Scott Hamilton, Founder and CEO of Hex Technology, is a bolting expert. He knows all about bolting procedures, best practices, and the much needed bolting standards about to enter the industry. Stainless Steel World Americas had the great privilege of speaking with Hamilton about his extensive career, and the future of bolting.
By Sarah Bradley
A Career in Bolting
In 2005, Scott Hamilton worked as a salesman for a distribution company specializing in torque wrenches, pneumatic torque wrenches, and other high torque equipment. At the time, he would have called himself a bolting expert, though he says now in hindsight, that was not the case. “I was at a nitrogen plant in Nebraska when a flange leaked,” he recalled. Hamilton and the other members of his team could not determine the cause of the leak.
“I started studying bolted flanges in my free time because I did not want to be called out again by a plant manager,” he joked. “I started realizing that there is this vacuum of knowledge in bolting, and there are very few people who work in this realm.”
For the next seven years, Hamilton studied every piece of bolting literature he could get his hands on. Hamilton also noticed that the lack of bolting knowledge was not unique to him, but rather was an industry-wide deficiency. To bridge this knowledge gap, Hamilton started the Bolting Symposium, an event where “torque dorks” and “gasket stress enthusiasts” like himself can network, talk shop, and better understand what innovations and regulations are needed in the industry. The first Bolting Symposium took place in January 2014 and was well attended, with high profile end user companies like Chevron and Shell in attendance.
“I started the Symposium to look at bolting holistically. At the time, everybody sold products like torque wrenches that can, in part, solve the problem, but training is the only way the industry is going to improve,” explained Hamilton. “We needed to get to the fundamentals because there was just no knowledge in this industry.” That is why, to this day, training and education is still at the core of everything Hamilton, and his consultation and training firm, Hex Technology, does. Hamilton founded Hex Technology in 2014.
“There are two main groups of people that work in bolting – maintenance and reliability – but until we get everyone on the same page about best practices and we find a way to bring the two groups together, there are going to continue to be problems,” he said. “Our big goal is getting people up and running on good practices, procedures, and proper research.”
Creating Guidelines and Regulation
Hamilton is also Chairman of ASME PCC-1, or the American Society of Mechanical Engineers Post-Construction Committee-1. This group is focused on addressing issues and creating regulations for the bolting industry, specifically in documents like “Guidelines for Pressure Boundary Bolted Flange Joint Assembly.” This is a consensus document, which means it was written by several experts across the bolting community and currently serves as a guideline.
Hamilton joined ASME PCC-1 in 2008 and became the Chairman of PCC-1 in 2019. As Chair, Hamilton has been working with the committee to prepare the guideline document to become a standard. Appendix A of the document pertains specifically to “Training and Qualification of Bolted Joint Assembly Personnel.” Appendix A training is the number one thing Hamilton believes professionals should be training on, because then they can start making educated decisions on how to treat flanges. “This will change the guidelines from a ‘should do’ document, to a standard, which is a ‘shall do’ document,” Hamilton said. “The industry is going to have to start looking at bolting in a different way. There will be requirements that you need to have in your bolting program.” Of course, there will be a grace period for the adoption of these new standards, said Hamilton.
“The biggest issue is not understanding how big the problem is,” he said. “We, as an industry, do a poor job reporting issues. If a flange leaks, we retighten it, or we put a clamp on it, and that fixes it temporarily.” Hamilton said that this leak and subsequent work is rarely documented. This makes it difficult to understand just how much rework has been done. Also, often there are more bolted joints than welded joints in industrial systems, but a lack of accurate reporting makes it difficult to track emissions from bolted joints. “What is crazy is that we know there is a problem, we just have not recognized it yet. There is way more failures of bolted joints than welded joints.”
Hamilton said there are standard designs for the creation of flanges and heat exchangers, though not valves. Still, many bolting technicians in the industry do not know this. For this reason, and several others, Hamilton and the other members of PCC-1 have put a special focus on training and education. This training not only includes education on the availability and identification of design specifications, but also other common mistakes like improper joint lubrication. “Proper lubrication is the number one thing that an assembler can do to help the math and the engineering of the joint,” he said. “The engineers give you a torque value based on what is called the K factor. If you do not lubricate the joint, your K factor is different, and so their math is no longer valid,” he explained.
“There is just a lack of knowledge in bolted flange joints, engineering and assembly-wise. Most assemblers that we have interviewed do not know that spiral wound gaskets which are the most used metallic gaskets in the industry, by far have got a color-coding system based off the standard for making those gaskets,” he said. “If I am in the field, I am training, and we are taking guys through either engineering or similar training for eight hours a day. We will go to a plant for a week, and we will train engineers, inspectors, operators, and turn-around guys, on bolts and flange joints. What I do in the field is take academic and practical education and marry them together.”
“There are three main groups of people in a plant that bolting applies to: maintenance, turnarounds, and reliability – but until we get everyone on the same page about best practices and we find a way to bring the two groups together, there are going to continue to be problems.”
Continuing to Spread the Word
This year, Hamilton accepted the position as Chairman for Heat Exchanger World Americas Conference & Expo 2022. In this role, Hamilton is excited to be able to spread the word about bolting practices, new innovations, and proper procedures.