Work Everyday Like It’s Your First

In a special bonus article for OGGN Perspective, contributing writer Stephen Forrester had a chance to speak with a long-time NOV welder and training instructor, Luis Medrano. In Part I of the article, Luis recalls his earliest days at the company, his excitement at striking his first arc, and how writing the company’s training manual for welding processes led him down an entirely new path.

On the journey along U.S. Route 90, the landscape begins to flatten out, and yards with tubulars from various manufacturing companies seem to be the only businesses. I’m going to visit NOV’s Quality Tubing facility on Sheldon Road, where the company manufactures coiled tubing strings and puts them on giant reels to ship out to customers. Today, I’ll have the pleasure of talking with a long-time welder, Luis Medrano.

Kevin Elliott, Product Line Director for Quality Tubing, greets me at the reception desk, and Luis, the Welding Specialist, is close behind. We set up shop in a conference room after navigating through the halls of the building and start chatting. I explain to Luis why I want to do this, why it’s important—that manufacturing people are the backbone of the business, and without them NOV would have no products to sell to customers, no innovation to discuss in papers and articles. For a company like NOV, such people really are at the very heart and soul of what the company does. It’s imperative that the industry captures that and remind these folks that what they do matters, that they’re critical to our success. Luis is on board, and he’s eager to tell his story.

“It was 1989,” Luis begins, “and I was 20 years old. I was already working, but a friend of mine told me about this company, talking about this shop that was opening soon. My brother, at the time he didn’t have a job. So, I got the address and decided to go over there and get him an application.”

It turned out that Luis got a little more than he bargained for when a passionate receptionist saw something in him and basically forced him to apply, as well. After some persuading, Luis ended up filling out an application—and no sooner than he got home, the phone rang with an interview request. “I came in the same day,” he continued, “and had an interview, and it went really well. And it turned out, I graduated from North Shore High School in 1987, and the guy that did the interview was also a North Shore graduate. He wanted to know who I was, and we had that connection.” No physical, no paperwork; Luis was hired on the spot. His brother, you might ask? Never even filled out the application.

Luis admits that when he started, he knew nothing.

“Before that, I’d been working at the Port of Houston,” he says, “working on heavy equipment, stuff like that—a stevedore. But I didn’t know anything about coiled tubing.”

The first job Luis had at Quality Tubing actually wasn’t as a welder, but as a hydrotester. “The way we used to do it, there was no bias weld like now with continuous tubing—so we would run a strip into tube form, put it in a warehouse on the back side of the building. And whenever we had to do a string, we’d do the tube-to-tube welds until we completed the footage we wanted at the time.” Luis’ job: hydrotest the strings. “It was easy,” he laughs, “put the pressure, put the time, and if it doesn’t blow up, it’s good, and you go to the next one.” After transferring to a new building, he moved into the service department, where they were spooling and respooling the strings. He was fascinated by the mill, by welding, by all the processes, and eventually convinced George Adams, the plant supervisor, to bring him on to the welding team.

“I’d never struck an arc before in my life,” he chuckles, “and then, I ended up working as a splice welder, which is just a stick weld, putting two pieces together enough to hold. And with a little bit of training, I was able to do it pretty well.”

The bias line, though, which involved plasma arc welding, was something that really caught Luis’ eye. It was a big secret at the time, tucked away behind a huge fence, only authorized personnel allowed anywhere near it, as there was a pending patent on the process. Through his recognized skill and a stroke of luck with that welding line needing help, Luis ended up moving over to plasma arc welding. “After I went over there, I ended up staying. And then, I ended up learning more and more, because we were developing new things, working on automatic processing plasma welds.”

Luis was always driven by his passion, by a desire to do more and be more, and he was always genuinely interested in the work being done, the advancements in welding and coiled tubing. “I was hungry,” he says, proudly, “I was ready to do more. I wanted to keep learning, and I had so many opportunities on the job to do that. They took the time to train me—to help me learn while working, more like an apprenticeship.” In addition to welding, he also got some time to do nondestructive test inspections on welds, something Quality Tubing trained him in. Being an inspector might not have been his goal, but it helped him build up an already impressive skill set and knowledge base. To keep advancing in his career, that trust in him and desire to support him was what set Quality Tubing apart. But after a short time as an inspector, he went back to his original passion—welding—until he hit almost 17 years of experience with the craft.

One day, then-manager Danny Garcia came to Luis with a new proposition: help him create a training manual for all the welding processes from the ground up. “Danny came to me and said, ‘Luis, I’m gonna get you off the lines,’” Luis recalls, “‘and I’m gonna set you up in a new office, and I want you to write down everything you know, from A to Z, about the bias line. And then we’ll use that for training.” The task was daunting; given 8 months and little other direction, Luis had barely even used a computer in his previous job, much less taken the time to ever write down how he did what he did.

“My deal was that I worked with my hands all the time,” he notes, somewhat bashfully, “but not on a computer! I was a welder, and I wondered why he was having me do all this.”

One course on Microsoft Office later, Luis was blazing through the training manual at breakneck speed, and the result was a chronicle of every single step in the process: making a bias weld, loading the strip, and everything that came before, after, and in the middle. Each item was laid out in painstaking detail—“why we did this, why we did that,” Luis notes with a sigh, almost as though back in time, the monumental task before him—so that anyone could take the training document and use it to become something of an expert on the topic. Luis did all this with virtually no training himself, operating on instinct and memory to make sure everything was captured and correct. The final product was a resounding success, with training times being reduced by up to 66%.

Luis thought his creation of the training procedures was a one-off thing, that he was soon headed back to the line to continue welding. What he really wanted to do, however, was run the mill, learn yet another new process, another type of welding, the high-frequency induction weld. Danny had other plans for him, though. “Danny said he wanted me to train his people,” Luis remembers, “and I told him I didn’t want to do that.” Kevin bursts into laughter. “I wanted to run the mill.” A few conversations later, the training job stuck, and Luis saw a new path open before him. “I didn’t even know how to do tube-to-tube welds,” he notes, “so I insisted that I get training on them. How could I train people to do that type of weld when I couldn’t even do it myself?” A week later, Luis was certified on QT-900, NOV’s conventional coiled tubing with a minimum yield strength of 90,000 psi. He feared the worst; that being forced to do what he didn’t really want to do was the precursor to him being let go for some reason. A conversation with Dan Dennis, then the Quality Tubing Vice President of Manufacturing, changed his mind, with Dan telling him that this gift of teaching others was meant to be shared.

“Dan told me, ‘Luis, if you know the subject, you can teach it. You don’t have to be an expert—you become an expert. You’re the person I need for this.’ And I thought, thank God I had this opportunity.”

Be sure to check out Part II of the article, where Luis talks about continuing to grow with Quality Tubing, training people from around the world on welding procedures for different coiled tubing strings, his role assisting new product development with new ideas for better designs, and advice he gives to his son to make sure you’re always happy at your job.

All images are copyright of NOV and used with permission.

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Stephen Forrester

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