It’s the fall of 2017 and Turbo Lab staff are about to go live with a new and improved Turbo Lab website. Several members of the staff hastily download all Turbomachinery & Pump Symposia proceedings for the old site and securely catalogue them on a hard drive—this is golden technical content that absolutely cannot be lost with a switch to the new site. It’s during this historical record-keeping effort that a Turbo Lab staffer stumbles across an old photo of a familiar face…
Kenneth E. Atkins is senior staff engineer at Engineering Dynamics, Incorporated (EDI) and a member of the Turbo Lab’s Turbomachinery Advisory Committee (TAC) since 2012. The TAC is a group of dedicated industry experts who volunteer their time to oversee the success of the Turbomachinery & Pump Symposia. Advisors are respected leaders in their companies and fields who select the technical program for TPS each year.
Q: The burning question: What’s the secret to such good hair? How do you do it?
- A: [Laughter] I remember when that picture was taken because we were just in the process of starting EDI [Engineering Dynamics, Incorporated] and we had to have those headshots done for the first brochure. I had driven over to San Antonio from Houston and I remember thinking I wasn’t ready—‘aw, my hair is going to be all messed up.’ I’m glad to hear that you think it looked OK. [Laughter]
Q: How did you get your start in this industry?
Ken entered the turbomachinery and pump industry upon graduating from Trinity University, and has focused on machinery vibration and reliability issues ever since. His first job was at Southwest Research Institute, then at ExxonMobil in Baytown. He was part of the core group that founded Engineering Dynamics, Incorporated (EDI) in 1982.
- A: I was the baby—the youngest of the young there. There were six of us. We worked together at Southwest Research Institute and we weren’t doing much research; we were doing engineering services, so it made sense to start a service company. Our original president was Buddy Wachel. He was one of the legends of the Turbo world along with Charlie Jackson and Ed Nelson and those types. Buddy was one of the early advisory committee members—he joined in that era, in the early 1980s. When I think of Ed Nelson and Charlie Jackson—the founding members that I knew—Buddy Wachel was also one of the masters, the legends.
Charlie Jackson and Ed Nelson were two of the most prominent ringleaders of the Turbo Symposium. More on their history and the start of the symposium here.
Q: What’s it like to have grown your career alongside these legends of the Turbo Lab and the Turbo Symposium?
- A: It’s…I…I feel blessed. All of those guys, I had personal contact with. Buddy was a mentor for me. I worked with Ed Nelson on projects at Amoco in Texas City. About the time we started EDI was around the time Charlie left Monsanto, so we had a lot of interaction. I met Mike Drosjack at an early age. I just feel like I was at the right place at the right time to have known a lot of these guys. They were great examples.
Mike Drosjack began serving on the Turbo Advisory committee in 1986. Before retiring from the committee in February 2018, he compiled, “The Start and The Early Days,” a history of the symposium.
Q: How did you first become involved with the Turbomachinery & Pump Symposia?
- A: The first one I attended was in 1981 when I worked for Exxon Chemical. Pete Jenkins was the director of the Lab at the time and it was just like—WOW. This is a really interesting group of people. Everything from the technical content to the exhibits was just…kind of like the Super Bowl. It seemed like such a great venue for machinery engineers.
Ken has since authored dozens of papers for the symposia. He has an unforgettable memory of his first presentation on a rotordynamic instability issue with a hydrogen compressor…
- I don’t remember the year, but it was in that late 80’s time frame—one of the sessions was up at the Anatole in Dallas—I was a young engineer and back in those days you did your presentation with slides, with the carousel and 35 millimeter slides. You go to this auditorium and you know there are going to be 800 people there listening to your presentation. John Kocur [another advisory committee member] and I think for both of us it was the first time we were going to make a presentation at the Turbomachinery Symposium. So we went into the speaker ready room to put our carousel of slides down and we looked at each other and we were like, “Wow. We are young, we are nervous and we really hope we can get through this.” It’s neat to look back on that, since John and I are both on the advisory committee now, and we’ve both had really interesting careers. That was a memory, for sure.
Q: What’s the best part of being involved with the symposium?
- A: I’ve gone to other conferences, whether they be ASME or API, and other organizations. What stands out about TPS is the technical excellence. It’s just head and shoulders above any of the other conferences I’ve been to. I think it’s the whole procedure of the peer-reviewed papers and the precedence that Dr. Childs set up for that. It is top quality technical content.
Dr. Dara W. Childs recently retired from his post of director of the Turbomachinery Laboratory and chair of the Turbo and Pump Advisory Committees. More on his legacy here.
Q: When you’re not hard at work at Engineering Dynamics or reviewing abstracts for the symposium, what can we find you doing?
- A: I spend a lot of time at Lake LBJ. I like boating and fishing, and I play a little golf.
Q: You get one, final meal. What are your choices, from appetizer to dessert?
- A: I would have to say it’s a good carne guisada taco. That would be appetizer, main course and dessert! Another one of my hobbies is BBQ. The carne guisada thing evolved from BBQ brisket, smoked for 14+ hours. That’s a nice meal itself, but the leftover brisket gets used as the meat for carne guisada, adding potatoes, pico de gallo and a nice gravy. I just did that this weekend so I’m still salivating over it.
Who’s drooling? *raises hand*
Q: Any final thoughts on your involvement with TPS?
- A: It’s been a lot of fun. I’ll tell you a feeling about being part of this. It comes from The Masters golf tournament. I had the good fortune of attending The Masters few years ago. Their slogan is “a place like no other.” When I watch interviews with guys like Jordan Spieth and Ricky Fowler and they talk about what it means to be in the Masters, that’s how I feel when I’m at the Turbomachinery Advisory Committee meetings. I feel like I’m among The Masters in this very special group. It’s very enjoyable to me.