An interview with Patrick Wasserman – Piping Engineer and Stephen Henson – Mechanical Engineer, Materials, Vessels, and Piping Technology (MVPT) of Eastman
Eastman is a leading producer of specialty materials which are used in the manufacture of products that we use every day, from baby bottles to passenger jets. The company is committed to advancing innovation through design and education, working collaboratively within teams and with customers to deliver innovative products and services in end-markets such as transportation, building and construction, and consumables.
A globally diverse company with headquarters in Kingsport, Tennessee, Eastman serves customers in more than one hundred countries and has more than fifty manufacturing and sales locations around the world.
By Sarah Bradley
Mechanical Engineer Stephen Henson always knew that he would end up working in a chemical plant. Straight out of college, Henson started at Eastman in the plant engineering
division and was soon doing over sixty projects a year with budgets of up to several hundred thousand dollars. After less than two years, he reached out to Piping Engineer Patrick Wasserman to grow his expertise in the piping discipline.
For Henson, “there is no better place than Eastman to get your feet wet as an engineer,” and you can see why. Six months after reaching out to Wasserman he was on the piping team. Specializing in piping design and stress analysis, he is now a mentor to the group’s increasing number of co-op students.
Patrick Wasserman dabbled in a few mechanical process industries before finding his niche in piping. As an on-site expert specializing in all things pipe related, Wasserman quickly earned a reputation as the man to go to with the particularly complex issues, even from the other side of the world. From just a photograph, he has been able to resolve complex piping issues in Eastman facilities across the United States, Asia, and Europe.
Of course, being an expert is not without its challenges; Hose + Coupling World was thrilled to have the opportunity to speak to these two young professionals about the best parts of the job, the challenges they face, the tools that make it possible and how they bring out each other’s personal best through collaboration, coaching, and sharing.
A not-so-typical day
It is hard to say what constitutes a “typical day” for anyone on the Piping Technology team in Kingsport, not least of all because they serve the company’s global piping needs. They are responsible for all things “pipes,” including researching, designing, and tagging flex hoses. When the piping team is called in, it is to take care of problems outside of the realm of standard engineering: the more difficult applications, one-offs, and specialties.
If everything goes as planned, they might spend a day working on pipe design, performing pipe stress and flexibility analysis, writing codes and standards and providing expert support and guidance to the plant’s many engineers and support operators. However, it only takes one phone call to unsettle a carefully planned day, week, month… or
even a year. As on-site experts, it is up to piping engineers like Henson and Wasserman to determine the who, what, when, where, and why when something isn’t working properly
at the complex and to do so at lightning speed.
“We chase problems,” Wasserman tells Hose + Coupling World. “It might be a problem that is time-dependent or there is a risk that somebody could lose money on a product, so we have to get on it. We try to get the best information we can and then we chase it until it is done. Everything else goes on the backburner.”
When ground settling threatened a cold relief system in the Kingsport site, the piping team used a specially designed flex hose to protect the pumps from serious damage. Not knowing if the ground would continue to settle, they had to make sure that the flex hose connecting to the pump discharge was going to be flexible enough to account for further movement. The solution was to use a lateral offset flex hose, designed with four inches of off-set: a serious engineering project. When supports break due to misalignment or other stressors, the piping team gets creative to find the best solution.
Engineering in a Legacy Plant
The breadth of knowledge required to be able to respond to potential breaches in a manufacturing plant is formidable. In a multi-generational plant, it can be downright
intimidating. Challenges as simple as limited floor space can make installing an engineered part seem impossible. “Our buildings are numbered sequentially,” explains Henson. “I am working in Building 10 right now and it is older than my dad. It is tight – when the piping is over 500 degrees with only inches of clearance on either side, the project can be very difficult. I enjoy the challenge, but it can be very frustrating at the same time. All I want to do is put in the best design, but implementation is not always straight forward.”
As with many plants built over the course of decades, the team is also dealing with a lot of timeworn parts; pieces that are no longer available or no longer being manufactured. “We might come across a gasket that has been in a heat exchanger for thirty years,” says Wasserman. “There are products installed out here with the serial numbers one and two… and those are the only serial numbers that exist here or in the world!”
To eliminate the costly problem of obsolescence, the team has access to an in-house digital reproduction group to recreate and rebuild these one-offs. With the FaroArm, a portable coordinate measuring machine (CMM), they can perform a dimensional analysis on the part, see what it looked like, what size it was and get its geometry. Once they have that information, technicians reverse engineer the part and create a solid model using SolidWorks, a computer-aided design (CAD) and computer-aided engineering (CAE) program. Now that they have a model, they can recreate the part onsite in the metal fabricating shop (“the big shop”) and test it on site.
“We have some great internal resources,” says Wasserman. “Eastman does an excellent job of investing and making sure that we have the right tools.”
From those tools come highly engineered and specially designed hoses, which are researched, tagged, and meticulously stored in the Kingsport warehouse. Each hose is tagged and tracked using a computer program so that the team knows what was put in and where it goes. As Wasserman explains, the team tries to limit the use of these hoses because they are most suitable for complex applications. “These are not garden hoses,” he says. “You can not use them in the same way. You need to understand the limitations.”
When hoses are damaged because they have been stretched too far, bent or otherwise overly stressed, it is a serious headache for our engineers because in emergency quick turnaround, when they need to make fast connections or correct misalignments, they are going to need that hose. “That is where education comes in,” says Wasserman. “A hose is not going to fix everything. Just like an expansion joint, it is corrugated metal and has the same limitations. We try to let people know that.”
It will come as no surprise to anyone in the engineering world that one of the biggest challenges our experts face is dealing with change in the industry, especially in a multigenerational workforce. Many of the operators working in the Kingsport facility have been working there since graduation and some are even second or third generation Eastman. It can be tough to convince these seasoned veterans to break away from the way it has been traditionally done.
“Getting people to embrace change is a challenge,” says Wasserman. “You really have to provide the science and the logic behind making a change, otherwise it might not take. It is much easier to give up and stick with what you are comfortable with.
”For this and other reasons, the piping team at Eastman employs a simple yet effective philosophy when it comes to design: keep it simple. “The simpler the better,” says Henson.
“Use standard parts, standard pieces. It is not about flexing our engineering muscles; it is about using those parts and pieces in an innovative way to make things safer and easier for the operators out in the field.”
Collaborating and Coaching for Personal Growth
Eastman, as part of its corporate philosophy, believes that people are at the heart of its success. It is not only what is achieved but how it is achieved that is the measure of true success. For this reason, they are committed to achieving results through collaboration and bringing out the personal best in their people through coaching and mentorship.
It was clear from speaking to our piping experts that this is not just empty corporate jargon. The Kingsport site runs smoothly on the principles of knowledge sharing, mentorship, continuous learning, and community. This is no small feat in an industry that is beginning to experience a high number of retirees.
“I think some people see it as a threat to transfer some of the knowledge that they have earned over the years,” says Wasserman. “They want to keep their jobs, they want job security. But people do not feel threatened in our group, because we know how important it is to share knowledge, especially in a legacy plant when you really need to know the history of the place. If you can get someone to realize that you are not after their job,
that you just want to help, it is not that hard.”
When Henson wanted to learn more about piping, he found a mentor in Wasserman. Even now, though they work side by side, he tells us that Wasserman continues to be someone that he can look up to and learn from. The difference is experience; by sharing the knowledge that they earn with each other, they are able to do far more. That is
the beauty of the job, according to Wasserman.
“While I may be considered a company expert on certain things, I am still learning. There is still a lot that I have not seen. I share what I learn with Stephen, and what he learns
he shares with me. If the day comes that I am not learning anymore, it will stop being fun.”
Luckily, on a site the size of Kingsport, that day will likely never come. We asked our piping experts what they see for the future of the industry and what role they, and Eastman,
will play within it.
Innovation and Community for Long-term Success
Maintaining success in the industry, in Henson’s opinion, comes down to the diversity of product offerings and investing in innovation to move forward with new products and find
innovative ways to use existing products. With its hand in so many different markets and continuing to expand into new and niche markets, Eastman is making smart choices for
long-term term success as a specialty materials company.
Creating communities is something the company excels at. Henson is part of the Eastman Professional Development Club (EPDC), an in-house development association comprised
of everyone from new hires to vice presidents. They host programs, dinners and social events for the whole of the Eastman community and it goes a long way to attracting
and retaining the best talent.
“The mentorship is about more than just engineering,” says Henson. “It is a community. I moved here from six hours away and through the [EPDC] I was able to come in and
feel like I was at home from day one.”
Wasserman, a father of four, also appreciates that the company encourages work-life balance and strong ties to the community. “Nobody wants you to work one hundred hours of overtime,” he says. “They want you to have a family and a life. It is a beautiful place to raise a family and an excellent job; I would not trade it for anything in the world.”