Building Projects from Scratch that Make an Impact: Interview with Steve Tourigny, Consulting Engineer
For more than 30 years, Steve Tourigny has been involved in the design, development and management of many products, processes, plants and businesses. Through his experience, he has gained expertise with start-ups, helping companies get key projects off the ground. With extensive engineering, operations and partnering experience, he now works as an independent consultant servicing a variety of industries in an advisory capacity.
Steve Tourigny typically works with small-to mediumsized companies helping them work through new products or processes. They all want two things, low cost and fast results.
“They are all trying to find the ‘best of breed’ solutions,” he said. “They are all extremely cost and schedule conscious and are continuously evaluating their core competencies versus what should be farmed out to partners. I use my extensive experience and network of contacts to guide them in specific areas.”
After three decades of experience, Tourigny has developed a wide range of expertise including process engineering, automation, process control, plant design, operations and supply chain management and staffing and strengths management. The range of industries he has worked in is just as varied as his skills: advanced materials, semiconductor process equipment, hydrogen fuel cells, waste-to-energy conversion and general process industries.
He learned early in his career that building projects from scratch was his passion. “I am an engineer by education,” he said. “When I was 28 years old I went to Huntsville, Alabama to help build a plant. I was the youngest of about five engineers who were sent down there. We were all based in Massachusetts where the expansion of a plant was taking place, about a $40 million project in the 1980s. It was a great experience. We were working like a bunch of mad dogs working 6 and 7 days a week. We were young, but we had a lot of control and autonomy that you do not usually get with a big company. It took about 10 years to find out that my skill and my passion was building things and starting from scratch.”
A few years later he began working for a small start-up company in Cambridge before journeying to California in 1990. “This is when I realized that this is what I really love to do, my career has been built around helping companies build things,” he said. “One company was building digesters for digesting food waste. I realized they had a waste problem that we could solve. We took their waste and put it in a digester. Eventually they could say that they had no waste as they had used every bit of it.”
Tourigny said that most of his clients are confidential, but some of his clients include EBARA Technologies, Clean-World, Sierra Energy, California Safe Soils and Glenbrook Partners. All his clients are technical in nature and produce either unique products or unique processes.
“I love doing what I am doing. I do not see it ending any time soon,” he said. “Working with multiple companies is not something I ever planned, but it has worked out nicely for the last three years. My whole career has been taking things from the dream stage to the early implementation stage and then getting it where it needs to be to go commercial. The phase where you know where you want to be, but you do not know how you are going to get there, that is the part I like. As soon as we figure out how to get there, I say, I am bored now, go hire a plant manager, and I will move on to the next project.”
Tourigny has worked with all kinds of process equipment. “My last company was an anaerobic digestion company converting organic waste into energy and fuel,” he said. “We went all the way from garbage to making quality compressed natural gas. The one before that was hydrogen fuel cells using small contact fuel cells for backup power. I also worked in the semi-conductor industries for 18 years making really high end equipment. Before that I worked for a ceramics company. That’s the one that took me to Alabama.”
For Tourigny, there is no typical day. Each one presents new challenges.
“I sometime arrive at a prearranged time and meet with staff as if I were an onsite employee,” he explained. “Other times, I get called in to monitor a call or a meeting with a partner or customer. With clients that have weaker in-house engineering teams, I can serve as the de-facto CTO, advising the CEO and management team in a specific technical matter. One CEO viewed me as a technical referee and advised me to ‘throw a technical B.S. flag’ when a partner made an unsubstantiated claim. I also do a lot of production and process line reviews and walkthroughs to identify weaknesses and other areas of potential improvement.
Finally, I serve as the primary interface with other outside technical partners and experts when they are brought in on a specific project.”
Solving Problems with Pumps and Valves
Tourigny has worked extensively with pumps, valves and other process equipment.
“The biggest problem I generally face with valves and pumps is that the wrong part is specified because the application is not fully understood,” he said. “This is where experience and a broad referral network come into play. Another issue is over designing to accommodate future growth that may or may not materialize. I have seen many cases where a decision to save money long term has had the exact opposite effect. Knowing your application and specification limitations is critical.”
Tourigny explained that understanding the specifics of your project is the first step for any project. “First and foremost, know your materials (valve body and seals). Identify and stock critical spares and/or arrange for consignment of spares with the OEM. In the case of valves, knowing your actuators and their limitations is also important.”
“There are so many variables with pumps!” Tourigny continued. “A review of recommended spares and PMs is a good idea. For small pumps, having spares and a design that facilitates quick change out can be helpful. On larger pumps, monitoring vibration and periodically performance against the theoretical pump curve can be useful for predictive maintenance.”
Tourigny also has advice for ensuring safety when working with pumps and valves.
“Knowing the difference between the gas phase and liquid phase processes is critical,” he added. “Understanding both static and dynamic energies within a system is essential. Isolation of components being service and flawless lockout- tag-out (LOTO) procedures. Communication between operations, technical staff and servicing staff is a huge concern, especially in smaller organizations where people commonly wear several hats in their day-to-day roles.”
Advice for End Users
With his wealth of experience, Tourigny has advice for young end users.
“This is easy! Get out of your office and spend as much time in the field or operation as you can,” he said. “The people in the day-to-day operations may not know the latest and greatest technical products, but they understand the process and its current limitations better than even the designers. Ask lots of questions and listen carefully! Also, spend time developing and cultivating a network of resources and experts. Early in my career I set a goal to contact at least one new resource every day. This was a key to my finding solutions quickly and effectively. At first it seemed a chore but it soon became a natural part of my day. Today I find myself referring to thousands of contacts developed over 30 years. A lot of great friends and calls...and do not be afraid to ask for help! Never stop learning and enjoy working with other smart people with a can-do attitude. Time flies so have fun!”