3x2 Innovator logo


Ep003: Field Machining With Joel Wittenbraker of Mactech

The Industrial Innovators Podcast episode features a conversation between Don Cooper, an expert in laser inspection, and Joel Wittenbraker, a professional in the field machining industry. They discuss the advantages and applications of laser inspection technology, emphasizing its accuracy, efficiency, and ability to provide valuable data for maintenance and repair processes. The conversation highlights the importance of open-mindedness, clear communication, and leveraging expertise to achieve optimal results. Listeners are encouraged to consider laser inspection as a transformative solution for measuring and inspecting various surfaces.

Key Takeaways

Key Takeaways from the Podcast:

1. Laser inspection technology revolutionizes measurement and inspection processes in industrial maintenance and repair. It offers enhanced accuracy, efficiency, and data-driven insights, making it a game-changer in the industry.

2. Laser technology eliminates human errors and inconsistencies, providing precise measurements and reducing downtime. It captures comprehensive 3D representations of objects, enabling faster and more accurate assessments.

3. Laser inspection is versatile and applicable across various industries, including manufacturing, oil and gas, and aerospace. It aids in assessing critical components, detecting leaks, and ensuring structural integrity, among other crucial tasks.

4. The data generated by laser inspection provides valuable insights for proactive maintenance planning. Analyzing trends and patterns helps predict potential issues, optimize resources, and develop targeted maintenance strategies, ultimately improving operational efficiency.

5. Laser inspection enables data-driven decision making, empowering organizations to prioritize tasks, allocate resources effectively, and minimize unexpected breakdowns. It opens the door to a new era of maintenance and repair operations, maximizing productivity and reliability.

For a deeper understanding of the topics discussed, we recommend listening to the full podcast episode featuring industry experts and their insights on laser inspection technology.

Wyatt McPherson 0:00

This podcast is created and produced by Innovator. If you’re looking to cut back or eliminate hot work on your next job or for all of your industrial services needs, visit innovator.ca.

Hello and welcome to the Industrial Innovators Podcast hosted by founder and CEO of Innovator, Don Cooper. I am Wyatt McPherson. I produce this show, and this week we have got a longtime friend and business associate of Don’s with us, Joel Wittenbraker, president of MacTech. They discuss their long history together, technologies they’re utilizing in the field, where the businesses are at, and what they see for the future. So let’s hear what they have to say.

Don Cooper 0:41

Hey, everyone, it’s Don Cooper from the Industrial Innovators Podcast, and I’ve got our Podcast Producer Wyatt McPherson with us. Today, we have a longtime friend of mine from a company called MacTech, Joel Wittenbraker. Welcome, Joel.

Joel Wittenbraker 0:58

Thank you. Good to be here. Hi, Wyatt.

Don Cooper 1:01

So Joel, you and I have known each other for, let’s say, since the early to mid-90s.

Joel Wittenbraker 1:12

I would back that one up, so far. I mean, agreement.

Don Cooper 1:15

I think we first started working with each other a little bit in 94-95. And then I was at your house and your shop for the first time in the summer of 1996.

Joel Wittenbraker 1:27

Is that when I was? I remember you coming down, and I remember… Yeah, you all been trying?

Don Cooper 1:33

We tried to get into some trouble. I remember you took us out on your boat, and we did a little bit of writing down the length. Is that the Mississippi near you?

Joel Wittenbraker 1:56

Yes, and yeah. I think we had a few beverages from time to time, and I think you introduced me to jalapeno poppers on that trip, and I’ve loved them ever since.

Don Cooper 1:59

That was a fun night. We had fun. And then we had our barbecue over at Georgia Rich Creek. So we did… We did the kind of Bama party that they’re having for a bunch of hoity-toities, and we decided to show up on Saturday afternoon.

Joel Wittenbraker 2:14

We didn’t quite fit in with George’s more elegant crowd, I think that’s a nice way to put it.

Don Cooper 2:23

We didn’t get locked up, and I listened to Norah Jones the next week because all good.

Joel Wittenbraker 2:27

That was all good. So Joel, today we’re talking about MacTech’s application of using laser inspection integrated with field machining. Before we jump into that, why don’t you tell me, who is MacTech, and a little bit about the history of the business?

Joel Wittenbraker 2:50

Sure, sure. MacTech’s initial founding was in ’74 under the name of StressTech, which is in the heat treating business, on-site resistance heating treatment business founded by an individual basically as a sales rep. And it kind of grew over time. In ’85, MacTech was founded as an adjunct partner company with some co-ownership, some mutual ownership. And over time, MacTech has grown a lot more than the StressTech side. So MacTech became the king. MacTech was to do on-site machining. This was 1985, not much presence in the upper Midwest. People had to come from Chicago or further away to do any of the work in the power plants. And there was some power plant building going on and quite a bit of work in those, so kind of a niche situation. I met the company in the early ’90s, ’91-’92 timeframe, and just got to know MacTech. And then in ’93-’94, I could basically say that I was being adventurous, but I was looking for a job, quite honestly. And George said, “Come on up here,” the guy that owned MacTech, “come on up here and help me run this business.” And I did that in the fall of 1993, officially January 1994, thinking it was going to be a several-year gig. And today is quite a ways longer, 25-26 years later. Partner and I bought the business about 12 years ago, and we’re having some fun. Our business is mostly field machining, but we have a fairly strong presence in on-site heat treating business and a big presence in the offshore decommissioning and abandonment business, where we’re building diamond wire equipment to cut up structures offshore principally, but also in the civil market. So our business is profiled that we design and build equipment, and we sell that equipment to anybody that’s got enough money to buy it. We rent it to people that don’t have enough work to justify owning it. And if it’s not your area of expertise, we’ll do full field service, and the field service side of our business is the biggest portion of our business. It’s about 60% of our revenue, and sales and rentals are kind of 20-20 each, and 60-40 split between equipment and contract service. And that obviously moves around when you get a big lump, you know, this business… Not yet, you budget there’s going to be when you do your budgets as being a year, why? Well, there’s going to be a big chunk coming from over here. And so, “Well, how can you do that?” Because it happens every year. I don’t know where it’s coming from, but something big is gonna happen.

Don Cooper 5:35

It happened with us this month. You know, we’ve had a strange winter in Canada. Oh, you’re not that far away from us, really, in terms of the weather system?

Joel Wittenbraker 5:45

No, but nothing to stop it from down here. We didn’t. We had a bit of a milder December, and our winter business is more on-stream repairs, and then January started off mild, and then the bottom fell out. But instead of it staying cold, we’ve gone through this crazy roller coaster ride for six weeks where it got to minus 40, and then up to plus five, and then down to minus 20, and then up to plus 10. And I literally don’t know what to expect from the weather from day to day. And that was really weird to our business. And because normally, a sustained cold is what really drives what happens with online repairs. But I think all that yo-yo effect has finally made a lot of clients’ systems go pop because February has been unexpectedly busy in the repair side of the business.

Don Cooper 6:39

I think that’s right. I think those big swings and variances are just as strenuous as the extremes kind of deal. It’s hard on stuff. And we’ve seen the same thing. We had not big expectations. We try and not bleed too bad in the first two or three months of the year so we can make it in the middle. We had the biggest January that we’ve had in five or six or seven years. And we feel like we’ve got some pretty good momentum too.

Joel Wittenbraker 7:05

So you’ve been there 26-ish years?

Don Cooper 7:15

Yeah. And about halfway through that, you were like the Remington commercial. You liked it so much you bought the company?

Joel Wittenbraker 7:21

Yeah, kinda. I was… I’m a little different than Bob Kraft, but not that much.

Don Cooper 7:27

Well, I know you, you know, George moved on to another stage in his existence. And, yeah, enjoy water from the family.

Joel Wittenbraker 7:29

George had passed away, and I and his widow were in a very fortunate time. You know, big things happen in the onsite business. I mean, I view our business to make money every year, to be profitable, to have good margins, to keep full-time employees. We have some core tenets in our business. But it’s really also about being ready to grab that brass ring when it comes by, when you’re riding on the merry-go-round, that opportunity is going to show up, and you need to be prepared to grab it. And in the 2006 timeframe, Hurricane Katrina just crushed the Gulf of Mexico, remember, billions and billions of dollars of recovery money out there. And we happen to be in the right time with a fairly sizable bucket to collect a few of those, and that’s where we made our mark. We brought innovation and a different view to the game than what people were trying to do. They were trying to slug it out with technology rather than conform the equipment to the application. And so we got fortunate. And Rita, George’s widow, didn’t want any part of the business and said that we want to put it up for sale. And we came to an agreement on an offer and closed that in about literally about 60 days. We’re very, very fortunate. And from then, it’s been good things. We had a really hot run until BP Macondo blew up in the Gulf of Mexico, and everything went completely quiet from a very robust economy. But we had, I guess, fortunately, not that we were that smart, but we had put a lot of money back into the business. You know, we were making a lot of money in the bad economy in 2008, 2009, 2010. We were making money, people were struggling, we could buy equipment and add to our fleet and add to our manufacturing capabilities at a really great value. It’s like 40-50 cents on the dollar kind of things. And we took advantage of that. We kept growing our baseline, our onsite business, which we call like land-based or onsite, and offshore business went from six or $700,000 a month to nothing. We just kind of held our own, rebuilt, and now it’s growing again, and we’ve got a big international presence or so. So when BP had that blowout, it really impacted all offshore activity in terms of that part of our company. And did you–

Don Cooper 9:53

What’s down.

Joel Wittenbraker 10:03

I mean, it was just like they shut off the faucet, and there was nothing happening from a very active deal. And so that was also a lot of political action so that they saw things that they didn’t like the way that it was being managed with the permitting and stuff like that. And it wasn’t the cleanest deal, but the administration imposed a lot more rules on it. And though that was supposed to clean up things, it didn’t allow things to happen. It just bureaucratic mess. So, you know, took a while for that stuff to work itself out. You had a government. I don’t agree on all the time about how fast things should get done and when, but–

Don Cooper 10:47

I would say that as a general rule, I think all of North America can say that the government doesn’t exactly do efficient work.

Joel Wittenbraker 10:58

They do some really good stuff, and we should appreciate it and not be too negative. But their efficiency is not at the top of the list, I don’t think.

Don Cooper 11:07

Nor is speed. Now, not a ton of really successful entrepreneurs enter into the bureaucracy part of business, I think, right?

Joel Wittenbraker 11:18

So. I don’t think so. So, you know, just to kind of sum up MacTech, MacTech is a field machining business. And you’re manufacturing, renting, and performing field services in the areas of cold cutting, flange facing, pump face milling, diamond wire cutting, and that’s a lot of that is focused on offshore applications. And you’ve got other peripherals on that around prepping and line boring. But the mainstay of your business is a variety of cold cutting applications, flange facing, base milling.

Don Cooper 11:56

Yeah, I’d say that’s fair. I would say milling, pipe cutting, because that’s where we came from. So that’s our commodity item, which is great. We love it, you know, do a lot of it, pump milling. And we do a lot of line boring and actually have gotten into our biggest customer for the last three years, and probably for the next three years, as a shipyard in Wisconsin. You wouldn’t think that that fits together that well, but they were very active in US government littoral combat ship development and building program. And we do a lot of work on every one of those boats and actually have, for once, have a backlog. I mean, most people don’t give us any forewarning. But we’ve got the next six or seven ships contracted to do the field machining. And if–

Don Cooper 12:43

That’s the one good thing about government kinds of projects is, yes, exactly. They don’t move fast. But then they last forever, right?

Joel Wittenbraker 12:49

Yeah, they can last for a long time. And so I think this one is going to work. And we actually just picked up the whole benchmarking contract for the measurement side of the deal, which is basically where you set all the references in the ship as you build it. So right, we’ve never done that. We’re doing it in cooperation with a company that has been doing it for the last 15 years. We’re not, we didn’t, we weren’t brave enough to just take it on. But we married up with them. And we think, working together, we’re going to bring some real efficiencies. And we’re real pleased to learn a lot about that. So cool. Well, that kind of leads into what we’re going to talk about for a while, which is the integration of laser inspection and field machining. So why don’t you tell us what that is?

Joel Wittenbraker 13:31

Okay. Laser measurement is three-dimensional measurement capacity. It is wireless, so I can basically carry around a little mirrored ball, and a laser will follow me around, and I can touch off or it will take sequential readings by time or distance, meaning I can just carry this ball around, and I can measure things. And so I can measure in three dimensions or more technically. So I can measure the flatness of a large surface, I can measure the perpendicularity of surfaces, I can measure in-line lines of sight for bearing lines or shaft lines, just about anything you can think of, I can measure it. And this is valid up to about let’s call it a 50-foot radius. You can actually get longer than that, and you’re accurate, really to about a couple of thousandths of an inch. So it’s extremely accurate. It’s extremely flexible. As long as you can see it, you can measure it. And actually, you don’t even have to do that. There are ways to get around corners to measure things. You just pick up yourself or reflect around the corner. And so basically, it’s a technology that’s been around for quite a while. I can’t tell you exactly. I’m going to guess 30-20-30 years. It used to be very high focus, it was used a lot by people like Boeing to build airplanes and measure parts and critical parts. And we saw it and became familiar with it. We had a couple of Faro arms in our shop that we used for measurement. You know, again, it’s a portable coordinate measuring machine that you can measure the validity of a size or dimension or a part.

Don Cooper 15:36

That’s the firearm, that’s more of a physical measurement as opposed to a laser, right?

Joel Wittenbraker 15:40

Correct. Correct. That’s where I’m going to stay connected to my, my brain, my horse, my computer, whatever it is, I’m gonna stay connected via arm all the time. And the only real difference is, I get to carry this ball, this SMR, which looks like a big marble, you got something that looks like this is a, this is a fake SMR. Pelham, this is not the real thing. So but I can literally take this over, and I can touch this wall, I can touch it here, I can touch it here. Three points dictate a plane, or an AI can build a reference flat to the earth, for instance, which is what the machine is going to set up on. And in literally real time, I can tell you how flat that plane is, and how perpendicular it is to the earth, for instance. Right? That’s it. That’s exactly right, the SMR the arm, physical touch, I’d have to reach out here and it would be connected the whole time. And there are ways to jump that and establish a plan and move it and jump and stuff like that. But every time you do that, you’re adding up risk of error and stuff like that. And compound

Don Cooper 16:45

laser really allows this to be much more portable, take it into the plant, give you a lot more versatility in the ways that you’re using those flatness tools, right?

Joel Wittenbraker 16:56

Absolutely, absolutely. And you can you can, it’s versatile, it’s quick, it’s easy to gather data, it’s safe, in that there are some times that you physically don’t have to stand in a place where there might be some some risk or heat or things like that. You can literally put the they don’t like it when I talk like this, the laser techs but you put the ball on a stick and hold it out there. Yeah, and they have more precise terms for what that really is. It’s the SMR on our engagement

Don Cooper 17:30

area. I you know, I learned this whole technology from you. We started doing it because you and I did some projects together. And I thought, you know, you know, I’ve been I haven’t been involved in field machining quite as long as you but almost I think my first field machining job was actually with mactech in at at SAS power and boundary dam and 97 is when I was physically doing work. Before that I was uh, I was doing bolting and leak repair. And then we started working with you guys on field machining and been doing it now for 24 or 25 years or whatever. But you introduced me to laser flatness work relative to a different way of approaching field machining. And you know, for us, it’s for the clients who get it and have finally understood its value. It’s a game changer in terms of efficiency, productivity, accuracy, inspection, capability, documentation, you know, there’s a whole bunch of boxes that are checks that you know, that really drive efficiency and productivity on any project. Yeah. And

Joel Wittenbraker 18:47

I appreciate you saying that I got you into it. So it’s one of another one of those things is that Don says, Joel can figure this out who can’t be that tough. So that’s kind of,

Don Cooper 18:56

you know, I didn’t want to say that. I’m glad you did, but probably much like me that you didn’t figure it out. But you had a great group of people who figured it out.

Joel Wittenbraker 19:05

I just figured I just decided to do it before anybody that’s that’s

Unknown Speaker 19:10

and I was and I was being a copycat. That’s right.

Joel Wittenbraker 19:13

That’s not a copycat. It’s, it’s innovating in a different way getting there first so you don’t if you don’t take the experience and talent and success and drive it a little further then that’s it’s all about we like to that’s that’s a great description of dealing with customers and it takes a while to convert them oftentimes, we had online customer from in the shipyard ran the ship repair side of the equation for I don’t know 3040 years or something like that. And Terry would just say like, I don’t care if you if you bring a 30-foot bar out here to measure these two bearings and the Terry you’re wasting time and money. And finally I got him to say just let me do it. Trust me and we had a great relationship, a lot of trust. And from then on, it was like, Hey, Joe, bring that robot back out here, come home, get our t dt, D to back out here. And, and it worked like a charm we like. We like to talk about it when we talk to the customers that we call it the GPS of field services, you know, it’s really about just like in your car, pretty much you lay out the map of where you’re trying to get to, you take, you take all the references to tell you where you are right now. And you know where you’re trying to get to on that map. And as you go along, it’ll tell you exactly what’s been done or where you are, you can tell how flat how much material is left all kinds of differences where you are, relative to your coordinates and your specific datum. And when you’re done, you get another map and you give them a, this is what it looked like when you gave it to me. B this is what it looks like when I give it to you. And this is where we went all along the way. And you know, it’s a huge, it’s a huge tool for the customers that get it you know, and they do, it doesn’t take long, it’s harder to get on site. But once you’re there, and you’ve done it once or twice a day, they’re true believers, it’s pretty easy to come back with that process. And so and we’ve kept, we’ve probably got, I don’t know what the number is, I probably should know. And it doesn’t really matter if I know or not because I can make it up during this broadcast. But I’m gonna say we have about 200 jobs. With files on you know, where we’ve got the spatial analyzer file from the job we did start to finish in, and now you’re getting similar repeat jobs. While we pull that we know what it looks like, Man, what a selling point to walk into the customer, this essay report. So this is the kind of thing I’m going to give you for this. And by the way, I think we can be more accurate. And I can prove you more concretely more truthfully what your part looks like. And I think we’re going to be done in a day earlier than we used to do it, or the customer competitor doesn’t like, come on in, let’s give this a try. And they quit looking at your rates when you tell them things like that.

Don Cooper 21:58

Yeah, there’s, well, I’m gonna jump into a few interesting things we learned as we got more and more into this. But I just want to summarize for our listeners, you know, a couple of the use cases that we’re kind of talking about, you know, the one use case that we use this system on that I learned from you was specifically on a maintenance turnaround, they’ve got, you know, hundreds of components coming apart in terms of reactor flanges, heat exchanger components, in particular, all the channels shall tube sheet are gasket to components, you know, depending on the client’s you know, bolting and leak prevention program, they have some level of needing to dial those into a flatness. And the traditional way of doing that is, you know, using dial indicators that most people would be familiar with, if, if they understand, you know, mill rate and machining activity. And we’re eliminating dial indicators and all the time and energy associated with that, and adding a whole bunch of other value. The other application that we haven’t done so much, but I’ve seen you do it a little bit, is combining your laser system with, with pump base milling, both on setup and on, on actual performing the machining and final inspections. Why don’t you tell me a little bit about that?

Joel Wittenbraker 23:22

Sure. Great example, you’ve got to any kind of motor base or a pump base or anything like that is basically a big flat surface. And it’s got to be flat in reference to normally the world. But that’s not absolutely the case. And certainly not an engine foundation and a ship, it’s got to be flat in reference to what parallel the keel line is. But you want it flat, and then you got to have a specific height differential because all the parts you’re hooking together, you’re usually hooking a motor to a pump to something else in. So those have height differentials. So first of all, you got to be flat. And sometimes you have to have the correct height differential, oftentimes a shim. So you basically just pick that surface and identify how what the plane it is, what plane is it in right now, what height relative to where you need to be is it then then you can just use from that point, you can set your machine up to be parallel to the line you need to be in. And then you can use the literally use the tracker laser almost as an indicator, then at that point, it’s really your indicator because you’re zero, you know, you need to get to 50 or whatever the number is. It’s basically an indicator and a dry bow. Like you might use on a machine, a manual machine tool or machine tool in the shop. So it tells you where you are and your relative references when you get to call zero, whatever you want it to be and stuff like that. So we do that a lot. Big monoliths that,

Don Cooper 25:00

how is that different in terms of time, if you were doing that with, you know, a traditional field machining application on a pump-based job where you’re having to either shoot sightlines and or use dial indicators first to do all your setup and then to do measure all your finishing cuts, like just what what’s the efficiency created by using the laser?

Joel Wittenbraker 25:24

Yeah, I think the key ingredients are that you can identify what you have real fast, very quickly, I can show up and tell you what’s going on. And that’s really hard to do to give you a real field topography map with mechanical stuff. I mean, optics is a pretty cool way to do it. And guys, online guys that are really proficient at optics can get you pretty close. But the laser is really rapid to get you that initial roadmap. So that’s efficiency one, two, and then see, this is where this is where I’m gonna give you one of my secrets. Now, this is one of the big,everyone listened closely.

This is a good part, leaning a little closer. Okay. Mactech, we believe we’ve thought about this. And we’ve talked about this. And we’ve actually taken some oral lubrication to kind of expound and really think about this smart at times, over a couple of beers. We think one of the advantages we really have is we think like a manufacturer, right? And that means we’re looking at what does the end product need to look like? What is really, where are we going with this? So, and that’s one of the differentiating factors of why we integrated it because we were working with people who are really talented, metrologists, really smart, smart people, great reporters, but they were really all about data and numbers and making pretty drawings and stuff like that. And they would give us they would just be feeding us. But we didn’t know where we were really, stuff like that. So

Don Cooper 27:01

they didn’t have any context to what the output needed. To get to what the client needed for, hey, I need a flatness inspection. What does it need to be? I don’t know, I remember when we were first playing around with that system, and from the manufacturer. And you know, there’s a bunch of different laser systems out there. And, you know, I’m agnostic to what brand of laser you use, it’s really the application, what I found was that you get a hole in the report that comes out of the factory laser system doesn’t give you what you need for the application, you’ve got to develop the right tools and reports to quickly tell the customer Yes, No,

Joel Wittenbraker 27:41

exactly. So that’s exactly right. So you know, the other big efficiency that I’ve found, that we have found, especially on milling bases, and or, a lot of times, you’re not milling an entire surface, but you’re milling where four feet might sit or eight pads, or a series of pads relative to each other is historically all fields, most field machines would try and get the biggest meal you could get it would touch all the pads at once again, as much as you absolutely possibly can at once.

Don Cooper 28:12

And I’ve had dozens of field machinists work with for me with me over the years. And I might have three portable mills in my shop. And inevitably, every time they tell me, I need a different mill, I need something bigger it needs, it needs to be longer, it needs to be wider, because I’ve got a long stretch between the pads. Because they’re thinking like a dial indicator machinist.

Joel Wittenbraker 28:38

Absolutely, they think of one setup. And also usually when they get that great big honkin machine, they’ll spend about a shift or so setting it up because it’s 100%. A shift or so. Yeah, a lot on a lot on the soul part, right. But if you do, if you trust the laser, if you trust your tracker, and you have to or you shouldn’t use it, then I can set three smaller easier to set up machines and maintain data and play. So I’m games ahead of you. Even if you have a mill that covers every one of those pads. You’ve only got one spindle running, I can have two or three spindles running and and put more people to work if time is your deal. And

Don Cooper 29:23

if you use a few years a smaller mill and say you have three of them. It’s it’s way more economical than a huge gantry mill anyway. Absolutely.

Joel Wittenbraker 29:33

Absolutely. And we own and build gantry mills. We’ve got them out in the field all the time and stuff like that. But the flip side is you know, we can run that. And we can run another one over here. And you may not be live interpreting data all the time, but you don’t need it all the time. On the milling side, you’re just taking material off and come back and check and come back and check. So there’s a lot of spindle time. So that’s a big efficiency to really just jump in here.

Don Cooper 30:00

That’s an interesting use case because you just gave me such a huge idea, you know, with, you know, when we have pump-based jobs and our guys constantly say, oh, we need an eight-foot gantry mill because we because of the stretch between the pads. And I’m like, you know, how many mills have I bought from Joel over the years and they’re all in the shop? Can we not use one? And inevitably, there, you know, they’re going to go to rent one or bring it in from the US somewhere because there isn’t one available for where we’re located for the job. And the idea of using a smaller mill and using the laser to, you know, enable you to do all those with a smaller mill. It’s a brilliant application, I just learned something. And you go, I’ve known you all these years, Joel, and you taught me something new that I hadn’t considered before. I was always considering the setup of the large mill. And you just gave me a cool idea on teach and train tonight, you can

Don Cooper 31:01

well way easier to train someone on a small four-foot mill than it is an eight-foot gantry.

Joel Wittenbraker 31:07

And yeah, and you can prove it out and your shop, you know, put to put two pads welded something down 10 feet apart, and say, Guys, let’s put the Tommy you go get that one go. And Billy, you get that one going, here’s your payment, I’ll give you the data as you go. And all of a sudden, oh, the light bulb goes on. And then maybe they thought of it.

Don Cooper 31:27

So you know, I hope the audience gets value out of this because I’m going to take this segment of the podcast and have Wyatt cut it and give it to my field machining guys and say, Don’t ever ask me for a 10-foot mill ever again. If you don’t have a 10-foot, may you still need one, I’m okay with you.

Don Cooper 31:48

Well, maybe if I do 100 Small milling jobs, I’ll be able to buy one of those quarter-million-dollar fantasy. Not a problem. For sure. I always buy it from you anyway. So if I get one, it’s coming, it’s coming from you.

Joel Wittenbraker 31:59

I know, you’re pretty, pretty darn good about that side of the equation. So now, that’s uh,I will tell you that that’s a differentiating factor in our field too. In that we we have moved kind of into some different upper tiers in the field machining and milling and, and turbine work turbine work as we would like to call it North of the Border Battle. But we do it with a lot of the mills that we build that are lighter aluminum and mine are our larger competitors are building big ol heavy, I mean way in three, four or five times what our equipment weighs. And they just got that mindset that that’s what it takes. And I’m not saying they’re wrong. But I mean, our guys come back. So like it took just like you said, or so or so it took them two shifts to set up. We’re running for hours and stuff. I can’t take his we can’t take as much material per pass. It’s everybody who cares, because we’re, you know, our little our little tortoises down the road before they get up in the morning. So

Don Cooper 33:06

tell me, you know, we talked about flange spacing. And I want to tell you, I’ll mention a really interesting use case in a minute that you and I worked on together a few years ago. We’ve talked about pump base milling, you taught me something new, so I got to I got to talk to my elder friends more often because they obviously know more than me. And but that’s that’s a really cool application that I learned out of this conversation. Now you mentioned in the ship that you’re partner with someone and you’re doing a lot of coordinate stuff that that’s not specifically related to field machining, you’re doing other kinds of coordinate work.

Joel Wittenbraker 33:41

Correct. And it’s not specifically related to the laser tracker either. Some of them do some other metrological, but trelegy Yeah, measurement tools. It’s a different type of tools, where we’re comparing baselines hundreds of feet apart or above deck to below deck to. So we’re pairing up with those guys who have been doing the work. It’s one of those. It’s one of those efforts where the customer basically, shotgun marriage, this is all my field machining, these guys are doing a measurement, I only want to give one contract out. So you guys work together all the time. So you guys need to get along.

Don Cooper 34:23

So, you know, for the audience, I mean, I don’t know who all of our listeners are and who they will be in the future because our podcasts will live in Cloud Landia forever. But, you know, this is the industrial innovators podcast, so it’s likely a lot of process facility maintenance managers, turnaround managers, planners, and specifically, you know, guys, we’re dealing with piping, pipe fitters. We’ve got heat exchangers on the laser system relative to dialing and heat exchangers. The pumps are millwrights and machinists activity and fixed equipment engineers. But on this coordinate thing, we had an interesting application that came up last year. And it was different. It wasn’t it was for piping, but it wasn’t for flange flatness. It was we had a client at a nuclear power plant, who was changing out a variety of piping coming off of pressure vessels. And they wanted something way more accurate to take all their nozzle location geometry than surveying. And we actually use the laser system to shoot all of their exact measurements for all of their nozzle points. So when they cut out the old piping, they could, they could design and fabricate the replacing piping and get it ready to install with laser, literally laser precision. And it worked really, really well. And it was an application that we hadn’t really thought of entering into. But, you know, the client said, Hey, can you do this? And and that worked really, really well.

Joel Wittenbraker: 36:01
Yeah, and it’s, that’s a really cool application because they’re doing that piping, big pipe replacement, especially in the nuclear field. And, you know, they don’t want to spend as little time in there as possible around that piping, generally speaking. So yeah, if you can give an accurate fit-up, rather than trying to mechanically be in there, wrestling it and grinding it minute or whatever, then it’s a great application. That’s perfect.

Don Cooper: 36:28
So we’ve talked about it, we’re just kind of jumping around here a little bit in what we were planning on talking about a customer application. So give me some other examples of, you know, things I haven’t even considered with this. We’ve talked about piping, we’ve talked about coordinating some piping, plans facing on heat exchangers, pump base milling, what else do you got?

Joel Wittenbraker: 36:50
Two other areas that come to mind right away are in the shipyards. So in line boring applications, the propeller shafts generally come out the back of a boat, with a stern tube and a strip tube, or a larger boat. So that’s what’s holding the bearing for the prop shaft, and that’s coming off whatever the drive is. So there’s an engine on board, and a big piece of steel rod coming out the back with a propeller on the end of it. Well, those bearings have to be lined up, and there’s nothing really to reference, so to speak. So in a new build, it’s pretty cool. You just set that motor, pull that line, and you can do that. Again, it’s another instance where we used to try and pull longer and longer bars. We’re fortunate that, I mean, we’re a company that kind of I wish more people knew. But we own 24 and 30-foot-long boring bars in our rental and contract fleet. So there’s not a lot of people that can reach those bases. But you don’t have to, I think.

Don Cooper: 37:49
So it’s a similar strategy, similar to using smaller mills, isn’t it? It’s the same idea, the same time, smaller boring bar, and still be accurate across all of your bearing surfaces that you need to align.

Joel Wittenbraker: 38:03
Absolutely. And we just did that. We just did a job two weeks ago where we took a two and a quarter bar where historically we’d always had a four-six-inch bar. And we knew it was tight quarters. So instead of wrestling around, really struggling to get set up and spending a long time, let’s get in there and get set, and then just whittle away a little, take a little smaller bites, and do it quicker. And man, we’re in and out of there in a really good time. So bearing bearing and bearing alignment that comes off the prop shaft, the drive shafts that come off the rudders, which is the opposite orientation. Those all get torn up as the runners hit the ground. Over time, you need bearing alignment. Those are key ingredients in a ship. We do a lot. It’s a growing sector of our business in the manufacturing area, which is like the OEM people that are running presses and forging equipment and stuff like that. So that stuff takes a big beating. It’s a really wicked, tough environment. They’re pounding the heck out of it. They’re not good parts, and all of a sudden parts are coming up poor or breaking or whatever. Historically, this is where, you know, the good old boys would tell you what’s wrong, and you’d go fix it, and their machines still didn’t run. And this is absolutely the biggest value of a tracker or any kind of laser. You can go in and you can identify, maybe even against a set of drawings, you know where things are. You know, because you got things going in a lot of different directions and a lot of key coordinates. So are they really running perpendicular? Are the guides running true? And so we do, you take that survey and we do a lot of line boring for pockets and bearing fits and crankshaft fits on things like that, and then a lot of milling perpendicular and parallel to surfaces in the same product. So those are another area that we use the machines pretty, right? You’re really pretty. That’s pretty often dealing. We actually do a lot of inspection for reasonable inspection for those people to just come in and take a look at it. And they’ll say, like, “Why, I’m okay, it’s running good. I can take this offline next Christmas or whatever.” So they like it.

Don Cooper: 40:17
What about, we talked a little bit about nuclear, but what about anything else in power plants for customers who are in the power Gen sector?

Joel Wittenbraker: 40:26
Well, in power plants, there are other favorite applications, like boiler feed pumps or in pump deals where you’ve got a series of surfaces that have to be line bored for the pump shaft to go through there. And there are sealing surfaces within that pump that are perpendicular to that. And they’re usually set a known distance apart from each other. And you’re basically in a steel barrel. And historically, you’ve got to find the smallest guy, you’ve got the convenient ID mic, and you’re working with, you know, “I got a funny story.” Yeah, laying down in there, you got it. And then you’re trying but with, with the laser, you can go in, take that roadmap, set your bar in there, and you can still measure while your bar’s in there. You can reach in, you can reach six feet in with my famous ball on a stick and take those dimensions and know right where it is. And it’s like a dream. It just keeps you going way more productive and way more certain about what’s really going on.

Don Cooper: 41:24
We had a job about 10 years ago on a boiler feedwater recirculation pump, and the bearings, the sealing surfaces, they were worn out. This thing was at 14 inches. And my best available field machinist was bigger than me. Big Saskatchewan farm boy. Really great, you know, you know, he was what I call a maverick. Kind of or MacGyver kind of machine if he could figure out how to machine anything. And he learned a bunch from, who was your guy, your really awesome field machinist? They’re from Florida. Uzi fell, right?

Joel Wittenbraker: 42:09
If this gets around, there’s somebody on this podcast, and he’s a restorer, and he said, “I remember Uzi.”

Don Cooper: 42:16
Yeah, Uzi taught me more in a week than I’ve learned in the last 10 years in field machining. He was up in Saskatchewan with you, cutting pipe. That’s him and Glen, and they were teaching, you know, they taught me so much about setup. And we were cutting some pretty heavy wall steam piping, cutting out those turbines, turbans. And they were all compound bevels with transitions and bevels. And it was, you know, for a young kid that I was at the time, it was baptism by fire on heavy wall field machining with complicated bevel details, and Uzi taught me so much. And, you know, I’m so fond of him. But this other technician, you know, learned from Uzi on a few jobs that we did years later. And for anyone who’s listening to this, you’ll all know who Shane is. And a big shout out to Shane. I think he’s in Regina, Saskatchewan, right now. Love that guy. I’m hoping to get him back with us come turnaround season. He got closer to me than you, he could just tell ya.

Don Cooper: 43:21
I mean, he could probably throw a rock and reach Redwing from Regina.

Joel Wittenbraker: 43:25
Come on down, we’ll show you around. But we had a 14-inch boiler restart pump. And he, he’s bigger than me. And I’m a size 50 kind of jacket. And Shane had to squeeze inside this pump. We had to take a 20-inch flange face and actually cut the bar off to fit it in there. So we actually had to do that, you know, cut off the bar and rebuild the machine. And then to dial the machine in, he had to use a whole range of articulated arms to kind of find a reference point for his dial indicator. And it took, you know, it probably took him a half an hour to machine the surfaces. It took him two days in setup.

Joel Wittenbraker: 44:08
And it’s really still guessing. It’s just really hard, it’s hard to pull that trigger and start taking a chip because, you know, stuff can move and it’s, oh yeah.

Don Cooper: 44:15
He had very small landing surfaces for his legs on that machine. And, Becky, in addition to cutting off the arm, he had to sharpen all the legs on the machine to do a narrow point for the small landing surface that he had to mount on. And anybody, you know, as you start talking about power Gen pumps, and this wasn’t staged, I didn’t know what you were gonna say, just instantly another job popped into my head, gone. I’ve got another application that would be awesome.

Joel Wittenbraker: 44:43
It’s absolutely the ticket when you get into that situation. I mean, we’ve had some other situations where we’re measuring a press that they couldn’t take it completely offline, so it was still like 300 degrees, and we were reaching back in there. Well, you can’t put a person in there to really take any measurements at 300 degrees. He’s not someone that you’d like, not and I got some people that would like to volunteer for that. But I mean, we could, we’ve done some stuff like that. And, you know, tight quarters is really cool, it’s really critical. And yeah, it’s fun because you can measure a pinpoint versus a 16-foot flange, you know. So, and we’re using big flanges. You talked about the heat exchangers. And that’s just classic, I mean, that’s just can take, you come out here and measure everybody’s heat exchanger, all the huge changes on the planet, in a day or two, where you’re used to be three or four hours apiece, and you’re guessing if whatever you end up with because it’s only as accurate as whenever you’re spinning. If your machine tool’s out, you’re just reading off of a bad spot.

Don Cooper: 45:46
I think the other thing, and we’ll just dive into that a little bit, we did that, we’ve done two or three jobs for this client in Sarnia, Ontario now. And, you know, this client has their own specification on heat exchangers to dial in and check all their flatness because they’ve got a really high spec relative to leak tightness on startup. So, you know, their approach was having, you know, a small army of field machinists setting up pieces of field machining equipment, dialing them in, and trying to, you know, get flatness checks on what, you know, literally was 300 more than 300 heat exchanger components. And, you know, my approach when I kind of looked at this was like, a few things. One, you can speed up that inspection so that you could actually do all those 300 surfaces. It’s probably physically impossible, a 20 or 30-day shutdown, with, you know, you might only have, you know, a 10-day window when you can actually do all those checks because, you know, we’re only doing the checks. So the Boilermakers can do their work to do the repairs and cleaning on the vessels. The whole project isn’t to check the flatness, it’s a small window in the schedule, right? A 30-day shutdown, the client may only have, you know, in sporadic form as equipment comes apart, 3, 5, 7 days to do all that kind of work throughout the whole schedule. And it’s just physically impossible. Plus, the thing that I really realized is, you know, if you’ve got a 60-inch piece of field machining equipment and a couple of machinists tied up, now, you’re, you know, you’re spending, you’re tying up assets that should be used just for cutting metal. So, you know, my thinking around it when we really started to talk to clients about this was, we can do a lot more inspections, we can do it faster, we can do it more accurately, and we can free up field machining resources to actually machine the things that are damaged and need repair. Here’s the crazy thing that we discovered that we hadn’t thought about from the client’s point of view was the indirect cost associated with heat exchangers and repairs and whatnot. So the minute that they have to consider dialing in, they can’t always do it right there at the work location or at the heat exchanger wash bay. They’re paying for material handling and cranes to load components, put it on trucks potentially, to try to keep up with that workload and move some of it to machine shops. They’re losing control of those assets because in some cases, they might be leaving their site. But the client said to me in the project that we did, the first one we did over 300 surfaces, and we did it in six or seven days. And some helpful things that were interesting: one, we found about 10% max that dialing in, the dialing-in methods didn’t find. And we also found out that about 10 or 15% of the things that dialing in said were out of spec weren’t. The client had a flatness rating of plus or minus 10 thousandths of an inch, so a 20-thousandth range. And they had some stuff that the field machinists had called as a defect using dial indicators that, you know, what we found is they were within spec. They were within 10-12 thousandths. And they were calling them out at above 20 and then putting them on the machining list. So, there were some interesting things around accuracy and speed that we discovered. But the really crazy thing was what the client told us at the end. They saved $250,000 in material handling costs or not having to move equipment around that didn’t need to be checked with dials and didn’t need to go to a machine shop. And I hadn’t really thought about the indirect cost of having to move, you know, transport in trucks and cranes. That’s really an interesting other value proposition that was outside of the value of we could inspect everything that they needed and make sure that there was nothing missed because of accuracy.

Joel Wittenbraker: 50:13
Exactly, you know, you’re, you’re tying up that crane just to pick the machinery and do exactly the field machining. Not just moving your bundle or whatever, but a percentage.

Don Cooper: 50:23
Not a lot of people out there are going to be lifting a 60-inch, and it’s pretty

Joel Wittenbraker: 50:29
easy, and a 60-, 70-, 80-inch ring machine or OD mount machine. It’s also real easy to put that into a slight pretzel, which is visible, not visible, but yet 10 or 15, 20 thousandths, a hump. And then your readings are all screwed up. And not to mention the conflict that you have of the guy measuring it being your potential machinist. I mean, if you let me measure them, like that mechanic, I think they’re all out. We don’t even need to put their hair on.

Don Cooper: 50:57
We all know that the field machinist is going to make a judgment call, Hey, I’m here, it’s our 12 thou. And we’re going to call it out to say what? Because we’re already set up, we might as well spend three hours machining it and get it.

Joel Wittenbraker: 51:10
Exactly. You want to just go and cut it or you want to just let it leak? Okay, your choice, you know, but that’s exactly right. The other place on the flanges where we’re seeing some good traction, it’s a big opportunity is crane pedestals. Those are big circles that are hard to measure flatness. And so not only do we use the laser, but we decided to build a machine. We built a couple of flange faces that would go out to 20-25-foot diameter to machine those and, right, same thing, and measure them, cut them, inspect them, get out of there. And so that’s a big opportunity. And, you know, that comes up on loading areas and also comes up in heavy equipment, you know, up on the big draglines and stuff. There’s some big stuff out there, big opportunities.

Don Cooper: 51:56
You remember that Millennium operator project we did 20 years ago, you did all the treatment on? Yeah, well, you know, on those kinds of oil sands locations, they’ve got these large coke drums. And they’ve got these large dump nozzles on the bottom that are 60 to 80 inches in diameter. And they’re inverted upside down. And I remember on construction, they had some warpage on them from when they fired those vessels for heat treatment. And they had an Inconel overlay. So not only had to set up on the machine to dial it in inverted, then you needed to try to figure out how to machine it. And I just think, you know, I would have loved to have a laser, you know, back then, you have a shoot those because they didn’t just have flatness issues because it had become distorted through heat treatment. Some of those flanges became oval as well because they hadn’t secured them during a fuel fire on those vessels. So, but an inverted flange is just another great way to, at least you can shoot it and know which ones you have to machine and have really great accuracy.

Joel Wittenbraker: 53:11
Rather than logging 2,000 pounds upside down, standing underneath it, I mean, at risk, pulling things through the vessel. It’s a mess. But yes, huge advantage.

Don Cooper: 53:20
So let’s talk about the R&D and sort of the development, you know, where you guys started with this, and what kinds of obstacles you had and how you kind of overcame them and where you’re at today, just in the using the technology to get the best productivity and value along with. Sure.

Joel Wittenbraker 53:43

Well, we started because we saw other people doing it, you know, and then we would hire people as our subcontractor to be our guide. Basically, that’s what the laser guys are doing. They’re our guide. And over time, we realized that, man, we just aren’t efficient trying to bid work and be ready to do work without knowing if those people, those groups, or those teams are available. Will I get the same person? Do they understand what we’re trying to do? So from a consistency and productivity point of view, we said, you know, we want to be in this game. So we put it on our list to buy a laser tracker and set the money aside. But unlike me, I didn’t just go buy it and try to figure it out. We said, you know what, this won’t work until we have a power user. We need somebody to own this as a power user. So weKind of need it the right way.

Joel Wittenbraker 54:43

Yeah, exactly. That’s exactly right. We built a seat on the accountability chart and started building processes. We need somebody to sit in a seat, and currently, there’s nobody in our organization. Even though we would have trained them, I don’t get paid to train them. That’s fine, but we just didn’t have anyone. So I worked with Pharaoh, who we were pretty certain we were going to buy from. We talked to the three major suppliers, looked at the plusses and minuses, and whiteboarded why you’d want to go with one or the other. And we were pretty certain it was going to be Pharaoh. And I let the Pharaoh sales guy know that I want to hire somebody. And Mike, if you want to, I mentioned you or someone who looks like you or whatever. And luckily, there was a guy who came out of a company going through restructuring, and he had done a lot of precision work. His name was John, and he came down here and kicked it off. We gave him a checkbook and said, “Here, go buy the laser, the software, the laptop, or whatever you need and take good care of it.” He’s a really smart young guy and did well with us. You know, almost everything we do is a two-man operation. We rarely send a person out alone. We’ll send someone out to train with a rental equipment supply for demos if we have a long-term relationship with a customer. Sometimes we’ll just be part of their crew and send a person. So the reason I mentioned that is because for pure measurement jobs, it’s a two-man job. We started sending people out, and Wes from our engineering and drafting department picked up on it. He went out with John a few times, and he just kept grasping it. Over time, John decided to do his own thing. He was having a baby and other reasons, so it wasn’t a good fit for him. But he left on friendly terms. Wesley took over and has been doing it for about eight or nine years now as the lead guy, training our other guys. He has built a really solid training program. So the foremost aspect is finding the right aptitude and the necessary skill set. We look for people with an architectural viewpoint who think in three dimensions, such as draftsman. We also like millwrights because they’ve been taught to think in three dimensions. Younger, millennial, computer-oriented individuals generally pick it up easier. Computer skills are a key ingredient for success in this field. So first, we find the right people. Second, we choose our software. There are several different options available for field use, and we settled on Spatial Analyzer (SA) as the most versatile and powerful for the depth of work we want to do. We send our guys to SA training once a year, and SA also comes here to train us. We also hire Pharaoh to come here for two days and teach us the fundamentals of running the laser. We put five or six people in that training program. So it starts with field repetition, and then we begin building templates in SA. We push to build templates for different applications like milling, align boring, etc. This way, when a task is repeated, we’re filling in the blanks rather than figuring it out anew each time. So it’s about leveraging established talent, equipment, and proven methods and taking the next step to work with the onsite machining people from start to finish. That’s what fits our parameters. Another important aspect is that our guys don’t just run lasers; they also operate milling machines. While they may not always be the point person, some of them are capable of leading milling or line boring projects. They spend part of their time making chips. It’s not just about integrated services; it’s about having an integrated crew.

Don Cooper 59:14

Absolutely, absolutely. So the technology involves staying on top of the software, even though it’s ridiculously expensive. We spend way too much money on that software. Having a cloud-based system that allows for remote diagnosis is really important. We didn’t have that before, but now it’s much easier to see things, communicate, and sort things out. When a tracker acts finicky, it’s a robust but delicate tool, so being able to diagnose issues from another location is valuable. We have guys who can talk their way through problems. So that’s pretty much it—staying on top of things. We keep in touch with Pharaoh; they come by every four months or so to try and sell us more stuff. We appreciate it, but we’re content with what we have. We have older versions of the equipment, and they work well. There may be some nice features in the newer ones, but they’re not essential at the moment.

Joel Wittenbraker 1:00:24

That’s right. You need to have context for your applications, right?

Don Cooper 1:00:27

Absolutely. Let’s talk about reports. How and when do you provide a report to the customer, say, for a heat exchanger? What does that process look like?

Joel Wittenbraker 1:00:39

It varies a bit. We try to identify the customer’s expectations at the beginning because, again, we learned the hard way. Sometimes you go in there, and the guy thinks you owe him every piece of data, and writing a real report takes several hours of work to put it all together in a format that we’re comfortable handing to the customer. But if they just want specific readings, like 15 or 40 readings around the plant, we can fill those out and provide them in a spreadsheet. If they want a more comprehensive report that covers the entire process and that they can rely on for productivity, efficiency, project management, or plant operations, we’ll probably charge them for that. We would spend 8 to 10 hours putting it together and reviewing it in-house before handing it over. So it can be a simple readout like a bridge versus a digital readout, or a more elaborate three-dimensional representation using SA. We can generate nice color charts that show highs, lows, and variances. The type of report varies depending on the application and the customer. It’s important to be clear that not every piece of data we collect is automatically provided. We need to know the customer’s goals and what they’re trying to achieve. We’ll provide all the relevant data to help them accomplish their objectives, but it’s important not to get lost in excessive data without a clear purpose. We want to ensure that we’re delivering what they expect to receive.

Don Cooper 1:02:37

For us, when it comes to heat exchangers, we consider the customer’s existing practices. Many customers are used to using dial indicators and have their own quality management programs with specific reports that require 10, 20, or 40 indications of flatness. Some want measurements from inside to outside, while others need height reports for race faces or bolt circle measurements. So what we do is build templates based on their requirements. If the customer wants 35, 24, or 36 data points, we provide them with those points and a go/no-go evaluation during the turnaround. They want to know if machining is needed or if it’s good to go. To achieve this, we’ve created a template to import data from the laser into a reporting tool. It instantly formats the data according to their report format. Our report shows red or green, indicating whether it passes or fails based on their criteria. We can provide it to the reliability engineer or inspection team, allowing them to take immediate action and adjust the schedule during critical turnaround phases.

Joel Wittenbraker 1:04:08

Absolutely. That’s That’s exactly right. So you got to green, yellow or red, red is clearly in violation. Green is go and yellow is kind of muddy, it’s your call, we’re not making these calls. Because I know like yourself. We’re not in an engineering game. We’re not We’re not making these decisions. We’re just giving you solutions to solve the issues that you have. Your engineers are deciding their driving. Yeah,

Don Cooper 1:04:33

well, you know, a lot of most clients that we work with have some, some don’t. And you know, we’ll give them recommendations to go to like ASTM E PCC One bolting guidelines or something that gives them some reference points. But most clients will have some level of a specification on flange flatness that says, you know, you know minus zero plus 10 or plus or minus five or plus or minus 10 thousandths of an inch. And then we just add up our reports for them based on the mimic their, their flatness guidelines.

Joel Wittenbraker 1:05:06

Yeah. And just Yeah, exactly just hope that somebody has looked at something real world, rather than some 24 year old engineer that took it out of the manufacturing specs and thinks you’re gonna,

Don Cooper 1:05:15

you know, we’ve you know, I’ve found some, you know, interesting specifications over the years that I, you know, I had to call out and say, you know, hey, Mr. Customer, your bolt loads are way too low, or they’re way too high. Or, you know, you’re, you know, this idea of getting zero everywhere on a flange means you’re going to be machining everything. You’ve got to have a practical answer for the goal of what your leak tightness program is, and, you know, and the risk profile and the probability of a leak on 150 pound utility system versus a 900 pound steam system or a sour line, each one of those should have some height or criteria. Yeah, and I think,

Joel Wittenbraker 1:06:00

I think one of the really cool things about the whole laser system is it keeps you honest, I mean, there’s not a, there is some play in how you set the reporting function. And you can manipulate that by what your best fit planes and stuff are. But generally speaking, if you have a starting point, and you agree that with your customer or your people in your personnel, it keeps you honest, there’s not a lot of interpretation.

Don Cooper 1:06:25

I love the transparency of it. Because Absolutely, let’s face it, a dial indicator can move intentionally. Yeah. Right. And so I think it should give the customer a higher level of confidence that the data that they’re getting is valuable and accurate. Hey, let’s just jump into some frequently asked questions on the water, when customers are looking at this or talking to them, you know, what are the things that they’re asking?

Joel Wittenbraker 1:06:51

It’s the norm. What, where did it? Where’s it always started? What’s this cost? How much is this gonna cost me? Why do I want to do this? And then then you get the good ones? Like, can I align the front end of my car with this?

Don Cooper 1:07:07

There’s always some guy in the room who figures out how he’s going to use it at his house tonight. Right? Exactly.

Joel Wittenbraker 1:07:14

He helped me hang drywall in my basement with it, stuff like that. Yeah, I can’t. How much is it? How accurate? Is this thing? Really? You know, is it really that accurate? And we’ve just handed the specifications to the manufacturer, calibration certs and say, Yeah, this is, this is it, you know, and here’s our process that we follow, and stuff like that. And we just turn it back to let’s talk about the project. Let’s not talk, let’s not just talk about laser measurement, let’s talk about what your end goal is, what is the product? What? And just, it’s just we repeat it all the time. What does done look like to you? What does it look like? What do you want it to be? What are those parameters? Are they real? How are you going to test them? So, you know, there’s the people that are really green, I’ve never seen that or something like that. They’re either very skeptical or they want to use it for everything, they just think it’s a cure-all for everything. And we just kind of have to tone that down. And the people that have been around it, or heard of it and seen it, start picking up on it, that it’s a good tool. And you know, we’ve converted a lot of people, I’m sure you have to. That once you get it going, the fact that we can be right there to do the corrective action as needed for machining your flanges out or not out, your line bore is out or not out. And so then that all kind of just dovetails together. And we can do that on a moment’s notice. Basically, you know, we can show up and, you know, we have some big advantages, we own 600 assets, 700 assets in our field machining category, you know, and it’s way more than we use, but that’s okay. They call me Fred Sanford around here, I just keep collecting more and more stuff. And I like it. So we can show up, ready to

Don Cooper 1:09:12

build businesses about having those assets available when you need them. Right. You never know which one it’s going to be.

Joel Wittenbraker 1:09:16

Exactly the time when it shows up and maybe once a year, once every two years, but it feels good, then, you know, we can show up and be ready and that gives us, you know, owning all those assets gives us some flexibility on charge rates and stuff as well. I mean, there’s not always that we have to based on the level of businesses out there right at that moment. We don’t have to charge you full rate for standby equipment, just in case and stuff. So I think it gives us a big advantage and, you know, you just, you know, it’s kind of the old golden rule. So, you know, you treat them the way you want to be treated. You agree on what the end result really needs to look like. You’re totally transparent about how you’re going to get there. You own up when you screw up because stuff’s gonna happen in this business, you know, that’s

Don Cooper 1:10:02

$1 dollar for dollar. I mean, if you know in every market is different, but if you’ve got a $2,000 a day piece of field machining equipment, and you’ve got a $2,000 a day laser, you’re gonna get 20 times more work done for flatness checks with a laser than you’re ever going to get with a piece of field machining equipment. Absolutely. You got to factor in the improvement in productivity, what you’re going to get done with. It’s the right tool for the job. And I haven’t run exact numbers on it. It depends on the size of the piece of field machining equipment and the size of the client asset that you’re measuring. But it’s at least a 10-to-1 value that you’re creating using the laser.

Joel Wittenbraker 1:10:45

Just enormously huge and also, that’s all total efficiency of staging equipment, where the work needs to be done, sort of like you’re talking about multiple Mills, or putting that big ring machine or that flange face or whatever, where the flange needs to be cut, rather than sitting there waiting for it to tell you if it needs to be cut or not. So

Don Cooper 1:11:09

we spent years trying to figure out how to build a little dial-in spider so you didn’t have to use field machining equipment, and then how accurate those things are. And, you know, this solves all that so that you no longer have to build an arm with a shot bearing and separate islands, right.

Joel Wittenbraker 1:11:29

So that you can’t touch, so it’s just, you’re right, I mean, it’s safer, it’s faster, it’s more productive. It is absolutely the right tool for the purpose. It’s extremely versatile. So I don’t know, it’s really fun. I wish we used them even more than we do. But it’s a growing sector. We job categorize everything that we do, you know, by sale rental or contract, and whether it’s machining, heating combined, offshore, then and lasering. Laser gets an X in our job coding. So, we let the original guy pick. You said you want M, M is taken for machining. S is taken for heating, for stress. What do you guys, I don’t want X that’d be cool. So is the extra, you know, an X jobs are about, they’re about 20% of our contract work, our field machining work now, but that’s that includes M X, some of them are pure X, but

Don Cooper 1:12:27

some are, some are laser with machining. Right, right, right.

Joel Wittenbraker 1:12:30

Some of them, a lot of that’s because of the big, big Marinette Marine in Wisconsin, where we do our biggest customer where we do have a lady who just lives up there.

Don Cooper 1:12:41

In Canada, it’s still relatively new. We’ve got a couple of customers who literally book us two years in advance for their turnaround. And then we’ve got other customers that, you know, we have to talk to them about it, maybe 10 times. And then finally, they realize, you mean I can dial all this stuff in and not have to do all the field machining, and some light comes on, and they go, oh, there’s a better way to do heat exchanger work on a shutdown. And then, and then, and then they try it. And then once they try it, and you work out in advance how their reporting system is going to work, and you start handing them 5-6-10 dial-in reports in a shift, they don’t go back. Yeah, but it’s like any technology, right? With it, there’s an awful lot of hearing about it before they decide this is a way better way for me to drive efficiency in the critical path of my terminal, because it’s not really about not really about the laser, it’s really about two things: you know, how can I inspect all the surfaces so I don’t get a leak? And, you know, how can I do it as fast as possible? Because let’s face it, on a shutdown, they’re in the critical path, and, you know, inspection is important, but they want to get it inspected, repaired, and put back together.

Joel Wittenbraker 1:14:01

Absolutely, absolutely, and, you know, you have a consistency factor too. Because no matter what you say, if you’re mechanically checking, there’s a touch factor that’s involved and compared to if the ball is touching and…

Don Cooper 1:14:15

You know, there’s potential for a lot more inconsistency with human error, right? Sure, sure. So what should customers think about, you know, that they’re, you know, and questions they should ask or things they should be asking themselves, that they’re not really getting?

Joel Wittenbraker 1:14:34

Anything they really need to think about is where are they kept MacTech’s phone number? That’s really…

Don Cooper 1:14:40

We’ll get to that at the end of the podcast, and that’s specifically for US customers. There’s another number for our northern friends. Your northern brothers, you know.

Joel Wittenbraker 1:14:53

What they really need, what they really need to think about is, is clearly, kind of knowing what they’re trying to know. They need to have their stuff together, that they know what the end really is gonna look like, and then come to the kind of table ready to describe that project or that process or that end product, clearly with us, to get into a dialogue. We really want to engage with the customer to talk about how we’re going to do it and what their expectations are. You know, the guys that just send you a pile of prints and say it’s in there, the dimension is in there. Well, you know…

Don Cooper 1:15:38

who you’re getting that from, sometimes that’s a planner who has 1500 binders of paper, and he wants you to take this piece off of his plate, right?

Joel Wittenbraker 1:15:45

Yeah, exactly. So, but you know, what I really want them to think about is, I’m going to call these guys because you well, because we have three uniques in our marketing program. We are familiar with the US process, Donnie, and I am. And our three uniques in our marketing program are: we have excellent people and equipment. That’s number one. We put together great folks and great gear. Secondly, and this is the real driver, is our expertise is built upon experience. This is not engineering philosophy. This is not theory. This is not, I mean, all those things are factors. But it really comes about, this is stuff we’ve done before, and we’re going to do it again, but probably a little bit better. And our third unique is we are absolutely passionate about giving the customer the right answer. So, you know, everybody’s got some of those. But we really feel like we’ve got the market cornered as anybody that’s got all three of those in one bucket and stuff. Sorry. So that’s what we want people, we want people calling us because they’re going to have a dialogue with us, they’re going to have a discussion with us about what is a good way? What’s the best way? What can I expect? We’re going to shoot them straight, you know, everything we do is we’re trying to build our customers up to the level that our tagline right now is, we’re the first call. That’s what our tagline in the company is. That’s what flies on the banner around here, is just the first call. And that’s what we wanted to do, run the call us. And huge strength, tell us what the expectations, what the requirements are. And we’ll do the same back.

Don Cooper 1:17:29

I’ll tell you, I’m one of your uniques about building on experience, I think is what you described it as. You know, what, you know, I’ve been friends a long time, but I’ve been your up in your client for a long time. Yeah. And, you know, that idea building on experience and consistency, if you call a lot of other organizations, there’s someone different there every three years, it seems, in a lot of cases. I love calling MacTech. Because I know I can get a hold of you. A lot of other people might can’t, but I didn’t know how to get you. And, but, you know, I know that, you know, you guys are constantly learning, and you’re constantly driving innovation. And I’ve been calling you for, you know, a quarter century now. And I always get the same kinds of value and the same kinds of collaboration. That’s really important. Because, you know, knowing what you know, and knowing that you’re, I want you to be smarter than me at this.And that’s why I surround myself with people that are smarter than me.

Don Cooper 1:18:33

Yeah, well, you and I do both the same things. We just know the right questions to ask. I don’t necessarily mean being smart.

Joel Wittenbraker 1:18:39

As being able to identify smart people and smell bullshit. That’s kind of expertise.

Don Cooper 1:18:45

For me, you know, what, how customers need to think differently about leveraging laser inspection is they kind of got to be open-minded to thinking differently than how they’ve ever thought about measuring anything, because they are, because they’re used to having to put a lot of dial indicators, maybe a team of millwrights on something, and it taking a couple of days. It’s a pretty big paradigm shift to think that you can do that in a half an hour with two guys and have better information. And so, you know, the ways that you can leverage it and the way you can actually do your work is totally different. You know, I’ve got clients today. And, you know, we’re planning about five shutdowns right now. And several of those clients are still thinking about dial indicators, and they’re listing on their packages, you know, we’ve got the seven heat exchangers that are leaking, and our fixed equipment guys have some concerns about these too. So we want you to not, we want you to put those nine on the field machining checklist. And, and then what happens is, you know, that becomes the critical path, and you know, and it takes up a big chunk of their schedule because they’re not even thinking outside the box that we could check everything for less time than it would cost us to dial indicate those ten pieces of equipment. And, but so they got to think differently about it. And that takes a, you know, it’s like going from having a disk drive to, as you said, it being in the cloud, it changes the way that you can leverage that technology. And literally, you know, the way I see it, if you’ve got ten heat exchangers that are leakers that you’ve got to dial in and see if it’s a flatness issue, or I mean, if it’s a visual, you know, wire-cut flange or something that’s obvious on visual, but if it’s a flatness issue, and they want to dial them in as part of their process, you can do that in 20th of the time and then check a whole bunch more stuff while you’re at it. Because you know, more often than not, it’s that new leak that comes up because they didn’t check something, because it wasn’t on their watchlist. Yeah.

Joel Wittenbraker 1:20:56

I think that’s right, Donnie, and I think one of the other things that, you know, you’re dealing with a lot of operating people, operational people that have got a lot of experience, I mean, smart people, and they think they know what’s wrong, and they think they know how to fix it and stuff like that. And, and they, I’m not saying they’re wrong, because they’ve been writing an awful lot for the last 10, or 20, or 30 years, they’ve been doing this. But if you come in with a laser, especially on some things, you’re gonna get a full body scan, you’re not just gonna get an x-ray of the elbow that’s bothering you that the guy’s already personally diagnosed that the problem is my elbow, you’re gonna get a full body scan, it’s going to tell you a lot of data that’s open and clear to interpret and work with. And it’s completely different. And sometimes, sometimes those guys aren’t comfortable with that. They don’t necessarily, because they, they want to be the smart guy and the expert, or they’ve always done it this way, you know, it’s, it’s the same old handpan that they’ve used forever. So, but what ends up happening is that is the clients who jump on and say, I want to do this, they become the smart guy because absolutely, they’re the one who brought, they brought it into the plant and changed the way they do things, right? Yeah, well,

Don Cooper 1:22:08

I’m not, we don’t have any money in our company that when we prove the customer wrong, we don’t run through the plant waving reports around, we give them to him and let him prove how smart he is. You know, that’s, it’s his report. He’s the one that’s going to do something with it. And, and, you know, that’s kind of an old guard resistance naturally and stuff like that. But you get them to think about it and talk about it, then you’re like, oh, okay, and then you start giving them data and information. And, and man, they become converts really quickly, you know that, like I said, Terry used to, the shipyard, like, get our to DT, who out back out here, I need you next week.

Don Cooper 1:22:44

Yeah, he never, you know, he, that’s all he needs to know is it’s our duty to.

Joel Wittenbraker 1:22:48

Remember, pretty much the same guy that our guys used to go out with, with job log or daily log checklists. And, and sometimes they’d have a survey, you know, Terry, do you want to fill out the surveys, and I don’t even know, now, I’m sorry, I got Joel’s number, I gotta call him. So there you go. So.

Don Cooper 1:23:08

We’re kind of running to the end, probably even over our time a little bit. And any final thoughts on this subject on laser inspection that you want to throw out to the audience?

Joel Wittenbraker 1:23:20

No, it’s just probably pretty repetitive, you know, get an open mind. Look for the goal. Look for the End Zone first, where are you trying to get to? What does the part look like? Find a reasonable path, not necessarily the fastest path, but a reasonable path that hits both the time and accuracy requirements that you have. Train people, and make sure that they’re honest and open to interpretation and share that data, and share it with the customer and get the expectations all in line at the front end. I mean, it’s classic sales, it’s classic deal, but spend your money and your time on the people that are going to run it, so you get really smart people that are passionate about it, and they like doing it, educate the people around them, so they’re familiar with it, and then go like heck.

Don Cooper 1:24:11

Right. So my final thoughts are, you know, for clients, if you’re measuring anything, or you have a need to measure anything, if you can see it, and we can get a line of sight on it, we can measure it faster, more accurately, and more consistently and give you better quality information than you could do it physically.

Joel Wittenbraker 1:24:33

And, like you said, the other thing you’re doing is you’re building that database for so three months from now, six months from now, nine months from now, you can reconfirm where things are, right?

Don Cooper 1:24:45

So, Jill, for everyone in the USA and not in Canada, how can they reach you? What’s your one 800 Number?

Joel Wittenbraker 1:24:56

In the USA, 800-328-1488, mactechonsite.com. Don’t worry about just the USA, if you’re not in Canada, but anywhere else in the world, call me, call WWE, anywhere. Just give us a shout, and we’ll see what we can do to help you.

Don Cooper 1:25:18

And I can say, both as a friend and as a client, there’s a reason I have been calling Joel for 26 years now. And it’s because I get great service, great solutions, and always fair to deal with. So.

Joel Wittenbraker 1:25:37

Two-way street, Don, I appreciate that. And, you know, it goes both directions, you always treat us really well as well.

Don Cooper 1:25:44

All right. And that’s it. That’s a wrap. Thanks, folks. I appreciate everyone listening in, and we’ll catch you on the next episode. Okay, thanks, Don. Thanks. Wow. That was great.

Wyatt McPherson 1:25:56

And there you have it. We truly do hope that you’ve enjoyed this episode of the Industrial Innovators Podcast. If you’d like to find or reach out to either of those on this episode, you can find Joel’s company MacTech at mactechonsite.com, and you can find Don and his company at innovator.ca. Please don’t forget to leave a rating. It helps us a lot, and please be sure to subscribe so you never miss an episode. Thank you so much for listening again, and we will see you next time.

Make an Inquiry

Meet with Us