SIMULIA Champions come from around the world, and from a variety of industries. Here, we speak with David Scholtz of Wood Group in Australia to find out what led him into engineering and how his business is using simulation.
The average cost of just an hour of unplanned downtime at a typical operating facility/plant is more than $500,000. So, imagine being the person that has to make the call on whether a plant needs to pause operations or not. That’s the job of SIMULIA Champion David Scholtz, a practical engineer at the multinational engineering consultancy Wood Group, based in Australia.
“Part of my role is Fitness For Service (FFS),” Scholtz says. “That means I’m often brought into an operating facility following an incident. Even though something has already gone wrong, the facility generally needs to keep operational, so there’s a lot of pressure on me to provide answers as soon as possible, understand what the risks are, and decide what the remediation means are.”
It’s unquestionably a high-pressure role where the stakes are high, including making sure that the operating facility/plant is safe for employees to keep working. “For example, I may have discovered that a pressure vessel has corroded,” Scholtz says. “I know that if the wall gets too thin, then it may well rupture. That could lead to a loss of life. Alternatively, I could deem it unfit for service, and the whole operation could go down. These are the kinds of decisions I have to make on a daily basis. I have to ascertain whether it is safe for a plant or facility to still operate, and ensure they are working within acceptable limits without going so far that it becomes unsafe.”
Unleashing the Power of Simulation
Thankfully, Scholtz doesn’t have to rely purely on his own judgment – he has a secret weapon in his arsenal that allows him to understand exactly how bad a problem is, and how far he can push the limits within the design. That weapon is simulation, and specifically, Abaqus and SIMULIA products.
Unlike most engineers, who use simulation as part of new product development, Scholtz uses simulation on products or components that already exist in the world.
“With new digital tools, we can use laser scanning to build an accurate digital model of a plant. We can then use that model to understand the integrity of a component and predict how it might deteriorate under different conditions. Ultimately, it allows us to make accurate predictions on the future lifespan of a component and make more informed decisions around FFS.”
Scholtz also helps with plant design work – another area where simulation is critical. “Irrespective of the industry you’re working in, there’s a lot of time pressure on getting detailed designs completed and up to a very high standard and level of know-how,” Scholtz says. “The only way you can really do that is by using simulation.”
It’s easy to see why Scholtz became a SIMULIA champion. “Within Wood, I’m known as a simulation guru. I love simulation because it gives you an in-depth insight as to how the world around us operates, and you can make a positive contribution to that, whether it’s in a design environment or FFS environment.”
The Early Years
Scholtz is clearly passionate about simulation and engineering in general. But if you had asked an eight-year-old Scholtz what his future career would be, he probably would have mentioned something completely different.
“I was pretty sporty as a child. I grew up in South Africa and was always outdoors with friends. I wasn’t particularly academic. It was only in my later years that I realized that I was unlikely to have a career in sports. So I actually went back to school in my early twenties and redid my final year so that I could get the math grades I needed to go to university.”
During this time, Scholtz realized he had the personality traits that both his uncle and grandfather possessed that helped them to have successful engineering careers. “My grandfather was a mining engineer and my uncle was an electrical engineer. They both had a natural curiosity for science and understanding how things work. I think I always had that within me, it just took me a while to realize it.”
Scholtz was accepted into a mechanical engineering course at the University of Cape Town. “It was then that my career really started. I worked while I was studying, gaining experience at the Chevron Refinery, and also at a local nuclear power station.”
Once he graduated, Scholtz decided to spread his wings. “My mum was from the UK, so I went over there and got a job in the automotive industry, working for a company that was designing systems for Volkswagen, Renault and Nissan.”
A Mechanical Mind
During that time, Scholtz developed one of the world’s first radar systems – commonly known as adaptive cruise control. “We developed that, as well as electric powered assisted steering,” he says. “I spent four years doing that and really enjoyed it. I got to travel Europe and work with some great people on some very interesting projects.”
Fast-forward a few years, and Scholtz had met his wife, moved back to South Africa, started a family, and decided it was time for another change. “We wanted to raise our kids somewhere different, and Australia was an attractive proposition. It was just after the global financial crisis and Australia was looking for engineers, so it was actually quite easy to emigrate. It’s a lot more difficult now.”
Scholtz’s first job was at a small consultancy but he was quickly offered another role at Wood. The rest, as they say, is history. “I’ve been with Wood for 10 years now, and it is here where I’ve truly learned about the power of simulation. It’s a tool that is only going to increase in use as our world and what we’re producing becomes more complex. I’m excited to see what that future looks like.”
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