After almost four decades of working for one of the top five oil and gas companies, Rob Crena De Iongh has gained invaluable knowledge and expertise in the oil and gas industry. Throughout his professional career he has worked with a large variety of rotating and static equipment like pumps, compressors, gas-turbines, valves, hoses, and specific corrosion resistant alloys (CRAs).
Hose + Coupling World recently had the pleasure of speaking with Rob Crena De Iongh about the extensive experience he has gained from his time in this industry, the many tasks he 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 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.”
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.”
The first step in defining maintenance requirements is to understand the duty of the related 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 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 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 something 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.
Over the last four decades, Rob gained experience with hoses and hose applications as well. “We have hoses for truck loading, gas-production, hydraulic applications, fuel-gas applications and so on. In our company, we do have a very stringent and rigid process for the integrity of our installed hoses. Every hose is registered and scheduled for regular integrity checks,” Rob explained. “With environmental preservation as a primary focus, we have faced challenges in the past with our truck loading hoses in sour condensate service. Due to their application these hoses are very vulnerable and tend to start leaking due to impact during handling and the type of liquid to be transported,” Rob relayed. “The smell of sour condensate is very intense and carries over huge distances leading to complaints from our neighbors. I was part of a team that investigated the different types of multi-layer loading hoses in order to select a leak tight design that fit with our requirements and would address the complaints of smell.”
Even in the world of gas-turbines, usage of hoses is inevitable “Looking to, by example, combustors, you will notice a huge amount of installed steel wired fuel-line hoses. Those hoses are specially made, and they could be, depending on the application and type of gas-turbine, be up to a diameter of 6 inches and 10 meters long,” he explained. “Design, technology and application of hoses really have developed to a very high standard.”
Rob also went on to explain how large these hoses needed to be. “When you are using hoses that can handle pressures up to 700 bar, you are going to have a massive hose. One meter of a hose like that will be too big to carry—the weight is enormous.” Rob explained that a 700 bar hose would also have a stainless steel shielding around it. “A kind of stainless steel spring-type of material is circulated around the hose, and it is needed to create the pressure resistance of the hose. Sometimes they can weigh as much as piece of pipe. It is almost not classified as a hose at that point.”
At present, one of the biggest challenges Rob sees for industrial equipment is the reduction of emissions. “If we are looking at centrifugal pumps, centrifugal compressors, reciprocating compressors, pump seals and valves, you will still be able to observe a certain amount of environmental unfriendly leakages to the atmosphere. I am convinced that it is our upmost responsibility to pay attention to that problem and develop ways to avoid and stop this. I am very lucky to work for a company with the same vision,” he said.
Applying smart technologies to monitor their equipment is one way to help to mitigate potential problems. “Present smart technologies are applied more and more as supporting systems to detect anomalies,” Rob explained. “It is most important that we know that our pumps are running within their design envelopes without possible development of unexpected failure modes. We are mostly monitoring our critical rotating equipment. Typical parameters being monitored are vibration of bearings, flow, temperatures, pressures and power consumption and so on. Additionally, we have regular operator inspection rounds where we collect data from unconnected machinery and upload this data to a central server, enabling us to analyze performance and behavior of the unconnected different types of rotating equipment remotely.” Once a year, Rob’s team completes a complete capacity test on the installed fire pumps in order to prove compliance of the pump’s performances based on the design parameters and minimum requirements for the firefighting system.
For Rob’s team, remote monitoring is a minimum requirement to monitor the dynamic behavior of the installed critical rotating equipment. “Consider an installed fleet of critical compressors with the different drivels like gas-turbines and engines in a range varying from 1 to 24Mw; it is not hard to understand that we need to have remote access to the monitored data in order to know on a day by day basis how they perform and behave,” Rob relayed. “In our company we have developed a condition monitoring program which we use for daily remote monitoring and surveillance. We compare machine performance against theoretical performance information and monitor vibration levels, power consumption, and so on. With this information we are able to trend equipment behavior and simulate the different production configurations/scenarios in order to make possible intervention decisions on our equipment,” said Rob.
“We have an important responsibility for future generations to uphold. We need to work together and figure out solutions for combatting emissions, reduction of consumption of natural resources. It may affect our budgets, which is a challenge on its own, but I believe it is something we definitely need to invest in now, rather than later,” Rob expressed. “We need to realize that we really are able to change the future for coming generations right now!”
Rob also talked about how his colleagues have been using smart technology to track fluctuations and variations in different data streams and setting alarms to alert the responsible people when something happens. “Each of my team members have been assigned to one or more particular production platforms with their associated installed equipment to look after and be responsible for. Every engineer has the obligation to look at their assigned machines every morning and know how their equipment is performing. They need to know what kind of anomalies are happening, and whether or not the machines will continue to perform properly,” he explained. “I want my engineers to really own their work and own their machines. I want them to be the experts.” Rob’s drive is to motivate a sense of freedom and trust, as well as creating ownership in his team. “If our engineers own those machines, they will know exactly when something starts to go wrong, which hopefully helps us to intervene before the occurrence of major breakdowns.”
When asked to share advice for new engineers entering the world of rotating equipment, Rob had a lot to offer. “I want to emphasize the importance of getting your hands dirty and getting a feel for the machinery. A new engineer cannot get directly into a role of rotating equipment engineering, while expecting to know and understand the machines in the real world right away. It will take time to truly understand what the equipment does and how to approach your day-to-day operations,” Rob expressed.
With a few students always interning or completing a co-op placement with him and his team, Rob often witnesses the truth of his advice firsthand. One student he remembers very well. “A student was completing his thesis and he joined us at our Rotterdam location. We have centrifugal compressors over there of 4.7 Mw which runs 14,700 RPM, on magnetic bearings—serious pieces of machinery. This particular student was very proud to be working on rotating equipment, however he had never seen anything quite like it before, so he really had no clue what to expect,” said Rob. “We took him over to one of the machines to run a surge test, which is considered to be a violent-behavior in a compressor, creating a lot of strange noises and vibrations. When all that power released during the test, I was standing beside the student, and I had never seen someone run as quickly as he did away from that machine.” With a bit of laughter, Rob stated, “Before you can truly learn to appreciate rotating machinery, you need to go out and physically work with them, observe, feel, smell, listen and understand, that is the basis to truly becoming a real rotating equipment engineer.”