To have a successful career in the Oil and Gas industry, one must be highly skilled, well-rounded, and always looking to further their existing knowledge. Gilbert Alonzo, a Mechanical Engineer and Technical Consultant for BP Oil and Gas Exploration, knows this well. Across the span of his almost 40-year career, Alonzo has faced numerous challenges and gained experience working with several process vital systems and components of the Oil and Gas industry – including the often-overlooked application and usage of hoses in an industrial plant. Hose + Coupling World had the privilege of interviewing Alonzo about his career, personal triumphs in several chemical plants, and all things hoses.
By Sarah Do Couto and Angelica Pajkovic
When Gilbert Alonzo was in high school, he had no idea what he wanted to do when he graduated. That is, until his math teacher encouraged him to pursue engineering. Alonzo, who said he did not have a lot of personal guidance growing up, took this to heart.
“I did not know what an engineer did,” said Alonzo. “So, I went to an engineering conference for two weeks at the University of Houston and I learned about engineering. I was instantly interested. They exposed us to all of the different branches of engineering.” Although initially, he was unsure which branch of engineering to pursue, he ended up pursuing mechanical engineering.
Alonzo went on to receive a Bachelor of Science in Mechanical Engineering from Texas A&M University. While in school, he did a two-semester co-op with The Dow Chemical Company. Shortly after graduating, he was hired as a full-time mechanical engineer. After 30 years of work at Dow, Alonzo left to join BP Oil and Gas Exploration as a Senior Mechanical Engineer and Valve Subject Matter Expert. Today, though Alonzo is retired, he still works as a consultant with BP, specifically on special projects.
Throughout his long career, Alonzo was able to build a strong foundation of industrial knowledge and technical skills. This knowledge is vast, and includes an extensive understanding of valves, mechanical equipment, chemical processes, and of course, hoses.
Hoses in Industry
“As there is a lot of equipment in a chemical plant, hoses are sometimes taken for granted,” stated Alonzo. Unlike other applications that require constant attention, hoses are often dismissed as a secondary piece of equipment. To disregard hoses,” explained Alonzo, “is a mistake.” In a chemical plant as well as offshore production platforms, a wide variety of hoses are used on a relatively constant basis; they are vital to the continued operation and success of the plant.
The flexibility, various available sizes, and the wide range of materials of construction are the primary assets that industrial and hydraulic hoses have to offer in a chemical facility. “The ability to reach areas and applications that are inaccessible to fixed piping make hoses essential for the transfer and dispersion of various medias.”
“Without hoses it is very difficult to move the fuel, chemicals, and other liquid-based media, not only from onshore locations to offshore vessels, but also from one containment unit to another. We use hoses for loading and unloading railcars, tank trucks, and ships. To mitigate the risk of hazardous accidents, both the connections for the hose as well as the hose integrity have to be continually monitored by onsite personnel,” stated Alonzo.
The hoses used in a chemical plant have to be labeled, sized, and rated for pressure and temperature to ensure that they will not fail when used for their intended application. It is important that the correct hose be used for the correct application. Materials of construction are very important. The materials have to be compatible with the fluid or gas being transported in the hose. The materials also determine the strength of the hose, which sometimes need to be self-supporting.
“There is actually a lot of engineering that goes into hoses,” he continued. “A lot of different materials are used in construction, and there are a wide range of applications depending on what a hose is rated for. The materials of construction have to be compatible with whatever the fluid or gas that is being transported. Some fluids and gases are flammable, hazardous and possibly lethal. So, compatibility can be critical.” There are a wide range of additives and chemicals that are used in offshore production of oil and gas. There are therefore several processes that involve high pressure and specialty hoses. Likewise, hoses that carry high temperature liquids, often require hoses that are fabricated with stainless steel and reinforced by various methods to ensure that they do not burst from the pressure.
“There are a wide range of platforms for offshore and Deepwater operations. Some are floating platforms, so they move with the seas, and that is why hoses are vital; they flex and move accordingly.”
Chemical Flume Extraction Hoses
Ventilating fumes is a vital process in many industrial practices, chemical plants included. With a chemical flume extraction hose, one can ventilate the fumes generated by harsh chemicals and ensure safe material handling. In extrusion and drumming processes, chemical flume extraction hoses are common.
Light Material Handling Hoses
Most commonly utilized for the transportation of dry goods and powders, light material handling hoses are some of the most common of all hose types used in industrial settings. These hoses are used in packaging and solids handling transfer systems.
Necessary for handling gas, air, smoke, fumes, and other potential pollutants, ventilation hoses are vital to most industrial operations. Chemical plants often use ventilation hoses to safely move hazardous fumes and particulates out of harm’s way.
Dust Collection Hoses
Like the name suggests, dust collection hoses are used to collect dust, woodchips, and other small materials in a range of industrial processes and settings. Dust collection hoses are crucial, since most dusts can contribute to an explosion hazard.
When working with high-temperature processes or with high-temperature materials, these types of hoses are best suited. High-temperature hoses allow for the contraction and expansion from temperature, which sometimes limits using hard pipe.
Although he did not personally handle the design and construction of the hoses himself, Alonzo often liaised with vendors and companies to ensure the proper hoses were ordered for several chemical plant applications.
“We have companies that specialize in making hoses for us,” he said. “We would give them the specifications, including: the product being handled, the pressure, temperature rating, the length, and the connections, and the company would make them for us. We also have testing requirements, which the companies do for us. Quite often we witness this testing. The testing includes testing the hose when it is new as well as on a periodic basis, such as yearly. We specify the testing requirements, including what media to use during testing. At BP, we have a lot of hoses on the offshore platforms to load and unload product from ships,” Alonzo continued. “So, hoses are everywhere; you cannot get away from them.”
“As there is a lot of equipment in a chemical plant, hoses are sometimes taken for granted. To disregard hoses is a mistake.”
The biggest challenge regarding hoses in a chemical facility, is determining the correct specifications for every hose and its fitting and/or coupling. “This means determining the right pressure, temperature rating, and following all governmental and company standards,” explained Alonzo.
“An operator must have a plan in place to make sure all the testing and inspection is done on a regular basis, whether that is annual, or whatever may be required,” he said. “Often, this plan means detaching the hose, sending it back to the company for testing (usually hydrotesting), and gathering a pressure rating to guarantee the integrity and ongoing success of the hose.”
Alonzo also said that capturing product from a disconnected hose can be a challenge as well. “How do you keep that product from spilling on the ground?” he questioned. “Sometimes you have to flush the hose once in service, or blow nitrogen through it,” he explained. “Normally though, we like to keep all the connections in place as long as possible; only when you must disconnect will you have to make sure there is no spillage.”
Necessity of Hoses
For Alonzo, a big focus of his career was and still is learning several facets of chemical plant operation to ensure he has a well-rounded and complete understanding of all processes.
“We do not really have any hose specialists or hose subject matter experts like we do for other kinds of materials and machinery,” he said.
It is for this reason that in his experience, despite focusing on valves and other mechanical equipment, that hoses were also a major part of Alonzo’s work. Though he said many may underestimate or undervalue hoses in the workplace, Alonzo knows their true value and necessity.
“We are always going to need these chemical plants around, so there is always going to be a big need for hoses, pumps and other mechanical equipment.”
Today, now that he is mostly retired, Alonzo is becoming more and more focused on mentoring the next generation of young professionals. Like many industry professionals, he worries about a potential decline in overall interest in mechanical engineering.
“There are some really, really smart kids coming out of college now, but it is still lacking,” he said. “We are missing the boat a little bit as far as education, compared to other countries, and we need to focus more on the basics.”
“I think we would have more interest if students were exposed to engineering at an earlier age and if it was made to be more exciting,” he said.
Mentorship is intensely important to Alonzo, and he believes that it is highly rewarding to mentor young engineers in the workplace. “Engineering is a great field. It is a great career,” said Alonzo. “Every day was different for me; every day there were different challenges. I never had the same day twice.”