With numerous degrees relating to mechanical engineering, George Kontarakis has a wealth of knowledge when it comes to rotating equipment. He graduated from the University of Manchester Institute of Science and Technology (UMIST) in 1998 with a degree in Mechanical Systems Engineering, which was a combination of conventional, mechanical and electrical engineering undergraduate courses. He then continued on to pursue further postgraduate studies, earning a Master’s degree and Doctorate in the Engineering Department at the University of Cambridge, which was funded by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council and Ford Motor Company in the UK, via an Industrial Cooperative Award in Science and Technology (CASE Award). It is clear that George has had a combination of invaluable education and work experience to lay the foundation for his successful career.
“After my studies, and the academic insights these degrees provided to fluid mechanics and fluid machines, my first real encounter with pumps was at my first job where, as a Senior Performance Development Engineer, I was responsible for the performance and heat balance aspects of a combined heat and power generation engine up-rate project,” says George.
Since then, following that initial experience and his entry into the oil and gas industry, he has been continuously involved with pumps on a regular basis. As a Rotating Machinery Engineer for major oil and gas operators he was exposed to operational and maintenance aspects of pumps ranging from humble sub-kW utility and chemical process pumps, to crude oil pipeline transfer and distillation unit crude oil charge pumps, high pressure steam boiler pumps, multi-MW gas turbine driven water injection pumps and large multi-phase flow pipeline pumps. “As my exposure, relationship, understanding and awareness of pumps and pumping systems continues to evolve, that fundamental link between the pump and the pumping system remains as valid and as interesting as ever,” he states.
George is currently a specialist in rotating machinery and systems involving rotating machines. His role involves acting as either a Lead Engineer or Specialist Consultant on feasibility, concept selection, FEED (Front End Engineering Design), detailed design or EPC projects. He is also responsible for formulating resolutions to technically challenging and/or high profile issues, and effectively communicating these issues to clients and senior management. His duties also include being a Subject Matter Expert for rotating equipment within Petrofac’s Engineering and Production Services’ (EPS) business, supporting their delivery of consultancy services. The EPS business is focused on helping clients to safely unlock the value of their assets by maximizing efficiency and reducing risk throughout the asset’s lifecycle. The aim is to help clients make the best technical decisions from conceptual design to decommissioning projects. “I am often involved with all of these stages, as I have had exposure to a broad range of projects and applications,” says George. Interestingly, George can find himself equally managing a team of discipline engineers on a large scale and / or acting completely independently, such as advising a client or management on technical issues of individual projects. He expands on this topic by explaining his involvement with training new graduates: “We have a team that has a good balance of experienced engineers and new graduate engineers. Often, when I have allocated work to new graduates, I will mentor them to elevate their level of awareness and expertise, and give them advice on subjects and machinery difficulties. Passing on knowledge to younger generations and personnel succession planning is essential to the future of the industry.”
Collaborating, identifying and resolving
On a typical day George has to juggle a variety of tasks, often having to oversee his own as well as his team’s activities as they progress with various engineering design tasks across one or more projects. He checks in with his discipline engineers, as well as supervising, reviewing and checking mechanical activities and deliverables, including the preparation of equipment and package specifications and datasheets; specialist studies such as pump, compressor and driver selections; preparing technical requisitions for long lead items; and bid evaluations, including the identification and resolution of discrepancies and divergences from enquiry data sheets and specifications. In addition, George liaises with suppliers and clients, ensuring that they are satisfied with the level, quality and progress of the deliverables involved, or presenting them with the findings and recommendations arising from the work he is performing for them. “I also look out for any requests for assistance from across our project teams, review those and notify our Resource Manager on high criticality and / or urgent requests,” he adds. “Following that, I will often take some time to plan and schedule the next day’s activities, so as to ensure my jobs run smoothly without undue process upsets.”
To add to that, George explains that the most challenging aspect of his job is, understandably, multitasking against the clock and planning and scheduling a diverse number of activities. Not only that, but these activities often involve more than one project and diverse groups of people in multidisciplinary interactions, likely to take place in different offices, countries or time zones. In addition, George states that dealing with a broad range of machinery and the industry standards that go along with them is an interesting challenge that continually keeps him on his toes. “You need to have a good grasp of what is out there in order to be able to move from one project to another swiftly, while keeping up with the industry and regulatory background,” he explains. However, while a demanding work load and a variety of machinery can be challenging aspects of the job, they are also aspects that George finds enjoyable as he never gets bored.
He especially enjoys the opportunity to contribute and make a difference with an effective resolution of technical problems, followed by the eventual commendation that he receives from colleagues, as well as clients, about the quality of work done. “It is rewarding knowing you have helped,” he says. “For example, there is nothing like going back to a site and seeing that something I implemented or recommended for implementation has been put together and is up and running, performing as I said it would. Having the client thank me for my contribution is invaluable from the point of view of an engineer.”
Erosion in an offshore upstream facility
As his focus is in the oil and gas industry, George frequently works with horizontal and vertical centrifugal (rotodynamic) pumps, API 610, ASME B73 or ISO 5199. Supplementing those standard pump types, there are some additional designs and pump types for specialist applications: sealless, slurry, submersible, fire water pumps, as well as positive displacement pump types for duties where a conventional centrifugal unit would not be technically suitable, efficient and/or cost effective. Multiphase pumps, disc pumps and jet pumps complete the range of pumps used in oil and gas applications, which “is a testament to the diversity of the industry,” George states. With his current focus being predominantly upstream oil and gas, George often comes across crude oil transfer and water injection applications. Generally, a pump is used in an industrial process involving the transfer of a liquid from one level of pressure or static energy to another. “In the oil and gas field, every single one of the sectors making up the oil and gas industry is inherently associated with the production, processing, transfer and eventual sale of hydrocarbon products, therefore intrinsically linked to a liquid transfer process, in one form or another. As such, the sector is rich in terms of pump application opportunities, ranging from the plain ordinary to the extraordinary,” says George. However, with the broad range of pump types and pumping applications come many challenges, which George has to deal with on a regular basis. From George’s perspective, the most common issues tend to involve pump type selections and either incomplete or over specification of pump duties.
For a number of reasons, it is not uncommon to find a pump design has been oversized for a particular duty, which has implications both in terms of the engineering effort as well as the cost to rectify it. For example, George recently worked on a project to assist a facility facing considerable erosion and water injection problems resulting from a pump which was not fit for purpose. Sand from the wells was finding its way through to the water injection system and passing through the high-pressure high-energy water injection pumps causing erosion to the pump internals. Identifying the root cause can be complicated and it took a repeated series of failures before finding evidence that sand had gone through and damaged areas in the pump. “We then came up with a series of recommendations, both in terms of reviewing construction and the materials used for the pump, as well as the operating practices,” explains George. “It is certainly an issue that is not uncommon and needs to be taken into consideration for this type of pumping application.”
Keeping with the topic of improving pump performance, George concludes the interview by detailing his views on how the oil and gas industry has adjusted to new and emerging technologies. He believes that there is an increased interest within the oil and gas sector in variable speed drives for optimisation reasons. “It’s something that is not necessarily new to industrial applications. Variable speed drives might be very popular in the first line of defence in general industrial applications, but it has not been the typical approach for the oil and gas industry,” explains George. In addition, he thinks that remote condition monitoring via the ‘Internet of Things’ could refresh the approach to condition monitoring if done properly. “I do believe there is a benefit there and something to be gained, but for any new technology benefit to materialise, it would have to be developed, matured and introduced to the real world in a controlled manner with due care to the level of regulation involved between industrial sectors. This and 3 dimensional printing could potentially turn out to be game-changers.”