Business View Magazine interviews Chuck Miller, VP of Stress Engineering Services, as part of our focus on best practices in American businesses.
“Stress is an engineering term that describes the distribution of internal forces used to evaluate the strength of components and materials,” says Chuck Miller, Vice President of Stress Engineering Services, a company that provides solutions in the fields of engineering design and analysis, thermal and fluid sciences, instrumentation, and testing. “During design work, you’re engineering the component to minimize the stresses where they need to be minimized,” he explains. “We do a significant amount of work in the offshore oil and gas world where we perform analyses of the components that are used – drilling riser systems, components on the floating vessels – looking at the motions as the floating systems respond to hurricanes and other significant events in the ocean. We can calculate what the motions of those facilities will be and determine what the loads and stresses on the components that are holding that facility in place will be during those events.”
Stress Engineering Services is a wholly employee-owned firm that was founded in 1972 by Joe Fowler, Ray Latham, and Harry Sweet, a professor and two graduate students from Texas A&M University, whose initial work was certified stress reports of nuclear power plant equipment. “We started working in the nuclear power industry, trying to bring higher-end engineering – primarily finite element analysis – to the industry,” says Terry Lechinger, Vice President of Business Development and Marketing. “We quickly diverted that business into the oil and gas business because of Three Mile Island which hamstrung the nuclear industry.” (The Three Mile Island accident, a nuclear meltdown that occurred in Dauphin County, Pennsylvania in 1979, was the most significant accident in U.S commercial nuclear power plant history.)
Today, Stress Engineering Services has approximately 400 employees, and is headquartered in Houston, Texas, with additional office locations Cincinnati, Ohio; New Orleans and Baton Rouge, Louisiana; Waller, Texas; Calgary, Canada; and Singapore. “We provide consulting services and help people solve difficult problems,” says Lechinger. “We provide three basic services: design, testing, and analysis. We have some of the largest testing facilities in the oil and gas industry.”
More precisely, the company offers: downstream plant services, such as engineering assessments, field services and monitoring, materials engineering, and testing services; forensic engineering services, including electrical accidents, failure analysis, fires and explosions, intellectual property, litigation support, personal injury, product liability, and structures and foundations; and industrial design services that include consumer research, human factors and ergonomics, conceptual design, detailed design, and prototyping. It also provides materials engineering services and measurement and control services, such as data collection products, field instrumentation, measurement and monitoring, system integration and design, and vibration monitoring, as well medical technology development services.
Stress Engineering Services has clients in the following industries and sectors: aerospace, mechanical connectors, alternative energy sources, medical devices, automotive, chemical and refinery, consumer packaging and products, pharmaceutical, forensics, pipeline, industrial design, plastics, power generation, pressure vessels and piping, locomotive, process technology, manufacturing, pulp and paper, marine, and transportation.
Lechinger believes that the company’s advantages in its field are directly related to the experience of its people – mechanical, civil, electrical, metallurgical, chemical, and marine engineers – as well as the range of its abilities. “A typical person has 15 to 18 years of industry experience, with nine to ten average in the company,” he states. “So, we bring very experienced people to the table. And we bring a diverse workforce; we have a number of disciplines represented in-house, so we can look at a problem from multiple directions. We can look at it from a materials standpoint; we can look at it from the analytical view; we can look at it experientially. Some of the problems that we deal with are complex and they require a good bit of experience to answer properly. There’s a lot of technology out there and if you know how to use technical tools, you can get the answer, but there has to be somebody behind that who knows how to filter the answers. And then there’s the diversity of our facilities. We have some of the largest testing facilities and one of the largest in-house materials groups. All those things play together to give us a lot of different looks at a problem.”
Miller adds, “Since we’re employee-owned, we’re independent; we don’t have any equipment that we’re trying to sell, so we can offer a true, independent opinion to our clients. When one of our clients has a problem, it becomes our problem and we become part of their staff for the duration of that project.”
One of the problems solved by the company was recently recognized by the oil and gas industry, when Stress Engineering Services’ Realtime Fatigue Monitoring System (RFMS) was named a finalist in the Oil & Gas Engineering 1st Annual Product of the Year Competition. The RFMS provides field measurements of stress and fatigue on drilling risers, wellheads, and other subsea systems in near real time. It significantly improves riser integrity management by using measured data and advanced algorithms at strategic locations to reconstruct stress and fatigue damage along the entire riser.
“We were contacted by one of the oil and gas majors,” says Company Principal, Kenneth Bhalla. “Their concern was safety and ensuring that the fatigue loads on their wellhead – which is the last barrier to the environment – were within design limits and that, under any and all circumstances, there would be no release of hydrocarbons into the environment. So from a green point of view, from a safety point of view, this is what the real-time, fatigue monitoring system performs.”
That’s just one example of the type of solutions that Stress Engineering Services has been providing its clients since 1972. From upstream oil and gas, to downstream chemical and refineries, consumer products to packaging, materials to testing, medical devices to pharmaceutical, pipelines to power, and measurements to forensics, it’s a company that has the experience, the knowledge, and the tools to take on the toughest technical challenges and deliver the right answers.
AT A GLANCE
WHO: Stress Engineering Services
WHAT: An independent, employee-owned, consulting engineering firm
WHERE: Headquarters in Houston, Texas