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88th GM Presentation Patricia Becker

Print Date: 2/29/2024 9:49:04 AM

The 88th General Meeting Speaker Presentation

“The Test of Time: How Manufacturers & Key Contributors Helped Standardize an Industry”

Patricia Becker

The following presentation was delivered at the 88th General Meeting Monday General Session, May 6, 2019. It has been edited for content and phrasing.

INTRODUCTION: Patricia Becker is a pressure vessel design engineer for The Babcock & Wilcox Company in Barberton, Ohio. She is a member of the National Board Advisory Committee, representing boiler manufacturers. She is also a member of the American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME) and is the Secretary for Subgroup Fabrication & Exam as well as a member of Subgroup General Requirements & Piping in BPVC Section I. Ms. Becker has over 30 years of work experience as a patternmaker and design engineer.

Ms. Becker’s slide presentation can be accessed here.

MS. BECKER: My presentation is called "The Test of Time," and it's about the early days of the [ASME Boiler and Pressure Vessel] Code and Babcock & Wilcox's (B&W) contributions and manufacturers' and volunteers' contributions to the Code. 

George Babcock and Stephen Wilcox started their partnership in Rhode Island, eventually went to New York, and then ended up in Barberton, Ohio, in the very same building I work in now. 

I can attest to the rich history of the building from the pedals on the walls in the restrooms, and the steel latch on the door in the vault in the basement where we keep a lot of that history and where I tend to hang out probably way too much. 

We talked a lot already about the accidents. Everybody is aware of how catastrophic steam was back in the early days before there were regulations. It brought about a need for change. That need unified an industry, unified government, and unified regulations to try to bring about a safer workplace and a better way for people to travel where they weren't so worried about their own safety. 

So more about me. This slide shows me as a patternmaker back around 1980 in my 20s. I started at B&W about 13 years ago after a 25-year hiatus from college. I had worked in a family business. My two brothers and my father were patternmakers. My brothers still are.

I worked in the steel industry making castings, and the last six years before I went back to school, I was making pulverizer parts for B&W's boilers, top grinding rings and rotating throats and such. 

When I got my degree, and I went out looking for somewhere to work, I had B&W all over my resume.  They were the next town over, so it was pretty handy. That's where I started to work. 

It wasn't long after I started working there that I had four mentors each with 40 years of design experience. At the time, John Light, Jim Tanzosh, Ray Melitti, and Ron Pulliam were some of my mentors there.

As I realized B&W's standards were rooted in the Code, I became more and more interested in the Code. I followed John Light to a Code committee meeting in 2014, and it wasn't long after – I'm not going to lie, the demographic, being a female and needing that on the Code committee, plus knowing what I was talking about, hopefully, led to my becoming a member a little sooner than probably most did. 

I became a member of Subgroup General Requirements and Subgroup Fabrication and Exam. And then as Joel Amato [National Board Board of Trustees Chairman] mentioned, I'm a proud recent member of the National Board's Advisory Committee representing manufacturers. 

Let's jump right into it, the devastating history of the accidents in steam. 

The industrial revolution was in full swing. Industry was booming – no pun intended – in the late 1800s, and everywhere there were both accidents and a need for steam. 

I can see Linn Moedinger, and if anyone knows Linn, just having his skin crawl at this particular slide. But just to show the devastation that steam can do, here are a couple of locomotives. 

Here is a quote from Harper's News Weekly that said, "There has come to be a general feeling of insecurity and distrust, and every man or woman who steps out of a railway car or a steamboat at the termination of their journey does so with a feeling of sensible relief." 

I don't know if we can fully understand what it must have been like in those days. The only thing I can liken it to is maybe after 9/11 when you wondered when you got on a plane. Everybody was just a little more cognizant of what it was to travel and to wonder about your safety. 

We have already heard about the Sultana in an earlier presentation. What we don't hear, though, which I found interesting when I was looking at some of the history, was that more lives were lost that day than were lost on the Titanic. And it wasn't just Civil War POWs. There were people in the area who were traveling. There were women and children on board as well. 

I came across an interesting blog on Hartford Steam Boiler’s (HSB) website that Pat Jennings had written, if anyone is interested in more information on the Sultana. It mentioned that the story of the Sultana was somewhat glazed over in the media because Lincoln had just been assassinated a couple of weeks before, and they also didn't want to draw attention to the risk involved with steamboat travel. 

So the safety valves were set at 150 psi, and today some of the Universal Pressure Boilers are in the 3,000 psi range.           

So what is 150 psi? 

Now, mind you, as an engineer I know this is not feasible. This is sheer potential energy, but I still thought it was amazing. I threw it into Mathcad and actually had to go have another engineer double-check that it was real. There is enough potential energy in 150 psi to send your favorite 12-ounce beverage up past the International Space Station. There is enough energy in a 55-gallon drum to go up where hot air balloons fly. It could send a truck up where these construction workers on an 800-foot steel beam were eating their lunch in this famous photo. 

So what to do about the issue? 

This is when George Babcock and Stephen Wilcox, long-time friends, went to work to make a safer way to make steam. Wilcox introduced the water tube boiler and patented it in 1867. The water tube boiler kept the steam on the inside of the tubes and was a safer design than the typical fire tube boiler of the day. It also allowed for more heating surface and a more efficient boiler. 

Here is an interesting side note: The two men died only 19 days apart in 1893. They were extremely good friends with a long and fruitful working history. 

In 1876 at the World's Fair in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, B&W spent more money than they thought they should have on a full-size demonstration boiler we call the “Centennial Boiler.” It had about 150 horsepower, which was almost twice the typical boiler of the day. It captivated the imagination of everyone, won a gold medal, and created a backlog of orders that lasted for years.

Other inventions there were also related to the steam engine. There was the feedwater heater and the furnace feeder to save the poor guy shoveling coal in front of the hot open flames. 

The economizer was also there, which was a new idea at that time, which I thought was interesting. There was an ad that was just fascinated with capturing heat and reusing it.           

Also at this time – and we are going to diverge from boilers just because I thought this was so cool – down in the right-hand corner there, you can see the size of the men standing there relative to the hand of the Statue of Liberty. This was at the World's Fair at the same time as the Centennial Boiler. A fingernail on the hand of the Statute of Liberty is 13 inches square, a finger is over 6 foot long, and the circumference of the arm looks like 16 feet. At one time, they wanted to put it in Manhattan, not in the harbor, but it went out in the harbor. Actually seeing it there with its size gave it the momentum to be erected in New York. I thought that was cool. 

As far as the Centennial Boiler goes, after it left the fair, it was used for over 50 years at a sugar refinery. After that, it ended up at one of our shops in Bayonne, New Jersey. 

Then, as the story goes, we were getting ready to sell some buildings in downtown Barberton, and someone tore up the floor, and in crates under the floor was the entire Centennial Boiler. 

For Christmas, I bought myself this 1876 steam gauge, and went over and plopped it into its original location. We still have the boiler all spread out in the barn behind our building right now. 

Because of the age of the building, we are moving from Barberton over to Akron later this year into the old Goodyear Building, and we are going to erect the face of the Centennial Boiler on the engineering floor on the sixth floor. I'm working with the foundry down the street from where I worked when I was much younger to fix the castings and modify it to be erected on the sixth floor. If you see me this time next year, ask me to show you some pictures, because I'm sure I will have some. 

After they started to improve the boiler design, again back to the Centennial Boiler, we were wondering which version of the boiler in that time frame we had. Unfortunately, we didn't have the original drawings. I'm convinced we do, but I haven't had time to go and look for them. 

As the boilers improved, each design improved. What improved on them were the headers. Being a header designer, I went over and looked at the headers. By looking at the headers and the descriptions that were in Fifty Years of Steam, I could determine that it was Type 20.

It had sinuous headers. So the headers were snake-like, and maybe some of you inspectors have seen them on the really old boilers. We don't come across them very often anymore, although I have seen drawings of them. But they are not just a straight pipe. They are actually squarish-looking and are sinuous. They were the first that were suspended to allow for growth.         

The designs improved, but there were still many explosions and problems because of a lack of regulation.           

This is from a newspaper article from Canton, just twenty or thirty minutes from Barberton where we live and work, where a sheet metal shop exploded.

And this is an excerpt from Mr. [Paul] Brennan's book, Blowback. It shows the power of a boiler explosion. That hole, the circle in the wall over there on the right, is where a gentleman entered the house, he exited the house behind, and landed on a fence on the opposite side of the street, and all of that was a block and a half away from the boiler. Again, just to stress the power of steam.           

B&W was involved from the very beginning, and has maintained that history from the very beginning of the Code and even before the Code right up until today. 

I went down in the vault, got the Transactions of ASME from 1914, and did some reading. I wish I had some time to do more. Just to point out – we do maintain the Transactions of ASME from 1914 on. 

As we mentioned, it's all about the people, isn't it? When Mr. Brennan put up that photo from his presentation, Dr. [D. S.] Jacobus' name jumped out at me when I saw it in the literature. He had 192 patents for B&W, and, along with C. O. Myers, was instrumental in educating folks as to boiler operation, and how to do it safely, at the beginnings of the Code. 

At one of the early meetings, in the 1914 minutes again, he reported on the results of the operation and performance of three Detroit Edison boilers. 

Also in that meeting, he gave every detail of the operation, and a lot of them at the time were considered tips and tricks. Those tips and tricks would become some of the rules and guidance in Section VII and Section I for the safe operation of boilers. 

As an example, he told them how they put steam gages at the end of each aisle, and it was found on the steam gage that you should mark them in divisions of approximately one pound, and then he says it was found at which point on the gage the safety valve would lift, and then the steam would be operated accordingly. 

I added to it a little proud statement here:  "A member of the committee at the time said that these boilers were a wonderful exhibition of what might be expected in the future, designed to give the gases a chance to burn themselves out and result in improved morale and conditions of the workplace." 

Interestingly, at the time a fireman was paid forty-five cents an hour. The guy who tended the water was paid thirty-five cents. The foreman was paid fifteen dollars a shift, which I'm sure everybody thought was way overpaid. And a 12-boiler plant cost about a hundred dollars a day to run. 

I would be curious what it is now. I don't know. I do know, however, that liquidated damages, if my design is late, is like a million dollars a day, or so I'm told. 

The transactions in their early meetings are really cool to look at. If I had had a little bit more opportunity and resources, I probably would have printed some of the minutes to hand out, as we did the 1914 code, so that everybody would have an opportunity to see what I get to see all the time. 

I thought it was interesting to put a few ads in here. There were Fulton Boilers – I talked to Melissa Watkinson, and that’s not for the Fulton Boiler Company, apparently -- but there were Foster Superheaters, and then I meant to put on the right Keeler Boilers, because I'm betting you can guess what happened not long after these ads. 

Getting back to B&W and their contributions, I thought this slide was really cool. I didn't know this before I started looking into making this presentation, that B&W boilers were in 90 percent of the combat ships in World War II, and they were in 70 percent of the merchant ships, and that B&W shared their standards with two different vendors who had never built boilers so that the parts would be standard and interchangeable. They gave our detail drawings to eleven competitors so that the wartime fleet could be up and running as quick as possible. That was pretty cool. 

The other thing they did was bring in and invest in technology. The Bailey Meter Company, who had begun to investigate and test instrumentation to measure air flow and to bring about consistency in fuel firing and steam measuring and so on, became a subsidiary of ours in 1923. Testing continued and then became automated.

In our refractory division, we developed a new fire brick that was an eighth the weight of a typical fire brick. At the time, there hadn't been a lot invested in the understanding of the fire brick as an insulator. The inability to protect the materials from the furnace gases and the extreme heat was keeping us from building hotter, more efficient boilers. These bricks that were developed allowed there to be lighter, thinner walls built in the furnaces. 

The other thing that probably most know, like our Beaver Falls tube plant, we were the first to extrude alloy and stainless steel tubing. 

And it's my understanding that we invented the continuous casting process. The founders thought that there must be a better way to get from the liquid alloy to the slabs and billets, and the continuous casting process was invented by B&W. 

The foundry unfortunately closed just a couple of years ago. And having that history, I was asked at the time, “Hey, what do you think about the foundry closing?” 

And I said, “I think not only should we not close the foundry, we should reopen the tube and pipe mill downtown, considering the price of a piece of pipe.”  But, of course, I didn't win. 

Package boilers, our West Point plant closed recently, and we have absorbed that work in Barberton as far as the engineering goes. 

And it's interesting, down in the corner of this slide, if you can see, there is a train in the middle of a piece of piping for the Hoover Dam that was formed right there in Barberton. 

Again, this slide has more pictures of the shop. This is the machine shop and the development of an x-ray that took place at our facilities in Barberton. 

Now, this slide is the stuff that I like. It's not really attractive as a photo, but the information in it is cool. 

I brought Dawn Holt, our code data coordinator, with me as my guest this week, and this book in her office has a lot of the documentation. In fact, it's a typewritten version of the National Board Constitution. So B&W was involved back in the beginning. 

It's interesting that when the State of Massachusetts sought to further the rules and to make them more wide scale, there is a quote, and I thought it was cute:  "The people at the hearing questioned why a New York company would send a rep to Massachusetts to upset their plans." 

I can just imagine the buzz in the room when Dr. Jacobus walked in, like what's he doing here?  As it turned out, though, everyone was surprised to find that B&W was very much for the idea of furthering regulation, considering it a movement to protect life and human property. 

This slide shows the inside of the book that I was talking about, and in 1950, a gentleman from our contract department was asked to record as far back as he could remember B&W's involvement in the Code. If anyone is interested in obtaining the slides afterwards, you can read a lot of the information that's on here. Here’s a memo that was recorded detailing the first contracts we did. 

Again, this book is right down the aisle from me at work in Dawn's office. We are being asked to scan and get rid of a lot of our history as we move over to Akron, and some of us are doing so fighting, kicking and screaming. But I'm sure we will retain some of it, or it will, at least, go to the mine. 

I thought this little note in our book was interesting. It reads, "It is necessary if you do something for Massachusetts to go ahead and pull a National Board number anyway." Apparently, Massachusetts didn't accept the National Board or ASME standards, even though Massachusetts was the one who wanted to first implement and further the regulations, but we wanted it stamped anyway in case the boiler was sold and went across the state line. Then, we wouldn't have to prove that it was built to the National Board and ASME rules.

Power magazine reported on the first General Meeting of The National Board of Boiler and Pressure Vessel Inspectors. The entire first day was devoted to addresses, and Dr. Jacobus, acting chair of the ASME Boiler and Code Committee, told of the genesis of the Code and emphasized that no decision was made that wasn't unanimous and agreed upon by all. He was very proud of that fact. In the audience was C. O. Myers, the new secretary-treasurer of the National Board. 

This slide shows the Power magazine article. Sometimes you see C. O. Myers' picture taken from this. Maybe many of you have already seen this article. They brought together about sixty inspectors from both ASME and the National Board. 

This slide is just an example of some of the log books that we have. The week before this last week, we took our previous code data coordinator out. He had done the job for forty years, and was telling us how he took the job over from someone who had done it for forty years.           

We were interested in understanding how our log books were done. As a manufacturer that had been doing this for 150 years, we wanted to know how we documented each boiler and what National Board number it went to. 

And, boy, I would love to sit down and make a summary document, because this is how it exists. We have the National Board number, and we have the contract next to it. We have the ASME number, and the contract next to it. 

And then we have the individual states. We had Michigan. We had Maine, Massachusetts. Many of the states didn't accept the Code at the beginning.           

Once again, I walked down the aisle, and I wanted to pull out an example of a data report. This slide shows one from 1909, so it was before the Code. This would be what would essentially become a P-3 or a P-4. Interestingly, there was a letter attached to it that said, "Per your request, attached is a drawing of the vessel in question," and it's actually a riveted drum. Again, this was down the aisle from our office, so the history that we have is just amazing. 

Still the states had their own rules, as I mentioned, and we have some of this documentation on them. I'm not going to read all that, but this slide details the first boiler that we had in some of the states and whether they were issued number one or number two. 

I believe we have the number one and two stamps from ASME, and as Mr. Brennan mentioned, wehave the first R stamp from the National Board as well. 

And as he also alluded to, I had the same slide in my presentation about seeing a boiler with 22 stamps on it, and how he said that basically the National Board could clean up this type of problem. I put a stamping on this slide just to show you its size. So you can imagine what that must have looked like for 22 states. 

The National Board, ASME, inspectors, manufacturers, and users have worked hand-in-hand for more than a hundred years to standardize and keep the boiler industry safe. It is the key contributions of thousands of volunteers along the way that are responsible for the longevity of the Code. And the fact that many of the rules are the same today as they were fifty or a hundred years ago is a testament to the forward-thinking ingenuity of those who were involved in the writing of the Code. 

In the meetings that we have, many times you will spend an hour beating up an "and" or an "or”, or the simplest words that you think are perfectly clear. Somebody else sees them a whole different way. 

The volunteers put in the hours to make sure we get it right, to check it, to see what needs changed, or to improve it. It’s that important. 

As new technology developed and new manufacturing techniques were introduced, it was the consistent participation by the users of the Code that kept the rules relevant, safe, and, in all possible cases, practical. 

We were there from the beginning. The first edition of Steam was released in 1875, and the most recent edition, the 42nd, was in 2015. I don't know if anybody caught the Jimmy Fallon Late Night Show.  Apparently, he has a skit on there about books you never want to read. And he was going in depth about this book being about steam, and look, it has gold-gilded pages. Somebody really cares about this book. It was funny. It came up on our home page the next morning, and we found out that he had the 41st edition. So we promptly sent him the 42nd because he didn't have the most recent edition. 

So from those who came before us – this picture is from the 1930s – to those who maintain the legacy today, that's all of you. 

And at left, I was asked by somebody internally why I put the 2014 group up there, and it's because it has special meaning to me. It was the first year that I participated, and there are four or five gentlemen there who contributed so much who are not there anymore, either they have passed or have moved on from the Code. 

Then, here is the picture from last year. And you can do "Where is Waldo?" with the girls in there. There are two of us. See if you can find us. 

If you haven't been to an ASME meeting, please stop by. You all have so much experience of what you have seen. The users of the Code and the guys who are out there in the field who see it are the ones who have the insight and can offer advice or experience for change. The visitors are important. The visitors a lot of time become the members. So don't be shy about speaking up in a meeting or letting someone know what you know that could impact or make an improvement in the Code. 

To the manufacturers, the users, the inspectors, and the visitors, to all of you, thank you so much.           

And as Dave Douin [Executive Director of the National Board] put it, thank you, Mr. Myers, for leading by example. 

Thank you so much.