HMT : Future Tank Technology

Phoebe Harper David Knott
By Phoebe Harper  - Editorial Director David Knott  - Head of Projects

Leading with a commitment to quality and safety, the Executive Team behind global aboveground storage tank solutions provider, HMT, discuss an esteemed legacy, environmental concerns, and customer-led operations

INTRODUCTION

“The world aims to achieve a carbon-neutral future, yet global fossil fuel demand growth will resume as we emerge from COVID-19.  With that growth there will be an increase in the need for hydrocarbon storage achieved by utilizing the best available technology to reduce overall emissions and optimize capacity.  HMT and our portfolio of environmentally-focused tank products are ideally positioned to support that need,” comments Steve Byrnes. 

Steve Byrnes, Senior Vice President of Global Products, has been with HMT for over 16 years and currently oversees HMT’s industry-leading engineered products division.  Throughout the progression of his career, he has worked with HMT across the globe on various assignments including project management, engineering, manufacturing, and sales management. HMT’s products division is well-positioned to support the changes in industry focus going forward. 

Along with Steve Byrnes, Steve Morini and John Hazel, oversee HMT’s Field Services and Inspection divisions, respectively. 

“HMT’s services in the energy industry are focused on providing premier products and services for the aboveground storage tank sector, ensuring regulatory compliance for safety and environmental emissions.  Our inspection business was a pioneer in the API 653 industry and is known for being one of the first companies to provide these services in the early 1990’s.  To further complement our comprehensive solutions approach, HMT offers specialized tank repair services across the Continental United States and Caribbean.  With regional offices located in the West, Central, Southeast and Gulf Coast, HMT is strategically positioned to service its customer’s needs, utilizing best in class project management and engineering services,” comments Steve Morini. 

Steve Morini, Chief Operating Officer of Domestic Contracting has been in the industrial services business for over 30 years with a strong focus on organizational structure, process improvements, and world class project management. 

“In today’s environment, it’s increasingly important that we stay connected with our customers and their needs, which has led us to our focus of developing a world class project management organization that can respond and deliver projects safely, on time, and within budget,” states Morini.

From its base in The Woodlands, Texas, HMT has enjoyed longevity and success in the energy industry, dating back to the company’s inception in 1978. As a well-structured organization with a refreshing concern for environmentally friendly products, HMT LLC (limited liability company) has provided customer driven solutions with its combined expertise and experience, namely the three foundational pillars of HMT’s operations: Inspections, Field Services, and Global Products. 

For John Hazel, his tenure as Vice President of Inspection at HMT was a natural progression from early roots in the industry, following a summer placement at his stepfather’s company back in the 1990’s. “I just fell in love with it – it fit my personality and the things I like to do from an analytical and problem-solving standpoint.” 

That dynamic sense of meeting new challenges continues to drive HMT today. 

THRIVING IN A MODERN CLIMATE  

The modern-day industrial landscape of storage tank technology and development has had to adapt in the face of challenging circumstances.  As Byrnes surmises, “What separates us is the legacy of how HMT was founded, built upon the innovation of the secondary seal to support the Clean Air Act. Our company has continued to evolve by providing additional products and services while supporting our customers with a continued focus on innovation and execution.” 

In the face of the coronavirus pandemic and a global climate crisis (which has created markets such as Renewable Diesel), the way that industries respond to these prevailing conditions makes the defining difference. 

“Every piece of our equipment is serving an environmental purpose – that’s something that we are proud of,” states Byrnes, in reference to the product side of the business, whereby HMT supplies proprietary equipment for aboveground storage tanks.  HMT’s variety of dome options that are specifically engineered and fitted on top of tanks and floating roofs, are just a selection of HMT’s innovative product offerings designed to reduce emissions from stored products such as crude oil, gasoline, or renewable diesel. HMT also leads the market with seal systems which significantly reduce emissions while mitigating evaporation losses.

“Much of our business focuses on providing solutions and maintenance for existing infrastructure by utilizing environmentally-focused equipment,” Byrnes continues. 

CUSTOMER LED 

Aside from points of differentiation specific to the modern context, there are elements behind HMT that are unchanging as a constant priority, particularly within Field Services and Inspection, where stringent quality standards and compliance have remained a mainstay of the business. “We’re on the same path of innovation with our inspections – we were one of the first in the industry to provide tank inspections when API 653 was launched back in the early nineties,” Hazel comments in reference to the API 653 Aboveground Storage Tank Inspector Certification Program. 

Nevertheless, a degree of adaptation is always required, in line with the shifting demands of the customer. “As we have grown, we have adapted our services to meet the needs of the customers, because tanks are always changing. From the standpoint of their condition, the older they get, you start finding new challenges that were not present three, five or ten years ago.”

“Adapting our quality process to be able to encapsulate and capture solutions for all of the needs of the customer is what we do and how we deliver,” Hazel continues. 

Indeed, it is that prevailing consideration for meeting the needs of the customer that unites all aspects of HMT’s operations, as a constant tenet driving the business which has remained unchanged since the 1970s. This customer-led approach guides HMT when pursuing partner relationships. As Hazel states, “from our standpoint, it’s about identifying a quality or technology that our customers are going to find valuable.” 

Fast lead times are of the utmost importance in an industry where the cost of individual material components to repair or fix a tank is far outweighed by the cost to the customer of a tank being out of service. 

HMT recognizes this need and consistently innovates solutions to improve lead times, including establishing high quality vendor relationships. As Byrnes comments, “Partnerships are critical and must provide the reliability of delivery.  We have a lot of suppliers that vendor manage inventory – those kinds of arrangements have been imperative for us to keep that critical value-add for our customers.”

PRIORITIZING PERSONNEL 

The backbone of the global HMT enterprise is a sizeable workforce.  From office staff to engineers, welders in the field and service crews to project managers, the company’s employees and their development is critical to HMT’s success. While HMT’s customers experienced project delays and site shutdowns through the COVID-19 pandemic, reductions in HMT personnel were inevitable. During this time HMT took the opportunity to invest in additional comprehensive training and development of their workforce in all areas. 

In terms of Field Services, Morini reinforced the need for clear and consistent communication and a focus on retaining and developing key employees. A major initiative in this area has been the process of evolving the professional Project Management team, Foremen, Superintendents, and Welders with robust training programs to build the best Project, Field Management, and Craftsmen in the industry. 

“I’d like to say that we have come out of COVID-19 a stronger company – even though lingering effects are still present in certain areas of our business. For the Repair and Maintenance segment, we have been pleased to see that the first half of 2021 is ahead of our 2019 performance (pre-Covid). Other areas such as New Tank Construction has not rebounded as quickly due to market conditions, which also has an impact on our Products business,” says Morini. 

An area of the business that has seen growth throughout the COVID-19 experience has been HMT’s Inspection Services. “As Inspection is driven by regulatory requirements and we did not see a turndown in terms of activity, we were actually hiring people during the pandemic. A lot of customers turned to HMT as they were trying to return tanks to service as quickly as possible. This activity allowed us to not only keep everybody employed but also to recruit additional employees.  Our investments in technology regarding testing and reporting capabilities afforded us the opportunity to branch out, expand our services, and meet the needs of our customers,” states Hazel. 

Hazel continued, “Our investment in Non-destructive Testing (NDT) and preparatory API Certification training keeps our personnel on the leading edge of the industry and increases our ability to retain employees which contributes to the extensive experience and reliability that we are able to offer our customers.” 

Safety has the highest priority at HMT. John Hazel leads HMT’s safety program and states, “Safety is at the core of HMT in everything that we do. With our consistent focus on safety and keeping our employees safe, we can maintain a reputation for being one of the safest tank manufacturing, service, and inspection Companies.” 

Since HMT’s beginning in 1978, safety has primarily consisted of behaviour-based safety programs.  Today, a great deal of Hazel’s focus in this regard is seeking increased participation from the workforce to effectively increase awareness whilst reducing safety incidents. As such, collecting and analyzing feedback from employees is essential. 

“To me, it’s about communication and letting employees know that safety is critical to the entire organization. Our senior leadership is involved in safety daily and we are all impacted if an employee is injured,” opines Hazel, who uses ‘reach cards’ to drive these programs and increase awareness.

HMT’s reputation with safety is testament to Hazel’s efforts. “We have world class reporting systems, presentations, and tracking where we can collect data and provide live feedback to our customers. Our safety management has become a great marketing tool for us – a lot of our customers require safety KPIs and are adopting our standards and reporting practices because of the way we track safety,” Morini concurs. 

EMBRACING INNOVATION  

Continuing on the note of leveraging technology to optimize operations, HMT adheres to a mandate of constant innovation in order to continually deliver efficiencies and optimized tank systems on behalf of their customers. Technology is instrumental in this regard. 

Byrnes explains, “HMT enjoys a reputation in the industry of having the best quality and available technology as it relates to products and equipment that we provide for tanks. We are constantly challenging ourselves to ensure that we continue to improve our designs, engineering, and capabilities to make certain that we are consistently utilizing technology to provide innovative solutions to our customers. Our product portfolio is unrivalled in this industry as we are the only provider with seven product seals and six unique tank roof designs.” 

“As we broaden our vision of how we can adopt technology to improve our performance, we’ve been able to streamline our processes with the adoption of digital platforms to take redundancies out of the business by condensing things that we might do three times into just one step. This approach has improved our reporting delivery and accuracy tremendously, taking 14 days out of the previous timeline and allowing us to better serve our customers,” states Hazel. 

Examining technology primarily through the lens of inspection, digital checklists used while performing inspections, allows HMT to provide ‘on the fly’ reporting which has been a revolutionary development. “This has allowed us to automate aspects of our reports, which creates more consistent reporting and quick report turnover time, significantly shortening the time that the tank is out of service,” Hazel comments. 

In terms of global production, some HMT equipment has maintained a fairly ‘low-tech’ status, however, as is common with Inspection Services, it is the development of in-field applications that have bought a new, more efficient way of working whereby production teams can electronically submit information and time sheets, allowing Byrnes to monitor their progress and report to the customer on a real-time basis. 

Improving the general visibility of the Company, all segments of HMT have welcomed the developments of Microsoft Teams and other digital advances resulting from the pandemic that have been foundational in maintaining a degree of person to person contact in times of physical separation. 

LOOKING AHEAD 

With the future in mind, all three executives remain confident in the defining qualities behind HMT that guarantee the Company will maintain a premier place in the industry long-term. 

“Our outlook is exciting,” states Hazel, in reference to HMT’s exploratory approach and willingness to not accept the status quo with current innovations in their products and safety measures. 

“The future for HMT is promising because there are still many parts of the world that need to catch up with regards to how they design their tanks, maintain regulatory compliance, function safely and minimizing environmental impact,” Byrnes comments. 

Morini is equally positive as the Company continues on its promising trajectory out of the pandemic; “the future for HMT is bright – we’ve got a lot of talented folks in the business dedicated to the mission of HMT.”

“The amount of training that we do, the people that we have in the field and our ability to retain those personnel really contributes to the extensive experience that we have in inspecting tanks.”

John Hazel, VP Inspections, HMT

“Where we are today is a reputation in the industry of having the best quality and best available technology as it relates to the equipment that we provide for tanks – that’s still where we strive to be, and we maintain that position today.”

Steve Byrnes, VP Global Products, HMT

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