The role of a Senior Mechanical Engineer – Rotating Equipment at Burns & McDonnell: An Interview with Mike Griggs

Founded in 1898, Burns & McDonnell is a global leader in engineering, architecture, construction, environmental, and consulting solutions for a variety of industries, including oil & gas, power, water, manufacturing, construction, and more. Mike Griggs, Senior Mechanical Engineer - Rotating Equipment, has been employed by Burns & McDonnell for the past five years, and attributes his successful career to his flexibility and ability to juggle multiple projects and tasks. By the Editorial Team
Griggs earned a Bachelor of Science in Mathematics at Texas Tech University and subsequently got a job as an Application Engineer at Dresser-Rand where he worked on steam turbines and centrifugal compressors. Eager to progress further, Mike returned to school part-time, while simultaneously working full-time at Dresser-Rand, and got his Bachelor of Science in Mechanical Engineering. “It was a busy time. I then ended up back down in Houston where I got a job at Burns & McDonnell and I’ve been here for almost five years,” says Griggs.

Currently, Griggs is a Senior Mechanical Engineer and works specifically with rotating equipment. He mentions that he can work with anything from blowers and fans to pumps and compressors, but lately he has been concentrating a lot more on compressors and troubleshooting issues with this specific equipment. On a typical day he is responsible for developing and reviewing end-user and client specifications.

“Instead of big projects, we tend to work on a lot of smaller, more frequent projects. The trick to being a Rotating Equipment Engineer is being able to adapt to a variety of standards; each client is unique and has their own requirements,” he explains.

Griggs’ role also involves package development, drawing reviews, and developing requests for quotations, whether for pumps, compressors, fans or turbines. He mentions that at times the data sheets between a pump and a motor can be quite large; sometimes over 100 pages. This, as he explains, can be very time-consuming. However, Griggs wouldn’t have it any other way. “I used to like being in the field, but as I have grown older, I have become content with doing my inhouse drawing reviews and I enjoy the regularity of the day. Being able to go home at the end of the day and not be dispatched to Nova Scotia, for example, is reassuring,” says Griggs. While the desk job has some disadvantages, he is happy to occasionally visit the site of the project, and not have to live out of a suitcase.

Mike Griggs, Senior Mechanical Engineer - Rotating Equipment, Burns & McDonnell.
Mike Griggs, Senior Mechanical Engineer - Rotating Equipment, Burns & McDonnell.

Working in the pump industry 

Over the years Griggs has had experience working with a variety of pumps and pumping equipment. At present, he is working with big BB style injection pumps, including BB3 and BB5 high pressure casing, and larger pumps for boiler feedwater. In addition to being a Senior Mechanical Engineer, he is also the RE (Responsible Engineer) for his current project, which involves Tier 3 conversion on a Tier 3 refinery; an EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) requirement that a lot of refineries are performing at the moment. “That has been a lot of our activity lately; working on alkylation units and debottlenecking projects and there’s a lot of pumps on each service, such as boiler feedwater, injection, ethane injection and debutanizers. I could be working with 20 different pumps at any given time,” explains Griggs. “You have to be able to juggle in this industry and to be able to wear several different hats. You might be working with the same pump with two different end-users, but they may look completely different because of the way their instrumentation is set up. It really boils down to end-user specifications.”

Working with a variety of pumps can also mean a variety of issues, as Griggs knows only too well. He explains that he does see a lot of quality issues with casting, and that a major challenge as an EPC company is the ability to get a consistent quality with a finished pump from OEMs. He also adds that quality documentation is a hugely important factor for end-users, as it provides full traceability and it lessens the possibility of pump or seal failures. Vibration is a key issue when working with pumps. Griggs’ experience appears to be no different. He says: “I don’t tend to see many problems with holding pressure or leaking, but the most common issue that I deal with on a day-to-day basis is vibration. We have a lot of soft footing issues on motors, and right now I’m dealing with a larger base plate that has some residence issues.”

Griggs elaborates that he is also involved with pump selection and uses a lot of the OEM sizing programs, which help with guiding the process group with sizing or with sourcing the correct pump type. “Generally, when I send a data sheet out to an OEM or pump manufacturer I allow them to have their say and decide whether it should be a BB or an OH2, for example,” he says. “I tend to leave the onus on the pump OEM if I can.” While Griggs usually uses the client’s specific AML (Approved Manufacturers List), Burns & McDonnell also has an internal AML that he can use in the event the client does not have one. However, the majority of the time he’s guided on where to go for a quote or an order. Mike also stresses how AMLs are fluid, meaning that OEMs and pump manufacturers can have good years and bad years. “Just because a pump manufacturer is perhaps a poor performer on one of our orders in 2017, that doesn’t mean that that’s necessarily going to be the case in 2018. The point is that you can’t get mad if something goes wrong because there wouldn’t be anywhere to go,” explains Griggs.

Mike Griggs pictured next to an Axial Compressor Rotor.
Mike Griggs pictured next to an Axial Compressor Rotor.

Importance of mentoring

One aspect of Griggs’ job that we were really eager to discuss is his role as a mentor to younger engineers. As a company, Burns & McDonnell makes it a priority to hire young engineers, but also to pair those younger engineers with more experienced personnel. Griggs has been with the same mentee for the past three years, and in addition to sitting near each other in the office space, his mentee will shadow him in meetings and vice versa, until they slowly gain more confidence and responsibility to go it alone. “Any young engineer has the technical ability. They’re all very bright, but I’m more interested in how they interact with people and how they carry themselves in a meeting. That’s what I like to focus on,” says Griggs. He continues on to express his surprise at how quickly young graduates can pick up and retain new information.

Griggs often doesn’t have to explain anything in great detail as once his mentee has the enthusiasm to learn, they can grasp the discipline with great speed. “Once they decide that pumps or compressors are for them it’s a very easy job for me, because it’s a lot easier to train someone that wants to be there and is excited about what they’re learning,” he says.

In addition, not only do these young engineers bring a new enthusiasm into the business, but they bring a different set of skills that Griggs fully acknowledges and appreciates.
Technology is constantly changing, and Griggs is of the belief that younger engineers’ skillsets are more adaptable to today’s business environment. While that old school knowledge may still be a significant factor in today’s engineering world, so too is the ability to adapt to new programs and software.

“It’s almost like a symbiotic relationship; they teach me about new technology, and I can teach them what I have learned through years of experience,” says Griggs. Looking forward, while Griggs is quite content in his current position, he does hope in the future that there will be a group dedicated specifically to rotating equipment in Houston. Additionally, he thinks that pump manufacturing has had a tough time due to the oil crash, and in turn there have been a lot of mergers and acquisitions. Yet, despite that upset, Griggs is optimistic for what lays in store in the future. “I think most of the ugliness we’ve seen in the last few years is gone. I think it’s hard to say if I see growth or not, but I’m optimistic. It’s just an unpredictable environment right now. However, my outlook is better for the oil and gas industry than it was even a year ago,” he says.

Mike Griggs pictured with Sarah Powers, one of his mentees.
Mike Griggs pictured with Sarah Powers, one of his mentees.

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