Pump Engineer recently had the pleasure of speaking with Rob Crena De Iongh about the extensive experience he has gained from his time in the rotating equipment industry, and the many tasks he has faced as a team leader, and what he considers the most important advice a young engineer needs to hear.

By Brittani Schroeder

Rob has always had a passion for working with machines and exploring the intricacies of their mechanics. Engineering was not his first choice when it came to selecting a discipline to study in school. “My original goal was to study auto-technology, but the particular school I wanted to attend was already full. So, as second choice I altered my focus to become a marine engineer. Before I knew it, I passed my degree and found myself as a marine engineer on an oil tanker in Dubai,” Rob remembered. “It was not a conscious choice—it just happened, and the five years to follow became one of the best periods of my life!”

For five years following the completion of his first degree, Rob worked on oil tankers as a marine engineer in the engine room, gaining a lot of experience with steam turbines, heavy fuel diesel engines, pumps and so on. After approximately five years, Rob changed his career from being a marine engineer to an onshore mechanic. This career change created a great opportunity to continue studying, so Rob found himself back in the classroom working towards a degree in mechanical engineering, production technology and economics. “In Dutch we call this a High Technical Grade. This study is what really helped to fulfill my dream to become a Technical Authority and Team Lead of a Rotating Equipment Engineering team.”

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Many Responsibilities

As Team Lead of Rotating Equipment, Rob oversees a team of approximately 10 engineers: five located in the United Kingdom, and five in the Netherlands. “With this team, we are responsible for a large fleet of rotating equipment installed on a number of platforms in the southern North Sea, as well as two onshore locations where we are evacuating the gas into the Netherlands and the UK grids,” Rob explained. 

As team leader, one of the main responsibilities is to coach the team through their personal ambitions for their future, training, exposure and career-supporting decisions. “I spend about 40% of my time with coaching and communication with my team and planning; 30% is put towards our more critical technical issues and projects; and another 30% towards the leadership role and contracts,” he continued. “When I started my job, I really enjoyed working with the machines. That part has not changed, but what I now enjoy most is working with people and getting tasks done with a good team around me.” 

Of course, there are also challenges that come along with Rob’s job. “The most difficult challenges we experience are those we try to avoid at all costs: a major breakdown of our critical rotating equipment, leading to unexpected production deferments. In situations like this we are caught in a spider’s web between operators who want to start production again as soon as possible, and the broken equipment,” said Rob. “There is a lot of pressure on our shoulders to limit the consequential deferment as much as possible, but we also need to make the right decisions for the most effective repairs. If done correctly, safely and against realistic costs, there will be no risk for our people and the environment. It is our job to ensure integrity and reliability.” As a result, Rob spends a lot of his time managing expectations when it comes to expected and unexpected shutdowns. “Taking shortcuts is not an option.”

With a no nonsense, can-do mentality built up over the years, Rob approaches all challenges in the same way. “If you are out on a tanker and something breaks, you cannot wait for someone to come and fix the problem. You need to deal with it yourself, starting with understanding, communication, reacting, fixing. I like to think, ‘do not talk too much, use common sense, search for support/information if required and just do it and get it done’, and that helps me through most of it.”

Major Pump Applications

Rob sees a wide array of pumps in his role like membrane pumps, plunger pumps, gear pumps and an enormous variety of centrifugal pumps. “If I had to pick, I would say the membrane pumps are the most intricate to work with, as they have a reasonably vulnerable system. The membranes, in combination with the oil system, including the different internal control valves, are quite vulnerable and require specific attention and maintenance,” Rob explained. Membrane pumps are typically installed for the injection of chemicals and/or transport of dangerous liquids. A positive advantage of this type of pump is that they are a fully closed system, which means no active seals are required to separate the dangerous liquids from the environment. A second important advantage of these pumps is the simple capacity to control possibilities, which is ideal for chemical injection requirements.

Pump selection is also an important aspect of Rob’s role. He continued, “If a pump needs to be changed out or a new one is required, it is my team’s responsibility to select the appropriate pump. As technical authority, I need to agree and sign off on the selected type of pump.” 

The process for selecting a new pump does not vary too much. After investigating the required service, the fluids that will be pumped, and the environment, somebody within Rob’s team will select a pump type. “Once the pump type has been selected, I will have a look and see if the pump complies to our requirements. Is it made for the service and the fluids it will encounter? Can it survive in the environment? Is it the right size? Is the selected seal-system the appropriate one for the selected duty? And so on,” Rob explained. “I will then give my recommendation and hopefully our choices align.” 

Rob and his team are also responsible for the selection of the compliant materials used in the pumps. “We need to specify the material the pump will be made of, which all depends on the pump medium in combination with the set-up, application and environmental circumstances. As an example, we have pumps with driver shafts up to 10 m long with intermediate bearings. You cannot connect to a simple carbon steel pump shaft because it will bend and corrode. Instead, we select pump shafts made of a specific stainless steel, to meet all applicable requirements.”

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Maintenance Requirements

The first step in defining maintenance requirements is to understand the duty of the related rotating equipment, consequences of failure and dominant failure-modes. “Based on these parameters we will be able to define the maintenance tasks; this process is a well-known principle called RCM (Reliability Centered Maintenance). As soon as the maintenance strategy has been translated into realistic maintenance tasks and frequencies, it is key to align these maintenance tasks with the inspection and/or project-driven shutdown schedule,” Rob explained. “Part of our maintenance strategy is based on online condition monitoring as well. For our critical rotating equipment, it is key to understand their performance and behavior in order to avoid/predict possible issues or breakdowns, or to recognize possible opportunities to postpone major maintenance.”

As each type of rotating equipment requires different maintenance, conditioned-based maintenance is of great financial benefit, especially in the case of redundancies. Rob said, “90% of our installed pumps are redundant – condition-based maintenance could leverage maximum application efficiency of these pumps while significantly reducing total cost of ownership. In practice, we have major maintenance strategies in place to keep things running if a pump fails,” Rob related.

For example, the main operational problem with a membrane pump is the limited lifetime of the membrane. “If you have a membrane pump in a clean service, such as chemical injection, the membrane will probably last two to three years. If the membrane is used in a dirty service, like evacuation of a water condensate mixture, the membrane usually must be exchanged every year. With all these different types of equipment and operational conditions, we must adopt a maintenance strategy that will be able to take into account these different maintenance intervals within the given shutdown planning,” said Rob.

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Working with Valves

Rotating equipment is not where Rob’s experience ends. He has gained significant experience working with valves, actuators, and all the equipment surrounding them. “I was once responsible for pipeline valves, and we are talking about 36-inch valves, so really big! They were the main valves in the gas transport lines of the Netherlands, and you can only imagine how much work it took to open a valve of that size,” related Rob.

His experiences with valves vary from high pressure ball valves, special piston type valves, huge gate valves, orbit valves and so on. Rob continued, “Every type of valve has its own specific design and function. I quickly realized while working as a static engineer that valves are very interesting and well worth the effort to deepen my knowledge and skills.”

Having worked with valves for several years, Rob has noticed a change in the severity of monitoring processes for valves. “In the beginning, monitoring of leak tightness or leakages to the atmosphere was not as big a deal as it is nowadays. In the early 1990s we started to work with a company that had developed a kind of ultrasound monitoring device that could detect internal leakages of valves just by the sound of it. Based on high frequency sound measurements we could get an idea about a possible leak and the size of leak we were dealing with,” said Rob. “Based on the requirements of leak tightness we were able to define an effective plan for intervention.”

Since the definition of leak tightness was not specified per valve position, Rob worked with process engineers in order to define the requirements for leak-tightness per position and function in the installation. Based on a maximum failure scenario, by example a pipe rupture in combination with an ignition, the team calculated the heat radiation and the consequential damage on the nearby process installation. “Based on those calculations we could decide if a valve needed to be leak tight or not. If you define the leak tightness of valves in different positions, you could then argue which ones needed to be monitored closely for safety,” said Rob. “I think that is really what remote monitoring is about: safety.”

Read Part 2 of this interview in the June 2020 issue of Pump Engineer magazine!

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