Jorge Luis Gonzalez Velazquez – General Director, Grupo de Analisis de Integridad de Ductos (CNH), Mexico
Dr. Jorge Luis Gonzalez Velazquez shares his deep knowledge about metallurgical engineering, his extensive work at PEMEX working on corroded and cracked metal pipelines, his personal achievements as general director of GAID and his ability to multitask as a college professor, researcher and business leader.
Dr. Gonzalez Velazquez, please let our readers know about your background and how GAID came into fruition?
The study of physical and chemical behaviour of metallic components, called metallurgy, has always been of great interest to me. As an avid learner who is passionate about fixing things I studied metallurgical engineering and immediately after earned a Master of Science and PhD degrees in metallurgy, specializing in fracture and deterioration of metallic components. The knowledge I gathered while studying and working in the United States and Japan allowed me to become an expert in a discipline most people do not understand: metal falilures. Eventually this led to me start my own research and development group within the Instituto Politécnico Nacional, Grupo de Analisis de Integridad de Ductos (GAID) in 1992. Since then, GAID has assisted PEMEX to tackle its long history of problems with cracking and corrosion of pipelines and eventually expanded to assess these problems in process, transport and storage facilities at the entire chain of value of the oil and gas industry.
What contributions can GAID be credited with since its inception?
Through the research I conducted on PEMEX’s damaged pipes I developed a series of mathematical equations, known as algorithms, which allowed calculating the remaining strength and life of pipelines. The practical application of these algorithms prevented PEMEX to waste a lot of money to replace o repair something that still had sufficient strength or integrity to safely continue in operation. My team and I designed defect assessment methods for a wide variety of equipment like pipelines, reactors, compressors, marine platform legs, etc.
This onetime scientific methodology was later regarded as a discipline now called Integrity Assessment, which nowadays is the worldwide standard for managing every maintenance activity in the oil and gas industry as well as many other fields.
In order to effectively apply the GAID’s academic developments to the industry, I designed a novel vinculation model that would allow us to hire full time professionals and buy equipment to provide technical services instead of having professors and students doing the work. This model became a landmark in the academy-industry relationship in México.
After years of working both on the field and in a laboratory what personal stories can you share with our readers about some of the setbacks you have encountered in this endeavour?
This is a funny question because of course, none of the discoveries we made were immediately accepted by the scientific community nor the industry. In the mid 1990s I went to check out a pipeline for PEMEX that they believed was going to fail due to a cracking problem and it was scheduled for substitution. This operation was going to cost a loss of the production of more than 10 million barrels was very risky. After doing some calculations, it was clear to me that the pipe would require only the installation of a welded sleeve and without service interruption. I received a lot of opposition because everybody, PEMEX engineers, consultants and the maintenance contractors, believed my assessment was wrong and the pipe was going to explode, so after more than eight hours of arguments PEMEX accepted my recommendation. Later the technician that was going to weld the sleeve insisted that I have to go with him and stand still right next to him. That way if he was going to get hurt by my mistake I would suffer the same luck. We all were very nervous when the welder did the first weld, but nothing bad happen, then the welder stoped, lift his mask and told me “move away you make me nervous!” Of course everything went just right and the repaired pipeline is still in service after almost 20 years.
Currently, what are your most lucrative service and product areas?
Right now the Integrity Assessment of pipelines is our main area of business, but we also do a lot of failure analysis. The pipeline assessment procedure that I designed with PEMEX was really a game changer in the industry because it changed the way that pipeline maintenance was done at PEMEX. Eventually this model became a national standard becoming mandatory for all pipeline owners to do integrity assessment and integrity management , so this activity continues to be GAID’s main source of revenue.
What does GAID do to attract and retain talent?
When university research groups are contacted to provide services, most of them recruit undergraduate and graduate students to do the work, but at GAID we hire full time professionals and use the profits of the services revenue to carry out research with students. This allows us to identify young and ambitious people who are hungry to learn and discover, and train them during their time at the university so after they finish, we hire them as professionals. We also reach out to other professors and students with other universities which we collaborate with, because of the specific knowledge and experience they may have.
Our strategy to retain talent is to provide a stimulative work environment where the intelligence, team work and innovation are favoured. We also pay very competitive salaries and have an intense and continuous training program, as well as encourage our people to attend at conferences, industry exhibitions and to publish technical papers. But I think that the best motivation is to share our passion and commitment to solve our main industry problems based on our knowledge and hard work.
As a research and development firm that provides technological services to PEMEX what are some of the most important technologies GAID has introduced?
This is a great question because I always enjoy saying that GAID did not reinvent the wheel, but improved it! For example, we studied, tested and improved the ASME B31G-1991 Code to determine the remaining strength of corroded pipelines– this method, which has helped pipeline companies make better assessments of their pipelines, has several limitations, so we made some adjustments to so it can be applied in cases not considered by this code. Furthermore we have developed mathematical models to estimate the growth rate of hydrogen induced cracks, calculate the remaining strength of weld misalignments and developed integrity management software, among many other developments.
Metallurgical engineering goes beyond just pipeline work for the oil and gas industry. What other areas of work does GAID cover?
Through our research and work within the oil and gas industry we have been able to branch out and increase our services portfolio to oil refineries, chemical plants, boilers, power generation and so on. Additionally we have worked on various projects within the automobile, airplanes and public transportation industry; regarding how metals wear and break and how to improve the life span. Although the grand majority of our work pertains to the research and development of the energy sector, it is still refreshing to lend a hand to different industries that can benefit from our services and technologies.
What does GAID do to remain ahead of their competitors in terms of services and solutions it offers?
GAID is always ahead of the game because of its ability to predict and prevent issues using a scientific approach and very sophisticated analysis tools, like computer modelling, mathematics and of course fracture mechanics!. These are not easy tasks and the consequences of assessing something incorrectly can be catastrophic, so one has to have a great confidence and ability on what is doing. Many times our competitors do not have so well trained personnel, so they use software to assess defects for example, but I believe software is just a tool and it will never substitute human intelligence, so when there is a problem that involves situations that are not foreseen in the software, the results can be ridiculous–we at GAID know how to use the proper criteria to assess outcomes of real life situations.
It is also important to have a personal connection with our clients and as an educator I approach clients from the perspective of a professor, which allows me to teach our clients about the science and technology and create trust. GAID is always assisting its clients and help them understand the nature and extent of the services we provide.
What plans do you have for the future of GAID?
GAID has grown tremendously by expanding its portfolio since it was first created. Currently covers a vast area of disciplines dealing with metallurgical engineering and continues to work in research and development. GAID will continue to work in sectors that require critical thinking because we believe it gives our customers added value. As general director I believe that innovation and technology will continue flowing as a result of the technical skills our employees acquire through the critical thinking process. So I believe GAID is on the right direction and will continue working just as we have done since our beginnings.