The Pumps & Systems team talks to people throughout the pump industry, from the CEO to the end user, from Europe and the Middle East to across the United States, and one topic that comes up again and again is the need for more professional training. Our readers drove this home during the magazine’s last readership survey, when many answered that they read Pumps & Systems to become more educated about pumps. “The magazine contains good articles on pumping basics that are good for sharing with young plant engineers,” one reader wrote.
We are thrilled that readers turn to us for in-depth knowledge about pump basics and trends in the industry, and we know thorough training at different levels of one’s career is necessary and desired. So, we asked members of our EditorialAdvisory Board to weigh in on the skills gap epidemic in the pump industry and provide insight to what is most needed from newcomers today. Here is what they had to say on in-school, on-the-job and continuing education.
P&S: What do you find most challenging for newcomers to the pump industry?
John Malinowski, Industrial Motor Consultant: Newcomers need to understand standards and regulations, which are not taught in engineering school.
Todd Loudin, President, Flowrox Inc.: For any newcomer, one of the most difficult tasks is getting familiar with all different types of pumps. One type may have certain advantages in certain applications and also disadvantages. Being astute enough to make the right selection or recommendation can be a daunting task for even a seasoned professional. Even various manufacturers of the same type of pumping technology can have extreme differences in performance and reliability.
Joe Evans, Ph.D., Retired Customer & Employee Education, PumpTech, Inc.: Understanding basic hydraulics and alternating current (AC) power.
Lev Nelik, Ph.D., P.E., APICS, International Center for Pumps Research and Development, Israel: Taking time to do training.
Tom Angle, P.E., MSC, Geschaeftsleiter (CEO), Swiss Flow Solutions GmbH: Many issues that must be dealt with on a day-to-day basis, such as net positive suction head (NPSH), specific speed, flow versus head (Q-H), and pump and system interaction, are generally not covered in colleges and universities.
Jim Elsey, general manager, Summit Pump Inc., principal, MaDDog Pump Consultants LLC: Great, big, huge vacuum — or lack of reliable and consistent technical information. There is no one good source for a basic overview of the whole field. Even for engineers, there is a shortage of specific knowledge and places to acquire the knowledge.
William Livoti, Retired Senior Pump System Engineer and Consultant, JKMuir: The biggest challenge for newcomers in the pump industry is the limited amount of training available. Evennew graduates from engineering schools are totally unprepared for the real world.
Equipment OEMs tend to focus their training on their product lines, which does nothing but confuse the newcomer. Insufficient pump system training is a chronic problem in the industry, along with the lack of pump system standards.
Jack Creamer, Market Segment Manager – Pumping Equipment, Square D by Schneider Electric: In many areas the pump industry is thought to be a relatively mature industry, with little change in the making. For several years, that stereotype may have been accurate. But for the last five-plus years there have been several changes that make the pump industry “new” again. Two examples include the Department of Energy (DOE) legislation around energy efficiency. For the first time, pumps have minimum efficiency requirements assessed to them, so manufacturers must design and manufacture pumps that meet these standards, which has resulted in a degree of both product enhancement and product obsolescence. A related impact revolves around the “pump system” that must also meet efficiency standards, which in parallel has led to “smart pump systems.” So, to sum up, a pump is no longer just a pump, but it is an energy efficient device embedded in an efficient pump system.
P&S: What is the most important area to be trained in today?
Malinowski: Applications and best practices are important. Learn the shortcuts and best ways to do things from the folks who have done this for years.
Loudin: Many pumps in the future will have IIoT and artificial intelligence (AI) capabilities. The more people who understand the possibilities and benefits, the better they will be at selecting the correct pumping technology for given applications. Also, with this intelligence, real data can be captured to prove pump availability and reliability.
Angle: Pumps are designed based on mechanical engineering principles. However, it is important to understand that there is a fundamental difference between people who are entering the industry today and those who entered after some point, say around 1985. The earlier group generally had hands-on experience with mechanical components. For example, people worked on automobiles, rebuilt carburetors, adjusted timing and valves. People coming into the industry today grew up in a digital world where electronic rather than mechanical issues dominate. How many of today’s new engineers have rebuilt a carburetor, used a timing light to set points and adjusted valves? Today there is much less basic mechanical “feel” than in the past. This problem today is exacerbated by the fact that pump companies are staffed at a lower level than they were, say, 40 years ago. The mentoring received by those who entered the industry in the ’70s simply does not occur today because of manpower considerations. Both the Hydraulic Institute and various national pump associations in Europe have recognized this issue and produce and offer training to help companies improve their employees’ knowledge. Having said this, it is important to understand that the issue has nothing to do with intelligence or overall ability. It is just that people’s experiences growing up are different today and the level of mentoring is not nearly as strong in the past. In Switzerland there are various ways that a person can receive a Bachelor of Science or Master of Science degree in engineering. A small percentage go on a path that is roughly similar to the U.S. Generally, these graduates will go on to research and development (R&D) positions. However, the vast majority of engineers in industry follow a different path. After the nine years of primary/secondary school, they enter a four-year program with an emphasis on hands-on work. Here, the student will typically spend three days a week working in a factory, learning and performing all aspects of mechanical engineering and production tasks including welding, machining, drawing, quality, etc., and two days a week in a classroom. Following this program, they will spend three to four years in a Fachhochschule, which can be best defined as a vocational university.
There is no comparison between new engineers coming into the industry in Switzerland and the U.S. The new engineers in Switzerland are prepared to make an immediate contribution from day one, while those in the U.S. tend to be a drag on the organization for a period of time. After some period of time, there is no noticeable difference in performance, but the cost (including hidden costs) and effort to bring new U.S. engineers up to the same level of contribution as their European counterparts is significant.
Elsey: Not just the core engineering principles, but classes that tie it all together to illustrate the entire system. Chemical engineers come the closest to this concept because they typically look at the whole system and the whole process. Courses that tie fluid mechanics in with system design, with corrosion, with economics, with energy, with electrical, with controls, with pipe design, with valve design, with heat exchangers and with motor controls. The assumption is that the engineer will have a high level of computer skills, like computer aided design (CAD) and other related programing language abilities.
Livoti: Without question, pumping systems and how to write or prepare a general scope document. They go hand in hand.
Creamer: Smart pump system approaches. This starts with the pump, including functions that monitor performance, energy consumption and maintenance issues. The other part of the system has to do with controls, which can optimize system performance and provide predictive maintenance.
P&S: How often should people go back and take additional training?
Angle: As often as you can. It is never too late tolearn new things. Earlier this year, as a 71-year-old, I took a class in system analysis from the British Pump Manufacturers Association. Never during my university days did I imagine that I would be going to classes and taking exams 50 years later!
Elsey: At a minimum at least once a year and more often would be better. In the words of Stephen Covey, who wrote “Seven Habits of Highly Effective People,” step No. 7 is to “sharpen the saw.” That means training. I am almost 70 years old, and I go to formal trainings at least three times a year.
Livoti: Training should be ongoing; to be successful in the pump industry one must be a sponge for knowledge. Throughout my career I sought out training, technical papers, articles, whatever I could get my hands on to make myself a better, more well- rounded engineer.
Creamer: Training should be an ongoing event as enhancements to pump technology and pump control technology are an ongoing trend that will provide ongoing system enhancement capability. It’s important to cover both aspects as the pump world is morphing to a pump system world.
P&S: What kinds of training opportunities does your company offer or do they pay for any kind of continuing training?
Malinowski: ABB trains in the current and new technology of their products. Basic classes on motor and drive fundamentals are also available to employees and customers.
Loudin: We offer internal personnel training, representative and sales force training and can also offer on-site training for various customer groups.
Evans: I am retired, but PumpTech still provides training for municipalities and at meetings.
Nelik: My website, pumpingmachinery.com, specializes in training in the U.S., Middle East and Europe.
Angle: With my former company, Hidrostal AG, I helped put together a formal training program for new hires. Obviously, a part of this is product and company specific. However, a large part consists of basic engineering and technical subjects. These include pump types and basic construction; basic pump hydraulics and hydraulic theory; application issues; pump testing; bearings; mechanical seals; vibration; electric motors; codes and standards; NPSH and cavitation; pump curves; pump and system interaction.
Elsey: We offer extensive in-house training, some formal, some not. We also offer tuition assistance and flex time for employees that demonstrate they want to advance or better themselves. The tuition assistance is for local colleges, but it could also be an online course. We also offer sabbaticals. We pay for seminars and tutorials, including travel and expenses if required. We believe in training.
Livoti: My company (JK Muir) provides system training as well as pump system specification, general scope document development training. The training is tailored to the respective industry requesting said training.
Creamer: Regarding pump controls, we develop training programs for use both internally and externally. The external training is often performed by a group of drives and automation specialists located in key markets around the country. We also had a group of application specialists in Raleigh [North Carolina] that focuses on targeted applications such as pumping, which is more “single customer specific” to help them develop pump system solutions.
P&S: Is there any other piece of advice you would offer a recent graduate or someone who is new to the pump industry?
Malinowski: Introduce your ideas gradually, perhaps through someone in the group who is respected. Think evolution, not revolution.
Loudin: Try to find a mentor. Learning everything on your own is a daunting task. Also read a lot and attend as many training seminars as possible. There are numerous companies willing to offer free training. From every training session you attend, you will continue to build your knowledge.
Angle: I have always provided the following advice to new engineers:
- Become grounded in the basics and well rounded. Start with a small firm (but not too small where there is no one from whom you can learn) where you will wear many hats and not get pigeonholed into one specialty.
- If possible, start out with a manufacturer. Your life will consist of one crisis after another, but there is absolutely no better way to learn.
- As a technical specialist, you will eventually know more about the product than the people for whom you work. When providing information, it can be tempting to slant your presentation in a way that makes things easy for you or conforms to how you think things should be, as opposed to how they really are. Avoid this at all costs and be completely neutral and honest in your communications.
Elsey: Realize that what you learned in college is just barely the foundation for what you will learn in the real world. Find several mentors, not just at your company but over or across the industry and not just in your field, but others. Nurture these relationships. Ask: Why? And do this a lot. Learn face- to-face communication skills. If you aren’t already, learn to be civil and ethical. Practice being “cool” under pressure and in the middle of chaos. This all adds up to emotional intelligence.
Livoti: Find a mentor(s) that you trust and stick with them. Be humble, keep an open mind, listen, ask questions and listen some more. You never stop learning. Develop a passion for learning. If you do, you will never cease to grow.
Creamer: Get ready to embrace an industry going through significant change!