Recognizing the importance of educating individuals on the correct use of hoses in a processing environment is a skill John-Paul Schmidt has honed while working in the chemical industry. His experience as a Piping Stress Leader at Dow Chemical has provided him with the opportunity to face many of the common challenges associated with a number of applications including: fixed piping, hoses, expansion joints, and couplings. Schmidt’s interaction with the applications at both a design and practical level has thereby allowed him to acquire expertise on each one.
Hose + Coupling World had the pleasure of meeting with Schmidt to discuss the necessity for proper maintenance and storage practices of hoses, his knowledge on the fabrication and function of a variety of industrial applications, and the value of sharing knowledge that has the potential to mitigate and prevent dangerous situations from arising.
Having grown up in a small town dominated by a large chemical plant, Schmidt was exposed to the industrial industry at a young age. The constant interactions with innovators and industry professionals helped him to realize his passion for building and designing complex mechanisms. It therefore came as no surprise to himself, or others, when he decided to pursue a career in Chemical Engineering. With a drive to create something useful out of something useless, he completed his BSc in Chemical Engineering and his MBA, before obtaining his PE license.
Schmidt’s decision to begin his career as a process engineer and transition into a piping engineer role has been pertinent to his position as Piping Stress Leader; it provided him with the opportunity to gain know-how from a variety of maintenance and capital projects. Now, with over 10 years of experience, he guides the day-to-day activities of his fellow engineers and designers, to ensure that all the necessary safety requirements are met.
“Part of my role is to predict the risks associated with proposed pipping designs and attempt to limit the chance of an unplanned event taking place. I believe one of the best ways to take intelligent risks and mitigate danger is to be educated on the safety, reliability, and maintenance standards of each application you interact with,” said Schmidt.
While his primary focus is steel piping, Schmidt also works with a variety of equipment in the plant, including hoses and expansion joints.
“Hoses are often the most overlooked applications in a plant, despite the high risk associated with their misuse,” stated Schmidt. “If they are designed for the task at hand, installed correctly, and maintained, hoses are great; if any of these parameters are not met, however, they can be very dangerous. I think the biggest obstacle with hoses is that many individuals believe they understand hoses, and simply put, they do not.”
The differences between a hose in a process environment and a residential area are drastic; especially if looked at from a reliability standpoint. While there is very little chance of injury to bystanders if a home gardening hose leaks or bursts, the failure of a hose carrying a high pressured medium can inflict serious harm to its operator. Thorough operator training on proper hose storage, maintenance, and specifications is therefore essential to reducing risk.
“The main issue I have seen with hose storage and maintenance, over the last five years, is a failure to put the hoses away properly,” related Schmidt. “They are not hung up or moved out of the way and they end up getting stepped on or run over. Being constantly subjected to external afflictions can significantly compromise the integrity of the hose. To preserve their integrity it is best to wash hoses down after use and avoid putting unusual strain on the tubing by forcing it into odd configurations.”
These challenges are compounded by a lack of reliable hose records. “As there are roughly seven different functioning safety and reliability information systems in place, it is difficult to ensure that the necessary information about a hose gets across all of the platforms, despite our best efforts to unify the systems,” explained Schmidt. “Dow is working very hard at being a homogenous organization. This involves reviewing different types of hose technologies that have been used, noting the differences and cataloging them in a library, in an attempt to standardize what specifications are required for each application.”
Working with Expansion Joints
While plant technicians generally oversee the hose maintenance and resolve any issue that may arise, Schmidt is very hands on when it comes to expansion joints.
“As expansion joints can get quite complicated very quickly, I tend to get involved fairly early on,” stated Schmidt. Expansion joints are typically used to isolate vibrations, when there is some sort of unusual movement, or if there is a delicate nozzle that needs to be tended to. “Like industrial hoses, expansion joints are incredibly important and often misused,” he continued. “People tend to misunderstand pneumatic force, and that can be very problematic. If, for example, you have a rubber joint roughly three quarters of an inch to an inch large in your home, you would be able to push it and move it around. The ability to move it will provide you with an intuition regarding the function of the application; unfortunately more often than not this intuition is wrong. When you have an expansion joint that is 20 inches in diameter with 200 PSI, the pneumatic force involved is astronomically different. That amount of pressure has the ability to tear up steel and turn it into shrapnel, making it very dangerous.”
In terms of hoses and expansion joints, the most important concept that Schmidt wants to convey is that equipment used in a large piping system or chemical plant will not behave the same way as it will in a small scale operation.
There is a conscious effort to avoid excitement within a plant on a day-to-day basis, and one of the ways to achieve this is by using reliable products. Using high quality material and consistent technology is necessary to ensuring both the safety of workers and the quality of the product at any plant. “The only issue with this approach is that experienced engineers can sometimes have a hard time trying new products or technologies and therefore limit themselves,” said Schmidt. “If you have tried and tested something and know it works well, it can be difficult to become incentivized to try new things, despite the ever progressive leaps in technology. Sometimes, however it is worth the risk.” Schmidt advocates that if the time is spent on becoming educated on a new technology or product, and they are deemed reliable, it can be beneficial to take the calculated risk.
For Schmidt, the most rewarding aspect of his role is the ability to share his knowledge with individuals entering the industry. The ability to impart learned practices onto younger generations can make a significant difference in the dynamics of an organization. “The opportunity to leverage the talents of highly experienced engineers and gain new and fresh ideas from individuals just entering the industry, is effective in helping to accelerate the growth of ones’ skills,” explained Schmidt.
“By teaching others not only do you have the opportunity to learn new things and fill the gaps in your own understanding, you also help prevent unnecessary risks and keep people safe.”