Nathan Sumrall, Welding Engineer of Superior Cladding, gives us the rundown on how he uses robotics to weld and protect pipe interiors from destructive materials.
Please excuse any typos in this hasty transcript.
Jay Curry: And we’re back. Hello Texas, welcome back to Texas Business Radio. Got a dandy going here. We’re talking robotics. This has been fun, we’ve already had a company that implements and builds robots. In this segment we’re gonna have a very interesting company that is using robotics to do some very interesting things.
I’m Jay Curry, your host for this segment, along with George Walden. Our host George, thanks for joining us.
George Walden: Oh I look to forward to this. I love the idea of what is being talked about here today. We’re talking about cladding, and cladding is just another way of putting a protective barrier on something that’s exposed and needs to be protected. So- [crosstalk].
Jay Curry: It’s interesting stuff.
George Walden: It really is.
Jay Curry: So we have in the studio Nathan Sumrall-
Nathan Sumrall: Yes sir.
Jay Curry: … who is the welding engineer …
Nathan Sumrall: Yep, that’s correct.
Jay Curry: … at Superior Cladding. Before we get in with Nathan though, let me remind everybody just put your pencils down, relax. We’re gonna have an interesting time here in the next few minutes. Everything you can go get at Texas Business Radio dot com, okay? It’s all there, even in color you can see Nathan live almost. Better than just listening. Texas Business Radio dot com. If you want to get a call in to us we monitor the phone number 844-814-8144 24 hours a day. Just call us, give us the question, we will get the experts on it, we’ll get it on the air for you, we’ll get you your answers. Of course, we monitor hashtag TBR ,as in Texas Business Radio, on Twitter.
So let’s get started because Nathan this is fascinating. Why don’t we start by you telling us what is Superior Cladding?
Nathan Sumrall: Superior Cladding is a service company that usually works with oil and gas or refinery groups. We provide a service that makes stuff more rust resistant or wear resistant than normal. In the world of fluids or product that makes things corrode away, our service is used to protect the customers design. So let’s say the customer builds a valve, or a block preventer, or some type of piping structure. They need it to survive that hydrogen sulfide that’s going through there. Or they have a lot of sand going through it that’s going to wear the stuff away around corners. That’s where our technology comes in.
We use robots to weld overlay the inside of parts and at the sealing surfaces of them. Any type of area that might have a lot of turbulence is usually going to be an area with lots of wear, or lots of corrosion. How do you prevent that? Cladding or weld overlay is a good solution for it.
Jay Curry: So tell us, give us a quick explanation of what cladding really is, because I don’t think our listeners are going to understand.
Nathan Sumrall: Of course. This is kind of a unique flavor. Most people are familiar with the idea of welding, right? You look in the movies, you’ve got these arcs and sparks going on, with this little tiny blue light.
Jay Curry: Right.
Nathan Sumrall: That little blue light is actually a weld being formed. One metal melting onto another, and it looks like a little bead going from one side to the other of that part. Now imagine taking the entire inside of a 40 foot long pipe that’s three foot wide, and taking a little tiny weld bead from one end to the other just spinning it over, and over, and over. At that point it looks like you just layered the whole thing with a beautiful, beautiful layer of metal. That is actually what we’re doing, but we weld it.
Jay Curry: When you’re doing it to protect the pipe. So you can’t have errors.
Nathan Sumrall: That’s right.
Jay Curry: You can’t have little holes, you’ve got to get it absolutely right.
Nathan Sumrall: Yes, and to prevent those pits from forming we have to prove that we have a good idea to begin with. Then also in production, we have to prove that it’s good afterwards. So we have a very stringent, selective, destructive process of qualifying these welding procedures, proving them out, and then in production we have a very, very focused set of criteria that needs to be followed.
Jay Curry: I can almost see that this is more work at the beginning and at the end than it is actually doing it, because you’ve got to program the system, you’ve got to the machines, you’ve got to make sure that your design is gonna work because every applications a little unique. It’s kind of, you said in our pre-discussions it’s like surgical welding. You can’t let a little pit get by.
Nathan Sumrall: That’s right. How do you prevent that little pit from getting there? First, you test a set of parameters or a set of variables and see if they work. Then you make sure production duplicates it over, and over, and over for hours on end. The guys who are welding in production though, they have a very difficult job. Not because they are physically sweating there welding all day, but they have to make sure the robot is singing in the sweet spot that we’ve decided is a good thing for that project.
I have a set of welding variables or parameters, the guys in the production have to follow it, and they’re using the robots to make these things look beautiful. But looking beautiful is one thing, functioning beautiful is the other, and that’s why we have so much testing on the front end.
Jay Curry: You have all the tests on the front end, and then you’ve gotta certify that it’s- meet’s all the requirements at the back end. So you’re doing some kind of testing there, right?
Nathan Sumrall: Yes. Many times you can’t destroy a part that’s gonna be used for 20, or 30, or 50 years on end. You’ve gotta test it non-destructively. That type of NDE testing is really useful for us. If anybody ever used a- or soak up water with a sponge? Well we actually use the same kind of physics and technology to inspect these welds with liquid penetrant, and also some other criteria that is occasionally very vital to the design of the customer’s part.
George Walden: So like all businesses, there’s competition out there. What sets you apart from your competition?
Nathan Sumrall: Sure. We are not the first cladding company in the United States, and we won’t be the last. However, what sets us apart is that whenever a customer approaches us with an idea we’re willing to take the time out and say, “How can we do this better?” Most of the time a company is just going to try to subcontract or farm out the actual development of the technology or the procedures, and then they just leave it at that. We have a way to do it better, so how do we do that? That’s where I get involved.
Jay Curry: Sounds to me like work that used to have to be done by a lot of people by hand in many cases, which has got to be error prone. Now it can be done by robots. So the type of people that you’re hiring are welding specialists like you, robot programmers, testing people, engineers, scientists. This is not just your welding guy.
Nathan Sumrall: Right. A good welder doesn’t make a good welding operator, and vice versa. A good welding operator doesn’t necessarily know how to weld very well by hand. So we’re looking for the types of people that can understand at least what welding is supposed to look like, and duplicate it by machine. The person’s driving the robot. They’ve set up the robot in a particular area, they say, “Go.”, and at that point they’re changing the actual welding parameters like your amps, and your volts, and how fast it’s going. We call that travel speed. That’s where the person really does shine.
It is not eliminating people, but its making it much safer. Robots help protect people from dark, dangerous environments, and when you’re welding you’re looking through a lens, it’s pretty dark and welding itself is very dangerous. Especially if you’re gonna try to weld 200 hours on end. That’s what the robot is really good at.
Jay Curry: Yeah, you have several sizes that you’re dealing with. I mean you’ve got some monster stuff, and then you’ve got some small stuff also.
Nathan Sumrall: Of course. We might work with the lowliest well neck flange that might be 20 or 30 pounds, and we can work with parts that are upwards of 40,000 pounds in size such as your entire BOB stack, and sometimes even the entire riser string of a pipe system. That’s incredible amounts of welding that can go into stuff like that.
Jay Curry: This is remarkable. This is really remarkable. With the robots, do you have any idea if you’re getting five to one versus having to do it by hand the old way?
Nathan Sumrall: Oh, it would be more like 5,000 to one.
Jay Curry: No kidding?
Nathan Sumrall: Yeah. Compared to a guy physically doing it, some areas a person physically can’t fit, the robot can.
Jay Curry: Yeah. Absolutely. Yeah, micros.
Nathan Sumrall: Right. The robots allow us to do stuff a person can never do, and then they allow us to do what a person can do so much longer, and with so much more process control.
Jay Curry: I got to think its other industries here in Texas obviously, it’s oil and gas, it’s very corrosive type of chemicals, and the refineries and things of that sort. But it also applies probably in many, many other types of industries.
Nathan Sumrall: Of course. I came from the world of semi-conductors before, and we used weld overlays to protect those circuit boards and those semi-conductor elements from wearing out over time. Also, some of those materials actually don’t stick together.
Jay Curry: Wow.
Nathan Sumrall: You have to layer them with something that can be weldable or solderable to begin with.
Jay Curry: Okay folks, we’ve been talking to Nathan Sumrall who is with Superior Cladding. Fabulous story, thank you. Nathan if somebody wants to learn more, how do they do that?
Nathan Sumrall: They can check us out online at S-E-P-H-O-U dot com. Or they can just give us a call and have a tour, 281-405-9400.
Jay Curry: Alright folks, we’re gonna put that on Texas Business Radio dot com. If you didn’t get it down you can go there. We’re gonna have to take a break and get another interesting leader in here. We’re talking about robotics today.
George, thank you for joining us. Folks don’t go anywhere, we’re gonna be right back.
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In addition to hosting "Texas Business Radio," Matt is an investment banker and serial entrepreneur from Montgomery, Texas. He is the owner of RREA Media and Register Real Estate Advisors and a Managing Director and Principal at Corporate Finance Associates. He has a BS from the United States Military Academy at West Point and an MBA from Rice University in Houston. You can read more about Matt HERE.