Article Archive
Flameout Control
Special Storz Solves Houston Ship Channel Crisis
Vol. 20 No. 6

Michael Moore of Flameout Control is usually the last person called when major problems develop with industrial fire protection sys-tems. All the quick fix, off-the-shelf solutions have been exhausted before the phone rings on his desk.

"I don't want to sell stuff for a five percent commission," Moore said. "I sell equipment that I make, not something that someone else makes. We are specialists, not distributors."

For example, Kinder Morgan, a major energy company with more than 17 million barrels of liquid product storage along the Houston Ship Channel reported that Storz couplings, quick connect and disconnect fittings used extensively throughout the company's fire protection systems, were blowing apart.

The problem was one that Moore had seen before. Aluminum simply does not get along with carbon steel, he said.

"The company used a wet fire system," Moore said. "Because the water from the ship channel is brackish they had decided to use Storz. Where aluminum makes contact with the carbon steel it corrodes and creates a weak spot."

Only 10 years after being installed, those Storz couplings had become a potentially fatal liability.

"People have been killed by Storz failures," Moore said. "Kinder Morgan said we can't have this situation."

Mass production, the Encyclopedia Britannica explains, is a process that combines precision, standardization, interchangeability, synchronization and continuity. Unfortunately, the vast inventory of physical components that make this happen do not always mesh as intended. Enter Flameout Control, experts in engineering and fabricating the equipment needed to correct or improve industrial fire protection systems.

Operating from a 16-acre testing and foundry complex in Houston, Flameout Control and its sister company, A2Z Machine, have been a solution of last resort for companies facing technical difficulties with their fire protection systems around the world since 1991. Although Flameout has successfully pulled many systems out of the fire, so to speak, Moore's company remains one of the best kept secrets in modern industry.

In some ways, Moore is content to leave it that way.

"Our focus is on specialized work for engineering companies and petrochemical end users," Moore said. "We're not really interested in off-the-shelf products. Where somebody else is making a thousand of them, we're the ones that you come with special problems -- Our clients only need three of something that does the job, and they're willing to pay.'"

Solving the Houston Ship Channel crisis would be different. A system wide change to eliminate the danger of the Storz coupling blowing apart would involve millions of dollars. Yet, for all the money on the table, nothing was available from the usual fire protection sources that could do the job.

After meeting with Kinder Morgan, Moore's response was simple and direct -- "I'll be back tomorrow."

"I stayed up all night doing the drawing and machining a prototype," Moore said. "As promised, we came back the next day with a solution. Their response was 'Fine, here's an order!"

Moore's design for a Storz replacement was a radical departure from its faulty predecessor.

"Most fire departments use 5-inch Storz connections," Moore said. "However, the petrochemical industry only uses 4-inch and 6-inch flanges. If you put a 5-inch Storz on a 6-inch butterfly valve it would only leave a 4?-inch opening. You end up having to use a flange, a pipe and an adapter before you can put the Storz on."

Instead of using an adapter, Moore's device attaches straight to the butterfly valve. When it opens, a disk swings into place to block the flow of fire water until needed.

"It's made from aluminum bronze so there's no corrosion," Moore said. "It can withstand up to 1,500 psi. We make all the caps and chain we used. Because the Storz came in two pieces with an internal O-ring -- not commonly used industry -- it became the source of most of the leakage, leading to corrosion. Our unit is totally integral. We found a way to machine it with special tooling allowing us to undercut the locking mechanism."

Manufacturing and installing the new couplings has occupied much of Flameout Control's output since 2001. Today, Moore's coupling has replaced the original Storz fittings throughout the Houston Ship Channel facilities involved. The owner of those facilities is now beginning to do the same at other locations across the country.

Moore's credits extend to many other engineering miracles. Working overseas much of the time, he has designed and built everything from fire trucks and mobile fire fighting trailers to CO2 flare snuffing systems for offshore oil platforms. Special order equipment he has designed and built includes fire water distribution monitors, sub surface foam injection systems, hydraulic remote control monitors, deluge valves, hydrants, manifolds, gas detectors and helideck foam systems, to name only a few.

Misinformed people often call Flameout Control to ask about buying fire extinguishers or getting them serviced. Sometimes people call who actually have a fire on their hands, Moore added.

"If I had a storage tank on fire the first person I'd think of would be Dwight Williams," Moore said. "If you've got something on fire you want to call someone who is going to put it out. But if you want to put in tank protection and sophisticated protection systems so that a tank fire doesn't happen that's the business I'm in."

That degree of specialization often puts Moore in the position of turning down business.

"If you say 'I want a fire water monitor but it has to be made out of aluminum bronze,' we'll put together an custom aluminum bronze offshore PLC remote control computerized system," Moore said. "Say 'We want to buy 50 brand name monitors,' and odds are some other company that is a distributor for that brand is going to get the contract. That's not really the kind of business that we're in."

What exactly does Flameout Control do? First, it acts as the project engineer, providing the client with a detailed set of technical drawings. Then, depending on the rules that the client operates under, Flameout Control then turns over the actual manufacturing to its fabrication arm, A2Z Machine. However, some clients take a different approach.

Michael Moore of Flameout Control is usually the last person called
when major problems develop with industrial fire protection sys-
tems. All the quick fix, off-the-shelf solutions have been exhausted before the phone rings on his desk.

"I don't want to sell stuff for a five percent commission," Moore said. "I sell equipment that I make, not something that someone else makes. We are specialists, not distributors."

For example, Kinder Morgan, a major energy company with more than 17 million barrels of liquid product storage along the Houston Ship Channel reported that Storz couplings, quick connect and disconnect fittings used extensively throughout the company's fire protection systems, were blowing apart.

The problem was one that Moore had seen before. Aluminum simply does not get along with carbon steel, he said.

"The company used a wet fire system," Moore said. "Because the water from the ship channel is brackish they had decided to use Storz. Where aluminum makes contact with the carbon steel it corrodes and creates a weak spot."

Only 10 years after being installed, those Storz couplings had become a potentially fatal liability.

"People have been killed by Storz failures," Moore said. "Kinder Morgan said we can't have this situation."

Mass production, the Encyclopedia Britannica explains, is a process that combines precision, standardization, interchangeability, synchronization and continuity. Unfortunately, the vast inventory of physical components that make this happen do not always mesh as intended. Enter Flameout Control, experts in engineering and fabricating the equipment needed to correct or improve industrial fire protection systems.

Operating from a 16-acre testing and foundry complex in Houston, Flameout Control and its sister company, A2Z Machine, have been a solution of last resort for companies facing technical difficulties with their fire protection systems around the world since 1991. Although Flameout has successfully pulled many systems out of the fire, so to speak, Moore's company remains one of the best kept secrets in modern industry.

In some ways, Moore is content to leave it that way.

"Our focus is on specialized work for engineering companies and petrochemical end users," Moore said. "We're not really interested in off-the-shelf products. Where somebody else is making a thousand of them, we're the ones that you come with special problems -- Our clients only need three of something that does the job, and they're willing to pay.'"

Solving the Houston Ship Channel crisis would be different. A system wide change to eliminate the danger of the Storz coupling blowing apart would involve millions of dollars. Yet, for all the money on the table, nothing was available from the usual fire protection sources that could do the job.

After meeting with Kinder Morgan, Moore's response was simple and direct -- "I'll be back tomorrow."

"I stayed up all night doing the drawing and machining a prototype," Moore said. "As promised, we came back the next day with a solution. Their response was 'Fine, here's an order!"

Moore's design for a Storz replacement was a radical departure from its faulty predecessor.

"Most fire departments use 5-inch Storz connections," Moore said. "However, the petrochemical industry only uses 4-inch and 6-inch flanges. If you put a 5-inch Storz on a 6-inch butterfly valve it would only leave a 4?-inch opening. You end up having to use a flange, a pipe and an adapter before you can put the Storz on."

Instead of using an adapter, Moore's device attaches straight to the butterfly valve. When it opens, a disk swings into place to block the flow of fire water until needed.

"It's made from aluminum bronze so there's no corrosion," Moore said. "It can withstand up to 1,500 psi. We make all the caps and chain we used. Because the Storz came in two pieces with an internal O-ring -- not commonly used industry -- it became the source of most of the leakage, leading to corrosion. Our unit is totally integral. We found a way to machine it with special tooling allowing us to undercut the locking mechanism."

Manufacturing and installing the new couplings has occupied much of Flameout Control's output since 2001. Today, Moore's coupling has replaced the original Storz fittings throughout the Houston Ship Channel facilities involved. The owner of those facilities is now beginning to do the same at other locations across the country.

Moore's credits extend to many other engineering miracles. Working overseas much of the time, he has designed and built everything from fire trucks and mobile fire fighting trailers to CO2 flare snuffing systems for offshore oil platforms. Special order equipment he has designed and built includes fire water distribution monitors, sub surface foam injection systems, hydraulic remote control monitors, deluge valves, hydrants, manifolds, gas detectors and helideck foam systems, to name only a few.

Misinformed people often call Flameout Control to ask about buying fire extinguishers or getting them serviced. Sometimes people call who actually have a fire on their hands, Moore added.

"If I had a storage tank on fire the first person I'd think of would be Dwight Williams," Moore said. "If you've got something on fire you want to call someone who is going to put it out. But if you want to put in tank protection and sophisticated protection systems so that a tank fire doesn't happen that's the business I'm in."

That degree of specialization often puts Moore in the position of turning down business.

"If you say 'I want a fire water monitor but it has to be made out of aluminum bronze,' we'll put together an custom aluminum bronze offshore PLC remote control computerized system," Moore said. "Say 'We want to buy 50 brand name monitors,' and odds are some other company that is a distributor for that brand is going to get the contract. That's not really the kind of business that we're in."

What exactly does Flameout Control do? First, it acts as the project engineer, providing the client with a detailed set of technical drawings. Then, depending on the rules that the client operates under, Flameout Control then turns over the actual manufacturing to its fabrication arm, A2Z Machine. However, some clients take a different approach.

"Some want a turnkey project where you design it and build it," Moore said. "But other companies may have corporate policies that require bringing in a third party to avoid any appearance of conflict of interest. We provide a complete set of fabrication drawings that you can then use to bid it yourself."

The problem with most engineering companies is that process people, not fire protection people, do the design work, Moore said.

"If you were going to buy a $20 million compressor you'd have a detailed design of what it is," Moore said. "You want the same thing if you're spending that much on a fire protection system."

The list of Flameout Control clients includes such prominent names as ARAMCO, BP, ChevronTexaco, ConocoPhillips, ExxonMobil, Kellogg Brown & Root, Shell and the U.S. Air Force. Moore's work has taken him to Algeria, Egypt, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Venezuela and many other countries.

Often the research and design work paid for by one company can be applied to other clients with similar problems, Moore said.

"Put that together with our own foundry where the work can be done cost effectively and the savings are significant," he said. A2Z Machine is Lloyd's Registry approved and applies the latest welding processes. The company also has an "U"stamp' from the American Society of Mechanical Engineers which means Flameout Control can make design and fabricate pressure vessels.

Moore's early career goals hardly reflect his current standing. Born in Houston, he graduated from Austin College in Sherman, TX, with a degree in marine biology. Years later he found himself handling technical procurement for Occidental Oil and Gas in the Middle East. Mostly this involved buying items such as blow out preventors and down hole pumps, he said.

Occidental turned to Moore to help solve a particular problem in Pakistan. Occidental's management had grown concerned about its refinery in Islamabad. A shanty town had sprung up surrounding the Occidental refinery there, presenting an increased danger from fire. In the wake of the Union Carbide disaster in Bhopal, Occidental was becoming increasingly concerned by its new neighbors.

"The company decided to open a fire fighting school," Moore said. "They had no idea how to do it. So they called me and said 'You know about British standards and we want you to buy all the equipment.' I flew over, did the research, bought everything and opened the school. That's how I caught the fire fighting bug."

While researching the project Moore made his first contact with Angus Fire, a leading manufacturer of fire fighting hose and foam. In 1993, after Moore founded his engineering company, that connection would help him land his largest contract to date -- providing high expansion foam systems, dry chemical systems, oscillating monitors and a fire truck for a massive LNG complex in Skikda, Algeria, built by Sonatrach, an Algerian government-owned oil company.

"It's hard to relive a $7 million order," Moore said.

Still, there has been plenty of other new business. In 1995 Moore assited Emergency One with outfitting 28 fire trucks for the government of Lithuania utilizing the GOST standards used in countries of the former Soviet Union. The next year he supplied a sub surface foam injection system and monitors for a project in Indonesia. In 1997 he shipped his patented Flamesweeper oscillating monitors to Nigeria. Much of Moore's work shifted to Houston and Guatemala the year after that. Other new contracts kept Flameout Control thriving.

The mission statement for Flameout Control is simple, Moore said.

"Our mission is to force other engineering companies into the 21st century and up to the standards of European companies competing against American companies," he said.

Moore's extensive experience with standards in Europe has helped put his company many years ahead of his engineering competitors, he said.

"The Europeans are 15 years ahead of the United States," Moore said. "You know that because all of our standards are changing to match theirs."

In 1996 the International Electrical Commission published IEC 6108 which regulates requirements for functional safety of electrical, electronic and programmable electronic safety-related systems. It is applicable in mechanical engineering as well as in process technology. With regard to hazard and risk analysis, IEC 6108 established "safety integrated levels" or SIL.

Before SIL, plants and refineries had emergency shut down systems, Moore said. That is now an archaic term.

"SIL involves triple redundancy to the point that if one part fails another one takes over," Moore said. "All equipment operating in the field in Europe now has to be SIL rated."

Say that a client wants to protect a valve with a deluge system. Determining the SIL rating means determining the relative importance of that valve. If the valve failed would the resulting loss be more than $1 million? If the answer is yes, then the valve is rated at SIL 1. A loss of more than $5 million means a SIL 2 rating. Is there a potential for a loss greater than $20 million? That rates as SIL 3. Finally, is it possible someone could lose their life?

"That means a SIL 4 which means 'no, we can't do it - go back and redesign,'" Moore said. "Nobody is allowed to have a SIL 4. Understanding SIL ratings makes it possible to design systems correctly the first time instead of wading through endless change orders."

Only recently have the United States and Canada started to convert from the National Electrical Manufacturers' Association (NEMA) to worldwide standard IEC 6108, making it easier to design new product lines that can sell anywhere in the world. However, some companies are lagging behind in adapting to this new standard.

"If you go to some American companies and ask if a certain product is SIL 2 rated, they're going to say 'no!'" Moore said. "Then they are going to ask you what a SIL rating is. But go to a European company like Zellweger and you'll see that their detector says 'SIL 2.' That means you can put your equipment into any refinery in the world."

With regard to American standards, Flameout Control is one of the few companies that manufactures Class 1, Division 1 explosion-proof equipment as defined under NFPA 70 as safe to use in acetylene environments, Moore said.

Despite being well grounded in foreign standards, Moore also takes great pride in making an American product.

"Everyone else is bringing stuff in from overseas," Moore said. "Everything we sell is U.S. made."

One area where Flameout Control has staked out a position on the cutting edge of technology is remote control fire water monitors. Moore started experimenting with these systems in 1995.

"We had six infra-red imaging cameras on 160-foot towers," Moore said. "They were gimbaled so that you had an X, Y and Z axis. Tied to the camera was software controlling 20 fire water monitors. The cameras would scan a two-mile area looking for fire. The instant it caught an infra-red signature the program could determine how tall the fire is, how flat the terrain is and, like a GPS tracker, determine the exact X, Y and Z coordinates."

The program would chose the appropriate monitor, do the trigonometry, open the monitor and extinguish the fire, Moore said. It could even give a 15-to-30 second warning depending on what the operators wanted.

Today, Flameout Control is working with a combination infra-red, ultra violet imaging system that detects hydrocarbon vapors that might otherwise be invisible to the human eye. (See "Mastering the Unknown," Industrial Fire World, July-Aug. 2005.) The idea is to marry different types of visual imaging into one device that can be used in much the same way as infra-red open path detectors to locate fugitive gas emissions.

Despite its "one-of-a-kind" reputation, Flameout Control is starting to build an inventory. Chief among the items now readily available is Flameout Control's unique design for swivel joints used in several of its other engineering designs. Visit Flameout Control's website where items such as these can be seen and bought.

"These are products that have solved problems for a client," Moore said. "Now we have a foundry where we can make them cost effectively for others who need them."

Moore is not alone in making Flameout Control work. He maintains a loose association of consultants who can be brought in on any project. When a professional engineer's stamp of approval is needed Moore turns to Kerry Ridgeway, principal engineer with Protech Engineering in Houston. Another principal associate is Luke Sweeney, sales manager for Flameout Control.

"He's in the front seat of an Apache gunship," Moore said.

Sweeney, a National Guardsman, has been on active duty status for nearly four years, Moore said. Having served in the Afghanistan theater, Sweeney is now stationed in Tikrit in northern Iraq.

As for Moore's current schedule he is currently involved in the $1.5 billion project to expand Chevron's LNG facilities in Australia's Greater Gorgon gas fields. He will also be working with Chevron on a $2 billion project to further expand its Escravos project in Nigeria to convert natural gas into petroleum fuels. Add to all this a new one-year contract that Moore has signed with KBR.

"Right now I'm double booked and putting in 90 hours a week," he said. "I love it though. I love meeting the challenge and introducing needed changes in fire protection." o

 
 

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