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Meet the Experts – Steven Reaper

Explore the journey and expertise of Steven Reaper, our global technical authority on hydraulics, in our latest "Meet the Experts" blog series. Steven began his career with us 28 years ago as a mechanic, but his passion for physics and electronics started in his school days. "I bought a soldering iron with my birthday money and would take apart broken items to see why they weren't working and try to fix them. My first repair job was an old radio that powered up but had no sound. It turned out to be a simple fix as the wire had come loose in the speaker, but as a budding engineer, it gave me great satisfaction to diagnose and remedy the problem," he recalled.

Steven’s extensive career has seen him navigate various roles within our hydraulic team, including technician, project engineer, and senior project engineer. He also served as our business manager – fluid power services and principal engineer, among other positions.

Curious to discover more about Steven’s journey? Dive into the interview below!

Could you share some information about your educational background, qualifications, and prior professional experience?

Leaving school at 16, I was fortunate to land a four-year craft engineering apprenticeship with BP Exploration in Aberdeen. The initial two years covered various disciplines, with a focus on mechanical specialisation for the remaining two years.

During the latter part of my apprenticeship, I gained hands-on experience both onshore and offshore. This included assignments at chemical sites in Seal Sands, Cleveland, and offshore installations like the BP Miller platform in the North Sea. Witnessing the fabrication of the BP Miller topsides in Hartlepool before transitioning to offshore work on the installation itself was a surreal experience. In 1994, I transitioned to my first post-apprenticeship role with Offshore Crane Engineering Ltd.

A significant milestone in my career was obtaining the BFPA/CETOP Industrial Hydraulics Level 3 certification, also known as the IH3.

When did you start working at Altrad Sparrows, and what roles have you held since then?

I joined the company in August 1996 and have been with the organisation for nearly 28 years, holding various roles since then. I started on the mechanical side before becoming a hydraulic technician. This experience led to positions as a hydraulic project engineer and, subsequently, a senior engineer. Later, I transitioned to account manager and then business manager. I have also served as a principal engineer, and since 2019, I have held the position of technical authority.

What aspects of engineering do you find most appealing, and what motivated you to pursue a career in hydraulics?

Fault finding is my key strength; I love problem-solving. There is no better satisfaction than getting to the bottom of an issue and resolving it. With hydraulics, you get the full spectrum, as you need an understanding of electrical and electronics to fully understand a system. The hydraulics only do what they are instructed to do, and most modern systems are electric over hydraulic control.

I didn’t set out to work in hydraulics; it just naturally happened. I transitioned into hydraulics from working as a mechanic. Back then, there were only about five hydraulic technicians and one hydraulic engineer at Altrad Sparrows, so it didn’t take much for things to get busy!

Please outline some of the key responsibilities that shaped your daily routine as our global technical authority - hydraulics.

My primary responsibility is to ensure technical integrity by setting best practices and providing specialist guidance on hydraulic matters for the company worldwide.

I typically start my routine early, logging online by 6:30 am to support colleagues in the APAC region. Throughout the day, I offer guidance, review designs, and approve various documents, including work instructions and Engineering Management of Change submissions to all regions. In addition to these tasks, I develop guidance documents, ensure compliance with legislation, enhance engineering systems and engage in the competency and development of our hydraulics technicians.

Over your journey at the company, could you tell us about one challenging project you were involved in and the factors that made it particularly demanding?

I've had the privilege of working on numerous technically demanding projects, such as designing and installing crane Gross Overload Protection (GOP) systems and upgrading Turret Turning & Locking Systems (TTLS) and Turret Bearing Control Systems (TBCS) on Floating Production Storage and Offloading (FPSO) vessels.

One scope that stands out is the development and implementation of GOP systems for Stothert & Pitt Cranes. This extensive undertaking involved various aspects, including hydraulic design, MIPEG, and PLC components. A critical task was mobilising an RMD Kwikform structure to site a temporary crane, enabling access to the GOP cylinder at the top of the A-frame, the crane's highest point.

Participating in such a large-scale project was both challenging and rewarding, especially witnessing its successful operation after final commissioning.

Last but not least, how would you sum up your expertise?

Despite having over 30 years of experience in the industry, I still find myself learning every day. To me, expertise is something that you build on day by day; you never stop learning, and your expertise keeps developing.

My knowledge of hydraulic engineering has grown with time, and I now find myself in a position to be able to pass on this expertise to our engineers, technicians and clients, providing support and guidance.

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