August 2016, Vol. 243, No. 8

Company & Association News

NACE President Has Faith He Can Make an Impact

By Michael Reed, Managing Editor

NACE International’s 2016 President Alexander I. “Sandy” Williamson is on a mission and its core tenets can be found in his organization’s newly released Impact study, a groundbreaking document that provides economic information designed to stress the return on investment for taking corrosion preventative steps.

“My feeling is senior management is still cutting operating budgets. I think that’s going to change once we get the message out with Impact,” the Calgary, Alberta resident told P&GJ. “I think our senior management needs a better understanding.”

Williamson certainly has the experience to know about such issues. A NACE veteran of 35 years, he has served as founding president of corrosion engineering and materials selection firm Ammonite Corrosion Engineering for 18 years, and worked another 18 years in corrosion, materials and inspection for Shell Canada Ltd.

As leader of the 36,000-member organization dedicated to protecting people, assets and the environment from corrosion, Williamson eagerly described Impact as the cornerstone for all facets of his term. “I see the Impact study and furthering its recommendations as my No. 1 priority going forward,” he told P&GJ even before he’d had a chance to sit down.

Prior to being named president, Williamson served on the NACE Board of Directors from 2009-12, and was honored with the organization’s Northern Area Outstanding Service Award in 1996 and Distinguished Service Award in 2008.

In this interview conducted at NACE International’s annual conference in Vancouver, B.C., the chemical engineering graduate of Queens University, a research institution in Kingston, Ontario, discusses the need to improve membership engagement, the challenges of mentoring the next generation of industry technical professionals, and the ongoing need to convince managers that despite economic challenges, corrosion is not the place to scrimp on budgets.

P&GJ: What are your priorities as president?

Williamson: I have one main priority for the coming year, and that’s to use the information that’s contained in the Impact study. We have a strategic plan and initiatives so the Impact study will enable us to provide economic information that shows the return on investment to decision-makers.

More specifically, it shows the return on investment of corrosion prevention. So people at the educator, policymaker and senior management levels who are not corrosion experts will understand the return they are getting for providing better coating or inspection on that coating job. The Impact study contains data that will help us further those strategic initiatives. I chose to use that as my main message throughout the year. I think it gives us the support that we need.

P&GJ: Has the decline in oil prices and slowdown in the industry in general changed what NACE members view as their biggest challenges for the next few years?

Williamson: What I believe is that the decline in oil and gas prices further underlines the need for those in our membership to make others aware, especially senior management, of the long-term implications of short-term decision-making. One member reported in one of our blogs that the slowdown underlines the challenges, but it doesn’t change them. That, I thought, put it in a nutshell. The slowdown further exacerbates the challenge.

P&GJ: Have you noticed any change in business philosophy since the slowdown, concerning how members run their companies?

Williamson: Unfortunately, yes. The slowdown has been very significant in terms of depth and duration. Business owners are finding it very tough to avoid layoffs and to provide support for training and attending conferences. Generally speaking, those companies that support operations and maintenance are better off than those that rely on new projects, because there aren’t a lot of new projects right now. But if you are going to keep operating, you still have to maintain a certain level of involvement. I’ve also seen an increased interest in diversifying services offered by companies and some are even looking at different geographical markets.

P&GJ: Other than on the economic front, what are the biggest concerns of members, both foreign and domestic? Has that changed in recent years?

Williamson: There are a couple of main things in terms of the demographics that we have seen. With the success of our training programs, we have a lot more NACE members at the technician level vs. the engineering level. They are not so interested in coming to a conference like this. They have different needs than, say, a professional engineer, so there is definitely a change.

Another big change is the emphasis we need to place on the young millennials. They think differently as a generation, and we actually have provided forums at this conference where they can meet with their peers and discuss the transition from grad school or the university into the workforce. From the young millennial perspective how do they see that? We as a society obviously need to listen; we need to understand what they are looking for.

We have a strategic plan on member engagement which fits nicely into this discussion. We are gathering the matrix on that now in order to see what percentage of people we have in these various groups: millennials, technicians, etc.

P&GJ: Has the downturn affected NACE’s recruitment of new members?

Williamson: Actually, we now have 36,000 members, up from 35,000 when I first started preparing to meet with you, so our organization has actually continued to grow. That can be attributed to the value that comes not only from being part of our membership, but also the value of being part of a respected professional community. Membership is the ultimate networking tool and is something I impress upon young millennials. This is the great opportunity to seek out mentors or someone who has been part of the industry.

P&GJ: How do the primary concerns of members differ in North America vs. Europe and other regions?

Williamson: I’m a NACE instructor [Williamson teaches the NACE Refinery Corrosion Course] and something I’ve noticed when teaching is that certification is very important to our international members – not so important to our members in the North American market. I think it’s more of a cultural thing than anything else.

Still, the drivers to join NACE are the same: helping with your career, knowing and understanding best practices, having access to standards and test methods that we have, and just the availability of information. Sure, there are some cultural differences in how companies are set up, but at the end of the day everyone is looking for return on investment and wise spending of their dollars.

Many oil companies are cutting headcounts and expenses; in turn, the service providers are doing the same. Equity and asset value are dropping, leading to acquisitions and mergers, and further threats of layoffs. At the same time, corrosion of infrastructure is a concern in developed and undeveloped countries. The greatest challenge is getting the attention of those in a position to invest in infrastructure projects. But the diversity of our members’ countries and industries makes it difficult to cover the topic in a broad stroke.

P&GJ: In recent years, have operating companies stepped up their own efforts to protect their facilities from corrosion?

Williamson: My feeling is senior management is still cutting operating budgets, based on what I’ve observed in my industry, but again I think that’s going to change once we get the message out with Impact. Senior management needs a better understanding, but they’re under enormous pressure to cut their operating budgets.

P&GJ: What would you say to someone considering delaying or scrimping on corrosion-fighting efforts due to the economic slowdown?

Williamson: Very simple: Pay me now or pay me a whole bunch later. That’s the general impression we have. For example, when we build a brand new offshore platform at the original fabrication yard, for every dollar we spend in that fabrication yard, when it’s delivered to the site and getting ready to be shipped out, if we have to repair something, it’s typically $10 to fix it. Here’s the kicker, though. When it goes onsite and is a couple hundred kilometers offshore, think about the infrastructure you now need to fix it. It’s suddenly $100.

One compelling example was a pipeline that needed repairs. The company was presented with two options: remove and recoat for $20 million, strip and repair for $2 million. They went with the cheaper option which proved insufficient and the final cost of the repair was $1.2 billion. Look at Flint, MI. They tried to save about $40,000 per year and will end up spending millions upon millions of dollars to repair the damage to infrastructure and, more importantly, look at the damage to human life.

If you design it properly and get the right corrosion prevention practices in place from the start, you are going to get that return. Again, that’s the Impact study.

P&GJ: Is shale having an effect on the potential for pipeline corrosion or how it is being protected against?

Williamson: Essentially, it boils down to the fact you still need to use the cathodic protection [CP] criteria that’s in our standard practice [SP], but in reality, when you have shale vs. some different soils, they have a different amount of resistivity, so they conduct the current differently. You need to take that into account.

For example, high-resistivity soils like shale are low in corrosivity but require more closely spaced CP current sources to obtain the same current distribution. But in all cases, the established CP criteria in SP0169 will mitigate external corrosion.

P&GJ: How is NACE progressing in terms of training and recruiting the next generation of technical professionals?

Williamson: We have a lot of different programs. We are offering competition at the college level, and each year we sponsor a number of young professionals to go to an emerging leaders alliance conference, designed to help them not just with their technical skills but with their business and leadership skills as well. We brought 55 local high school students [to NACE Corrosion 2016] as we do at each of our conferences. They get to roam around the exhibits and see a couple of simple experiments in an area set aside for them.

The NACE Foundation supports scholarships and has among its programs the distribution of C-kits [corrosion kits], which contain six simple experiments that a high school science teacher can perform using household products to demonstrate principles of corrosion. We found that the teachers are so excited about that because, when you think about it “Would I rather be teaching from a textbook or explaining some neat, hands-on things?” With the C-kit, we are trying to get younger people engaged with corrosion. This is all free through the Foundation. We have some very generous sponsors. Overall, I’d say our progress is steady.

P&GJ: Is NACE looking to implement any new services during the coming year?

Williamson: We’ve shifted our focus a bit because we are trying to address more of the maritime industry. We now have a chief maritime officer on staff whose mission will be to further our services in that area.

In the area of services, we’ve partnered with several different organizations. I met with a Latin American offshore group and we signed an agreement. We also signed an agreement with the Chinese Society of Corrosion Prevention. Many organizations worldwide are interested in our standards and education courses. Many courses are tailored to some of those groups to provide better services.

In the NACE Institute, rather than students flying to Houston to take a certification exam, we’ve now over 5,000 testing centers worldwide. That’s an example of a new service. Over the next year, the NACE Institute is gradually transitioning certification exams to a computer-based testing model. Students will have the option to take their exam immediately after completion of a course or they can choose to take more time to study and schedule the exam at another time.

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