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Department Focus—Building on Manson's Equipment Engineering Legacy

A group of engineers at a meeting.
Manson’s Seattle Equipment Engineering Group gather around the office whiteboard to hash out ideas and details of upcoming improvements to the company’s marine fleet. (L-R) Equipment Engineer Zach Glaser; Marine Equipment Designers Aaron Neely and Jack Bitzer, and Equipment Engineering Manager Nick Maddox.

There’s a dry-erase whiteboard on the second floor of Manson’s Seattle warehouse covered in a collection of calculations and freehand drawings—many of them challenging for most people to decipher. At that whiteboard, the minds of Manson’s Equipment Engineering group discuss the maintenance, design, retrofitting, and repair of the company’s marine construction and dredging fleet.

The team is comprised of a handful of experienced equipment engineers and marine equipment designers who sit within a few feet of the board, and another three talented team members about 2,600 miles southeast in Manson’s Houma, Louisiana office.

Led by Equipment Engineering Manager Nick Maddox, the team is tasked with several critical day-to-day responsibilities.

“I lead a highly trained group of engineers and designers who complete complex design and engineering tasks on any given day,” Nick explains. “No matter the scale or scope of the project, both the Seattle and Houma equipment engineering group are successful through collaboration.”

An engineer doing an inspection
Houma’s Senior Equipment Engineer David Mabile inspecting the trunnion fabrication for Manson’s upcoming hopper dredge FREDERICK PAUP. Photo credit: David Mabile—Senior Equipment Engineer

The group is building on a legacy of accomplished Manson engineers who’ve designed unique, reliable, and profitable dredges and construction equipment that still operate today. “Skilled engineers of years past like Bob Stevens, Glenn Edwards, Robert Long, Dave Gertch, Paul Huber, and Bill Shorey—the latter two who remain with the organization—have set the foundation for the Engineering Group,” Nick says. “We are doing the same calculations that those guys were doing decades ago, but with updated methods and technology.”

The Think Tank

Depending on the type and size of the project, the group conducts team meetings in person or online to bounce ideas off one another for current and upcoming tasks. The sessions mirror a think tank process in that each member brings specific skills in engineering and equipment design knowledge that aids in researching, identifying, and developing concepts for various projects.

According to Seattle Equipment Engineer Zach Glaser, the most significant benefit of the think tank is that each member can play off one another’s strengths. These brainstorming sessions also allow the team to build a strong bond in spite of the physical distance between the Seattle and the Houma teams.

Two engineers touring a job site.
Seattle Equipment Engineer Zach Glaser (left) and Houma Senior Equipment Engineer David Mabile (right) inspecting the hopper dredge GLENN EDWARDS during dry dock. Photo credit: Houma Equipment Engineering Group

The Day-to-Day of Equipment Engineers and Marine Designers

Whether safely climbing to the tip of a crane boom for inspection or cleaning up marine vessel drawings for future use, the engineers and designers handle various tasks that often involve traveling to visit the dredges, derrick barges, and vessels.

For the Spring 2023 season, the equipment engineers in Seattle were busy providing maintenance support for several Manson vessels, including the hopper dredge WESTPORT, which made its annual return from a three-year dredging contract at the Port of Alaska in Anchorage, AK. “We are looking to repair the port dragarm trunnion and install additional structures to the WESTPORT due to wear and tear,” says Marine Equipment Designer Jack Bitzer. “In addition to working on larger projects like the WESTPORT, the equipment engineers in Seattle and Houma also complete a variety of other tasks keeping them busy every day.”

Once a task is completed, the equipment engineers are already headfirst into another job. “I like to say that the engineers in our department always have their irons in the fire,” explains Houma Equipment Engineer Jason Morris. “Whether it’s working on boom repairs for the derrick barge WOTAN or traveling to different sites to assist with modifications on our vessels, there’s always something to do.” The work of the equipment engineers—with support from the marine designers—is essential because it sustains the life of Manson’s fleet and supports the hardworking crews on projects across North America.

Most people might expect a marine equipment designer to spend most of their working days on a computer creating 3-D models, but this is far from true for Manson’s equipment group designers. Houma Marine Equipment Designer Dustin Hamilton enjoys that his work involves visits to the Houma Yard to inspect Manson’s equipment, such as barges and towboats that require maintenance. This task often requires both an engineering and design perspective. “My day-to-day is dynamic as I handle many tasks which include visiting the Houma Yard to check out our equipment and take measurements to draw up design specifications,” Dustin says. “The group’s collective experience on both the engineering and design side allows us to take care of business.”

An engineer on a jobsite.
Seattle Equipment Engineer Zach Glaser on Manson’s M75 barge inspecting the installation of an excavator for the Larkspur Ferry Terminal Berths and Maintenance Dredging project in Richmond, CA. Photo credit: Zach Glaser—Equipment Engineer

Uniquely, Manson’s equipment engineering group gets to interact with their drawings of marine equipment throughout their lifecycle, from 2D concepts on a whiteboard to tangible pieces of functioning equipment. “Our group will design equipment using 3D modeling, check calculations using both classic pen-and-paper methods or using the Finite Element Analysis,” Nick says. “This allows us to refine the design with input from experienced tradesmen and engineers, put it on paper with fabrication drawings, and work directly with the fabricator and crew to ensure it’s built, installed, and functioning as we designed. The group is involved in every step of the process.”

According to Houma Senior Equipment Engineer David Mabile, the department’s success results from the top-notch camaraderie. “Whether it be an engineering or design problem or request, we work together as a team to help bridge solutions to get the job done,” David says.

Three engineers inspecting a draghead
Manson’s Equipment Engineering Group inspecting the dragheads of the hopper dredge GLENN EDWARDS. (L-R) Seattle Senior Design Manager Paul Huber; Houma Senior Equipment Engineer David Mabile, and Seattle Equipment Engineer Zach Glaser. Photo credit: Equipment Engineering Group

Course of Study and Certifications

“People who find success as equipment engineers are often mechanically minded and curious about how things are built. They are often inclined to building structures, taking apart cars, or into hobbies like building model airplanes. Students are encouraged to pursue degrees and certifications including Bachelor of Science in Mechanical Engineering, Bachelor of Science in Naval Architecture, Bachelor of Science in Civil Engineering, and Drafting Design certificates.”

Equipment Engineering Manager Nick Maddox

Pursue Internships to Get Hands-on Experience

“Try to obtain an internship in the marine or fabrication industry. An internship will provide you the opportunity to utilize your engineering education for real-world problem-solving. It will help you understand what it is like to work in specific aspects of the general industries while boosting your resume in the eyes of potential recruiters. In addition, the hands-on experience gained will be beneficial during your career search.”

Senior Equipment Engineer David Mabile

Find Your Passion Within the Industry

"Research different roles, try to find the one you are passionate about, and stick with it. Internships are an excellent way for students to try something they’ve never done.”

Equipment Engineer Jason Morris

Stay Curious and Be Flexible

“Don’t typecast yourself into one thing and try and pick up different skills and knowledge from roles in different industries. Be the kind of person who wants to take things apart to know how it works.”

Marine Equipment Designer Aaron Neely

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