Field Engineering Spotlight: Alex Chu, Engineering Manager, Swagelok Bristol
Swagelok Reference Point is highlighting its field engineering services—our global, boots-on-the-ground team of engineering experts who are tasked with solving our customers’ toughest challenges. Today, we sit down with Engineering Manager Alex Chu of Swagelok Bristol, who discusses how he and his team apply deep fluid system knowledge to a variety of challenges, including a unique effort to help support the U.K.’s coronavirus response.
Swagelok Reference Point (SRP): Thanks for taking the time to join us, Alex! Can you start by telling us a bit about yourself and your role at Swagelok?
Alex: Of course. I have been with Swagelok Bristol since the beginning of 2013. I was an SEA field engineer carrying out consultancy and evaluations, primarily for steam systems. I joined the regional field engineering team in 2015, since my activities aligned closely with the field engineering services we offer our customers everywhere.
My role is to provide both application and fluid system component solutions for our customers. My responsibilities range from offering technical advice on an individual component to helping a customer realize their vision for a custom assembly, working closely with that customer to develop a fully realized, functional system. Our team also helps drive improvements within the customer’s systems by performing on-site evaluations, informing the customer where improvements can be made to enhance efficiency, reliability, and performance.
SRP: How did you get started in this industry, and what do you find rewarding about it?
Alex: I have been interested in engineering since I was young. I would repair old equipment I found thrown out, building circuits, programming, taking things apart and putting them back together out of curiosity. I love to see if something can be done better or more efficiently.
One reason I love this job is because I get to apply that curiosity and philosophy to our customers’ systems. Every day is different, working with different customers, looking at different fluid system applications, and making a real impact to their work and processes.
SRP: Recently the Bristol team had a truly unique opportunity to solve a challenge, right?
Alex: Absolutely. Swagelok Bristol was part of the U.K. Ventilator Challenge, working on one of the Consortiums, groups of U.K. industrial, technology, and engineering businesses who came together to produce medical ventilators to help with the coronavirus pandemic. The goal was to accelerate production of ventilators in the event the hospital system had a shortage in treating COVID-19 patients.
SRP: That is some important work. How did that idea come about?
Alex: Our business development manager, Tony Copley, first posed the question of how we could help. The idea was to apply our design and engineering expertise for all types of different fluid systems, especially oxygen systems, and apply it to ventilator production. We already supply components for similar medical applications—we believed we were well-positioned to help.
SRP: How did you proceed with the project from there?
Alex: We immediately began working with a local customer, SageTech Medical, and developed fast-tracked design plans for ICU-grade ventilators. In early April, we demonstrated our design to the Cabinet Office and consultants at both Royal Cornwall Hospital Trust and Royal Devon and Exeter Hospital, received feedback and suggestions, and finalized a design that could support long-term ventilation. In addition to the 50 development ventilators produced for the U.K. Ventilator Challenge, we also received orders for 85 of the ventilators direct from the hospitals, 25 of which were delivered in May. We have also engaged with other local hospitals since then to get them the ventilators they need.
It was truly a team effort—designing and developing medical equipment comes with a highly stringent quality and approval process, and we needed to fast track development. Everyone at Swagelok Bristol and Swagelok’s Isle of Man manufacturing facility deserves credit for their role and the long hours and weekends that were poured into the effort. We also had tremendous support from Swagelok corporate team members who ensured availability of the special back pressure regulators and relief valves, which were central to the ventilator’s design.
SRP: That is impressive. How did the team translate its experience in fluid system design to this specific application?
Alex: In practice, it wasn’t so much different than the work we’re doing with our typical customers every day. A customer has a challenge, you work to understand their needs and their requirements, and then you build an assembly that satisfies those requirements. We knew it was the right thing to do at a time when the whole world is wrestling with the pandemic.
It is all a part of what makes this a rewarding job. It’s highly satisfying to solve a challenge—no matter what it is—and see the results come to life.
Want to learn more about our field engineering services and how you can benefit? Get in touch with your local authorized Swagelok sales and service center today: