Sunday, April 18, 2010

Heleman 5:12


So this last week I experienced a “first” in my life, and I thought it was pretty cool.  I got to see a power generating station that I helped design!  I’ve done odd jobs here and there before this job, but this is the very first project that I was involved in from the beginning… back in the “hmmm, maybe we could put a new power plant here!” days.  I feel very privileged to have been involved with this project, it involved a lot of work, a lot of learning, and a lot of faith in myself and the skills I’ve learned!

So this is the same site and project that I’ve posted about before (click here).  The pictures before were when the massive foundations were being poured.  This site is unique, because a crazy layer of clay covers the whole area.  When the clay gets saturated from rain, it expands and causes all sorts of problems.  We designed a very neat system of piles and deep foundations to mitigate that problem!  The cool part is that you can’t even see the foundations and all the work that was put into them.  If I didn’t know about them and help design them, I wouldn’t even know they were there! (I think there’s a good life-lesson hidden in there . . .)

This plant is located in the north end of a town located North-West of Dallas, TX named Greenville.  My boss Tim and I flew down last Monday.   I had half-hoped to go down at the end of the week, so that I could drive down to San Antonio and visit Andrew and Sharon . . . but I’ll take what I can get, I was just happy to go down!

Map picture

The first thing that I noticed early Tuesday morning was the 3 giant stacks climbing above the trees, and the first thought into my head was “holy cow! I designed those!!”  It was a very neat sight, and that feeling didn’t leave me the entire time I was there.


These are the stacks that emit the cleaned exhaust 85 feet above the ground.  I designed all the steel supporting the stack and the stack itself.  The silencer (like a muffler) is the fat cylinder extending half-way up the steel, and luckily that was purchased from another company . . . because I’ve no clue how to design that!  You’ll notice that the steel itself is a shiny silver color.  It gets that color from a protective coating of Zinc (put there by a process called “hot-dipped galvanizing”) that is common for steel that’s exposed to the elements, and helps protect it from rusting!  The stacks themselves are a special grade of steel, hence the dirty brown color.  This special grade of steel is better at maintaining its strength when heated, as the exhaust coming out of the engines can get up to 700 degrees F!


Another structure that I designed was extremely complicated.  The trick on this next structure wasn’t so much making sure the strength of the structure was adequate (the equipment it is supporting is pretty light weight), the trick was getting everything to fit!  This picture gives a good idea of how much “stuff” is being fit into this tiny space.


This doesn’t quite give the total picture, as they’re not done installing all the equipment yet in this area.  After all the water pipes, ladders, and electric cable trays are installed, this whole area will look like a finished Tetris board!  This area has caused considerable problems in past projects, stuff not fitting, not having room for pipes and cables etc. I attacked the problem using a 2-pronged approach:

#1 – I bugged a lot of people for information about this equipment.  I coordinated with the Mechanical, Electrical, and HVAC departments to get detailed drawings of all this equipment, so I could get an idea of how big this stuff was, what kind of steel was required to support it, how it was anchored etc.  All of this equipment came from different companies and manufacturers, so a lot of time was spent simply gathering information!

#2 – I created a 3D computer model of everything that went into this area.  This allowed me to anticipate problems and interferences.  I could make sure that a water pipe wasn’t going to run into a steel brace, or that there was sufficient support points for an electrical cable tray. 

I’m happy to say that it worked very well!  Everything (thankfully) fit like a glove!  Here are a few more pictures of the area:

100_1086 In my computer model, I predicted that there would be only about 1 1/2 inches of clearances between these two steel members.  I was pretty close: turns out there was about 1 3/4 inches of clearance! Phew!


This piece of equipment was the hardest to find space for, and it gave me many problems.  It’s basically a massive air conditioner for the engine hall.  And I mean massive! Above it sits a filtered fan that supplies oxygen to the engines.  In between them was a total of about 6.25 inches of vertical clearance, and I fit a piece of steel that was about 6.15 inches deep in between them! Boy it was close!


This area is definitely a personal victory for me.  No one really notices when things go right, but I would have definitely heard about it had I screwed up! I did get some very good feedback from some very important people though: I was able to chat with one of the construction workers who actually erected this steel, and helped place all the equipment.  He told me how much fun they had erecting the steel in this area.  In his words, he said “when we saw the plans and all the equipment that was supposed to go in this area, we kept making bets and saying ‘no way is this going to fit!’, but just when we thought we wouldn’t be able to get this stuff in place, somehow it just fit! We couldn’t believe it! Everything fit! You guys did a great job!”  I don’t think I could’ve gotten a better compliment.  Too bad HE can’t give me a raise though . . .

To return the compliment: those guys are amazing! It’s one thing to design a Lego project, and another thing to actually put it together.  The fact that it went so smoothly speaks volumes of their skill and expertise!

Here are some other cool pictures of the steel!

100_1090 Another crazy connection!!



One bonus of my bugging the other departments for information: I found out that this random cable tray was going to be coming out of the building, and I was able to design some steel to support it! If I hadn’t asked, we never would have known about it, until they tried to install it!



I was told last-minute to design a platform to allow access for maintenance personnel!


Another electrical cable tray that had to be supported with structural steel.


I kept asking the contractor for feedback about my design, wondering what I could do to make my design better, and easier to fabricate and erect.  One thing he pointed out to me was this connection. He walked me over and showed me this and simply pointed out that there is a *#&$^%%-load of bolts in this area, and he had to tighten most of them by hand, since he couldn’t fit an impact wrench into that small area!  It’s something I never would have thought of had I not asked!  I’m going to change the design in the future so there’s more welding and less bolts in a location like this!


Inside the actual building that contains the engines!  They are big, massive, and produce the power that will turn on air conditioners all over North Texas!


Another random structure I helped design: a secondary containment for water, oil, and stuff called Urea (which I’m told doesn’t smell very good!)

100_0836100_0979  100_0978

This dog followed me around the site the entire time I was there.  No one knows who he belongs to, and he hangs around because all the construction workers feed him! I love dogs! Play with them a bit, let them tackle you into the dirt and roll around a bit, and you have a friend for life!

Anyway, it was a very fun, very educational trip.  I learn so much actually seeing what it is I design, so that in the future I can avoid little errors and continually improve my skills!


Oh PS.  If you ever go on a trip somewhere . . . make sure and email your itinerary to your family.  I got into the habit of doing that, just so people would know where I am, and BOY did it pay off!  Waiting at my hotel was a package full of Milky Ways, Reese's, and Kit Kat bars, courtesy of Janna! Woo Hoo! Thanks for the grub Janna! That was a very fun treat!


Brian Hanks said...

If I were you I would link to this specific blog post url on your linkedin account.

You might also consider putting some of these pictures and your learnings in your weekly email. Maybe even a special one-time email to Larry?

Great work!

Naomi Hanks said...

So cool to see what you do all day! I feel like I'm married to the smartest man alive. Also, I think it said somewhere in there (subliminally) that we need to get a dog! :)

Natalie said...

I'm really impressed! That's amazing that you know how to do all of that stuff. What a cool job to see something you designed come to life!

Justin said...

Kevin, This is so amazing! Thank you for sharing with us. I love learning about engineering projects like this one. My friend is a structural engineer and when we were in Jackson Hole last year he walked us through a building he designed. Way cool! I really liked your comment about people really paying attention only when things go wrong; so true.

Jennie said...

Sweet job Kev :) Love how everything just fits together. I especially love the Urea tank. You do realize that urea is a component of pee, right? Just thought you'd like to know :)

Erin Uda said...

Kevin, that looks amazing! What a talent you have. I can't wait to see what you come up with when you graduate to designing worlds! ;) Thanks for sharing!

Janna and Tyler said...

It's cool to see what you actually do! Sweet post!

Beccarigg said...

Dude! Most of the time I just think of you as a really funny guy who is a wicked awesome runner. Then I read this and remember your dang freaking smart too! Nice catch Naomi!!

Seriously though, great post and awesome seeing all the work that goes behind designing something like this. I thought it was funny that the dudes were making bets on whether it would all fit, and then it did! You got skills bro!

Oh and Janna is the coolest for sending you treats, maybe I should send her my address too, just in case...; )

Ioane said...

Kevin! It is so cool to know what you do for work. I am so impressed that you designed that structure. I also hear the builders were singing praises to your name. What a genius. Good job