off of assembly.
If you are poor in one of those, you’ll hopefully get a C, and you’re an expert in assembly but your engineering’s 50 percent, you got a C in the class. You can pass, but you’re not going to do well. Growing both of those sections helps the entire organization out.
That’s what we promote is saying, “Hey, engineers. I’m going to go teach you how to do the math even more efficiently and figure that out, but I’m also going to put your hands on the tools.” We teach the math to the assemblers, because what’s funny is you talk to engineers in our industry, and it’s algebra, which they had. They understand algebra. If you can sit down and put on a whiteboard what you’re doing and explain it nicely to them, they’re like, “Oh, my God. That’s what I need to know.” They won’t do the math…
Russel: They’ll say things like, “I’ve always wondered why we did it that way.”
Scott: You don’t want them to do the math, you just want them to understand how the math is done.
Russel: Why it matters and how it impacts what they’re doing.
Scott: I don’t want engineers doping up bolts all day long. That’s not where your worth is, but do it once or twice or at least watch it.
Russel: What should we tell pipeliners to take away from this conversation?
Scott: Man, the first thing I would do for pipeliners — here’s one of the things that we found that is rough for pipeliners is contractors. The contractors are a little bit rough in the pipeline because different states have different regulations with the DOT and everything else.
You’ll be working on a piece of pipe, and you’ve got to have two contractors on there. There’s no industry standard. There is now in PCC-1. It’s called Appendix A for training on bolting. But, most people haven’t gotten there yet. That would be one of the things I would look out for is “What’s the training like? What are they going through? How do they know?”
Your contractors — we found when working with the end-users — is probably the biggest unknown variable. I would say, “Go know that variable.” Go see who’s doing the contractor work in which one of your states and understand what they’re doing.That’s probably a big thing
Because if you see a lot of the end-user companies, they don’t use their labor necessarily for labor. They use it for supervision of the contractors the majority of the time. That’s why you want to go check out your contractors. That would be the first step because that’s going to take a little bit longer to develop.
The second step is if you go look at PCC-1. I’ve been a voting member since ’13 or ’14. I’ve been around it since ’08. Currently, I’m chairman of PCC-1. We’re rewriting it from a guideline to a standard. It’s a big change that’s coming in 2022. I don’t know exactly when because you got to go through the balloting, and it’s got to get pushed up through all the standards and codes, committees, and everything else.
I’m expecting first/second quarter of 2022 for this to be a standard instead of a guideline. We fought a long time to not make it a standard, but it’s referenced so much now by so many other codes and standards, so it’s automatically by default a standard.
I would go read that and start comparing your process procedures to the technical aspect of that to say even 2019 is good, but we’re deleting a lot of the commentary putting essential elements in. The technology is not going to change necessarily between ’19 and ’22. It’s more of a formatting thing that we’re doing. Go read PCC-1 and get familiar.
The other thing is we believe that people should know more about bolted flange joints. If you go to our website, hextechnology.com, we have free training that we offer Level 1, Level 2 out of our four levels, powered equipment, and heat exchangers. We just offer it for free. You just give us your email address. We don’t send you anything afterwards. There’s a log-in because we give you a certificate when you complete it. It goes through bolts, lubricants, gasket types, and everything else. Find these outlets that you can get a little bit of knowledge from.
As well, when you’re looking at PCC-1, go look at the gasket manufacturers if you’re curious about gaskets. Gasket manufacturers will let you tour their place. We work with TEADIT [a gasket manufacturer] a lot. That’s one of the guys with R&D. I tell people all the time, “Go call them up. Go take a tour of how gaskets are made. As long as you’re not one of their competitors, they’ll let you in.” You’ll find resources.
Russel: We got to wind this up because we’re running close to the end of time, but this has been awesome, Scott. I’ve learned a ton. It’s interesting always to me about how the philosophy of how you approach this kind of work is common across the different technical disciplines.
You got the smart guys. You got the worker guys. You got the management guys. To the extent they can all be on the same playbook, it really makes a difference. Anyways, I appreciate this. It’s been awesome and need to have you back.
Scott: Anytime, Russel. Thank you so much for having me on here.
Russel: I hope you enjoyed this week’s episode of the Pipeliners Podcast and our conversation with Scott. Just a reminder before you go, you should register to win our customized Pipeliners Podcast YETI tumbler. Simply visit pipelinerspodcast.com/win to enter yourself in the drawing.
Russel: If you have ideas, questions, or topics you’d be interested in, please let me know on the Contact Us page at pipelinerspodcast.com or reach out to me on LinkedIn. Thanks for listening. I’ll talk to you next week.
Transcription by CastingWords