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A Day in the Life – Mel Cowles of Hayes Pump, Inc.

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A Day in the Life – Mel Cowles of Hayes Pump, Inc.

In business since 1898, Hayes Pump, Inc. is one of the Northeast’s largest pump distributors with offices from Maine to New York to New Jersey. Director of Technical Support Mel Cowles brings four decades of experience to the company with both an electrical and mechanical engineering background.

Cowles’ interest in engineering started early in his life. As a thirteen year old boy, Cowles and a friend decided to build their very own radio station. They searched local businesses and bought separate pieces of equipment until they had a makeshift station. They mimicked their favorite DJ’s by playing music every evening, until Cowles’s mother noticed a tripling of their electric bill. The household was even visited by the FCC in regards to illegal radio broadcasts, and the project was shut down. However, this project planted a seed and led to Cowles pursuing an engineering education in college.

After graduation, Cowles got a job with the General Electric Company and entered the management training program. While working in the capacitor division, it was discovered that the liquids used as dielectric and coolant fluids contained polychlorinated biphenyl (PCB), a compound that was deemed as toxic, as well as an organic pollutant and known carcinogen. In 1979, the use of PCB was banned by the United States Congress, and the task fell to Cowles and his team to change out the tanks, pumps, pipes, and controls to a new liquid – Dielektrol (German for “capacitor fluid”). The biodegradable Class IIIB combustible fluid was selected by General Electric as a non-PCB power capacitor dielectric system and was designed to be an environmentally acceptable product to replace its toxic counterpart.

During the change process, Cowles acquired enough knowledge to move up to Project Engineer then Project Manager, and for nearly ten years he traveled the globe to transition General Electric plants in Canada, Mexico, Brazil, India, and China from PCB to Dielektrol. In 1989 when asked to travel abroad again or lose his job, he decided to part ways with General Electric. Cowles took a position at a local pump distributor with whom he had a steady business partnership for over 15 years.

Over the next 16 years he acquired extensive knowledge about pumps and their applications as he rose within the organization. In 2005 Cowles joined Hayes Pump Inc. as the Manager of Inside Sales for the New England Operations. After demonstrating his passion for helping customers with complex applications and troubleshooting their problems Cowles was promoted to Director of Technical Support.

Cowles has developed extensive knowledge in the lines of pumps Hayes carries such as Goulds, Viking, Gorman Rupp, Xylem, Grundfos, and several others. Cowles knows how to troubleshoot the issue when the pumps do not operate correctly or at their peak efficiency. Often when a new customer is calling the problem is with a piece of equipment that was not sold by Hayes. His unique background, in both mechanical components like pumps and electrical equipment like controls, allows him to bridge the gap to many common and uncommon problems. Using this knowledge he can usually work through their issue regardless of the equipment manufacturer, and get the customer the answer they need.

When asked about the most interesting pump problem encountered in his notable career, Cowles     recalls his work for IBM and the Intel Corporation. The two companies are the world’s leading providers of computer chips, with Intel alone being the world’s largest and highest valued computer chip maker based on revenue and its sales of hundreds of millions of units every year.

During the manufacturing process, the chips are washed by deionized water, and the pumps must provide an exceedingly high standard of cleaning. The pumps must be made from a certain grade quality material, be polished on the inside, and have specialized mechanical seals. Cowles plays helped engineers at these companies to define what is required of the pump and make sure it is performing optimally.

In one such instance in an IBM plant in Burlington, Vermont, Cowles and his crew ran deionized water through pumps with frits (a porous support structure containing multiple void spaces for the purpose of catching particles) for eight hours. Afterwards, the frits were put under an electronic microscope for the purpose of looking for contaminants. Any pumps that left more than three particles on the frit for the eight hour run where not allowed in the plant due to the stringent conditions needed for the water used to wash the chips. Cowles continues to help customers at Hayes Pump with similar applications

Cowles commented that the method to selecting a pump has been one of the fastest evolving elements to his job. When he started most information was kept in price and engineering books. When you had a question you had several individual on the supplier side you would call for selection assistance. Over the last 10 years that process has changed dramatically. Now the books and people have been replaced to a large extent by selection software programs. These selection programs allow the user to select the pump they need, quote the customer, and then place the order direct to the manufacturers system, all from within the supplier software program. A qualified and experienced engineer like Cowles can help to interpret the selections to provide the best solution to the customer.

Cowles works tightly with Gould Pumps and their computer software program. It provides up to date information for pumps and components for a variety of applications. The software currently contains the latest available data on over 6,000 sizes in Gould’s extensive offering, complete pump performance data and product information, and the ability to search by design points like flow rate and head, set limits, correct for viscosity, and analysis pump performance. Available online by registering for an account, the software is invaluable, and he reports it contains about 90 percent of the information he needs when selecting a pump. Cowles has used the program from its initial offerings approximately 20 years ago and is currently a beta tester for the software. Based on his extensive use of the software and tight relationship with Gould’s he a member of a small group of beta testers relied upon to give feedback on the software while it is undergoing enhancements in the upgrade process.

When asked what product he is most passionate about, Cowles did convey his excitement for the Goulds pump line of smart variable frequency drives (VFDs) – ITT’s PumpSmart® control solutions. An improvement to standard variable frequency drives, the technology lets users pick the right control solution for various systems and offers the direct imbedding of pump specific algorithms into the VFD. The pump controller is integrated straight into the drive and eliminates the need for an external controller, all while offering real time data on functions such as Smart Flow (sensor less flow measurement within ±5 percent of the pump’s rated flow), Flow Economy (a metric that defines how much fluid is moved per unit of energy), and Advanced Pump Protection (algorithms that determine operating state and protects from dry run, dead head, shut off, minimum flow, and run out).

Cowles has consistently been a top seller and advocate of ITT’s PumpSmart. He is often called into the field to customer sites by Hayes salesmen to help demonstrate the PumpSmart’s capabilities to Hayes’s customer. “Sometimes it takes a few trips to get the customer interested in trying the drive” Cowles remarked “People tend to stay with the products they have known. Once they see what the PumpSmart can do, and the savings it can produce, it becomes an easy decision” He commented that Hayes Pump Inc. has worked with many customers during his time at the company is targeting the energy savings that these drives can produce. “In many, many cases the drives pay for themselves in a year or less, that’s the part that gets the customer’s attention!” Cowles added

Looking back on his career, Cowles recalls one bit of great advice which he still tells to young engineers and new employees on a regular basis. As a senior in college, an advisor told him that, “The smartest engineer only needs to know two things. One: The books to go to get the answer. Two: The person to talk to get the answer.” He didn’t realize how important the lesson was in engineering, and in many other careers, until he was several years into his own. Now he enjoys his time as a member of the senior engineering team at Hayes. One task he particularly enjoys quite a bit is being a resource and mentor to the young engineers that the company hires. “There is a lot of experience and information to convey to the new engineers to try and get them up to speed quickly” Cowles said. “It is fun to be able to help them learn the ropes of the business, as I did over 30 years ago.”

For more information about Hayes Pump, visit the website.

Sources: Gould at Houston Conf, innovations

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One response to “A Day in the Life – Mel Cowles of Hayes Pump, Inc.”

  1. Great to find people like this in any field but especially in the business of pumps! Mel is obviously passionate about what he does.

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