The Valve Manufacturers Association had an active role in this week’s Valve World Americas Expo and Conference in Houston, where a large contingent of VMA members exhibited. Members reported the increased size and new location at the George R. Brown Convention Center was a positive move for the exposition. One member described the first day of the exhibition as having non-stop traffic at his booth, and others also expressed enthusiasm at the high level of traffic—and high-quality leads.
The conference itself was also well received, with numerous topics of interest presented to valve professionals during sessions held over the course of the event.
In addition, the day before the conference opened, June 24, VMA held a one-day version of its popular Valves & Actuators 101 seminar, which attracted more than 120 people who were interested in learning the “basics” of valves, actuators and controls. Both staff and presenters received much positive feedback about the course’s content.
The plenary speakers on Tuesday were led by committee co-chair Ron Merrick of Fluor Corporation who welcomed the delegates and introduced a topic of concern to many VMA members: the aging workforce.
The Gathering Storm
While the consensus is that the industry currently is in good shape personnel-wise, a storm is gathering. There is steady attrition of long-experienced people, and many companies have not done a good job of using those experienced people to prepare the younger generation to take over the work. Merrick suggested that each company must develop a succession plan to replace its experienced staff as they retire. He discussed the importance of mentorships and protégés and took the opportunity to introduce Claire Dwyer, co-chair of the committee and a protégé of Merrick at Fluor.
Dwyer related her own experience as a young engineer beginning her career at Fluor, and what an important part the support of her mentors and tutors has played in her success. She quoted from Confucius who said, “Tell me and I’ll forget. Show me, and I may remember. Involve me, and I’ll understand.”
The second plenary speaker of the day echoed the staffing concerns of the association he represents. Dr. William Beazley is executive director of the Society of Piping Engineers and Designers, and he is very concerned about the skills crisis in this field. “Experience and knowledge are imperative, and there is a real shortage of new people coming in. Everybody is old, like me,” he joked. Despite the animated and light-hearted approach, his message was serious. “The only way you’re going to keep market share is by keeping people with the right skills. That means you have to start training now, and get your staff credentialed.”
John (JR) Price of South Texas Project Nuclear Operating Company, the final plenary speaker, switched the pace to a more technical view of the industry, covering performance testing of air operated valves in the nuclear industry, and how new mandatory government requirements are going to lead to the need for more people and better training in that sector. His presentation was an excellent lead-in to the technical workshops that followed.
One of the sessions dealt with an interesting development in the upstream and midstream section of the oil and gas industry worldwide. Chaired by Amaro Bustamante of Aramco Services and Pieter Kok of Pentair, the workshop gave delegates the opportunity to learn more about High Integrity Pressure Protection Systems (HIPPS) being installed to protect installations. This is an area that previously has not been well understood and the potential to use a HIPPS for overpressure protection in lieu of or in addition to conventional safety relief valves was covered in some depth.
An Energetic Start to the Day
On Wednesday, the plenary speakers were all about energy, making for a fact-filled and engaging start to a day filled with six technical workshops.
Dr. David Kemakhem of Exxon Mobil shared the company’s outlook for energy through 2040, pointing out that the world’s population will rise by more than 25% to reach nearly 9 billion by 2040. In 2005, energy needs of OCED (Convention on the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development) and non-OCED countries were about equal. By 2040, non-OECD demand will be more than double that of the OECD, in part because of population growth, but also because more of those populations will need and want access to energy. He pointed out that currently 1.3 billion people in the world do not have access to electricity, and one of the biggest challenges is to match supply with demand.
Continuing the theme of energy, Dr. John Felmy of the American Petroleum Institute pointed out that the oil and gas industries are among the most technologically advanced industries in the world, employing 9 million people in the U.S. alone. “The industry is committed to good environmental stewardship, and North America can become energy self-sufficient. Keystone XL should be approved, now.” He expressed concerns about the ongoing increase in governmental regulations, a topic also addressed by the final plenary speaker of the day.
Roger Turley of Crane Energy took the podium with these opening remarks: “The U.S. power industry is re-powering whether or not climate change is real. Coal is the bogeyman in the industry.” Regulations from the Cross State Air Pollution Rule, the Mercury and Air Toxic Standards and cooling water intake rules are just a few of the rules that, in addition to the lower cost of natural gas, are contributing to this change.
The next Valve World Americas Expo & Conference will be held again at the George R. Brown Convention Center in Houston, June 16-17, 2015, and organizers have indicated there will be even more exhibit space available.