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FFS Forum: An Interview with Ben Hantz, Chair of API 579-1/ASME FFS-1 Committee

By Greg Garic, Managing Principal at Stress Engineering Services, Inc. This article appears in the July/August 2022 issue of Inspectioneering Journal.
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The latest edition of the API 579-1/ASME FFS-1 Fitness-for-Service Code was released at the end of 2021. It seems like a good time to have a conversation with the Chair of that committee, Ben Hantz, to get his perspective on the evolution of fitness-for-service (FFS).

In his day job, Ben Hantz is the Technology Advisor for Mechanical Reliability at Valero Energy, and is responsible for keeping 14 refineries up and running. But, as usual, his story began much earlier. Ben grew up in the small town of Bristol, NH. He went to college at the Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) in Worcester, MA, where he got a BS in Mechanical Engineering and an MS in Materials Engineering. As a research assistant at WPI he was trying to understand why things break. A fitting start for a person who has spent, essentially, his entire career working on fitness-for-service issues.

Greg Garic (GG): Thanks for talking with us today, Ben. I’m always interested in how people get started on their path. So, let me start by asking you how you came to be interested in engineering in the first place?

Ben Hantz (BH): Sure. When I turned 14 years old I started working in the hardware store that was in our small town of 2,000 residents. The town is in very close proximity to a lake and in the summer the population would grow to 10,000+ people because of the folks that had a summer cottage or a camp near the lake.

I was working in the hardware store and one of the things that I really enjoyed was solving our customers’ problems. For example, people would come in with a faucet stem needing a new rubber seal, and I’d just start taking it apart and the brass screw would disintegrate when I put the Phillips head screwdriver on it. Later in college I learned about brass and dezincification, so that's why those screws would disintegrate the second I would apply some torque to unscrew it.

At the hardware store, every day was a different problem. I really enjoyed solving people's problems, and that's what kicked me off into the engineering career.

GG: Where did your professional career start? Did you get into FFS right away, or did that come later?

BH: I began my career with Exxon Research and Engineering in Florham Park, NJ, in the mechanical engineering group. I got started doing advanced stress analysis using finite elements. Some of my first work there was on Exxon’s “Engineering Critical Assessment (ECA) Guide” in the 1989 or 1990 timeframe, so I'm dating myself here.

The Exxon ECA Guide was rebranded to the Exxon “Fitness-for-Service Guide.” That's where we developed the initial local thin area assessment technique. It was first published in the Exxon FFS guide. I was being mentored by Bob Sims at that time; one of my most memorable experiences.

Exxon provided the Exxon FFS Guide to a Material Properties Council (MPC) joint industry program on fitness-for-service. MPC looked at the available technologies for fitness-for-service and recommended that API create what's now known as API 579.

Since my department was an internal consulting group for the Exxon affiliates, we did a lot of different assessments, what we’d now call Level 3, on a variety of equipment using advanced analysis techniques.

I went on two assignments within Exxon as well. One of the assignments took me to Baytown, TX, where I basically developed a little cottage industry of fitness-for-service consulting for the operating affiliates while being mentored by Bill Bedesem. I got an engineering workstation and a copy of a finite element code and started doing Level 3 work. Then I took another assignment to Singapore. I was sort of disconnected from what was going on in the ASME-MPC-API world at that point. But over in Singapore I was doing basically the same thing – generating my little cottage industry of fitness-for-service consulting while being mentored by Radha Krishnan.

So, pretty much my entire career has been working in the fitness-for-service area being mentored by industry giants.

GG: When did you actually start working with the API 579 committee and ultimately become Chair of API 579?

BH: After the ExxonMobil merger I went back to Baytown, and then to Fairfax, VA to what's now known as ExxonMobil Research and Engineering, where I led the Advance Analysis group in the Mechanical Engineering section. That's when I got into the API committee. That was about 2001.

My fourth term as Chair is up next year in 2023. So, it would be about 2011 when I became chair.

I like this role. I'm into developing and furthering the technology of fitness-for-service. That's why I wake up in the morning.

GG: Can you tell me a bit about the committee itself? Where do your members come from? What types of companies and industries are represented?

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Comments and Discussion

Posted by Vasant Patel on August 28, 2022
This topic count in ICP CPD hours? Log in or register to read the rest of this comment.

Posted by Greg Garic on September 1, 2022
I don't know. I know it would not qualify under... Log in or register to read the rest of this comment.

Posted by FERNANDO VICENTE on September 13, 2022
Great interview Greg. I really enjoyed. Very... Log in or register to read the rest of this comment.

Posted by Greg Garic on September 13, 2022
I wrote a FFS Forum column in the Sept-Oct 2019... Log in or register to read the rest of this comment.

Posted by FERNANDO VICENTE on September 13, 2022
Hi Greg, yes I've read the article very useful. I... Log in or register to read the rest of this comment.

Posted by Kelly Schupp on October 5, 2022
Great interview Greg and Ben, thanks to both of... Log in or register to read the rest of this comment.

Posted by Greg Garic on October 5, 2022
Glad you enjoyed it. And thanks for posting a... Log in or register to read the rest of this comment.

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