Heinz Bloch – Everything but a consultant

Heinz Bloch doesn’t consider himself a consultant. “My wife’s hairdresser is a consultant. A business coach is a consultant,” says Bloch.

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What Bloch considers himself to be is a consulting mechanical engineer. However, in the eyes of business executives and engineers on six continents, Bloch, who has a master’s of science degree (with honours) from the New Jersey Institute of Technology, is considered one of the top specialists in the world on machinery reliability improvements.

Besides his technical troubleshooting insight, Bloch possesses writing skill. He is the author of 13 full-length textbooks and is currently completing his 14th. During his career, he has written 270 technical articles on machinery reliability improvement, concentrating on pumps, compressors and related process machines. He has conducted more than 500 technical courses and seminars in Africa, Asia, Australia, Europe and North and South America.

He is a founding member of Texas A&M University’s Pump Users Symposium and chairman of the yearly International Process and Power Plant Reliability Conference. Since 1990 he has served as the equipment reliability editor of Hydrocarbon Processing Magazine.

Bloch grew up in Germany during World War II, completing high school there in 1950, and trained as a telephone technician. But in 1953, Bloch was given the opportunity to come to the United States, and, he says now, he grabbed it. “The difference in the standard of living between the two countries was great,” Bloch recalls, “and Germany was devastated.”

Bloch’s first job in the US was in a machine shop that made prototype machines for bookbinding, food processing and other applications. After two years on the job, however, he was drafted into the US army.

Bloch served at Fort Huachuca in Arizona from 1955 to 1957, where his official job was generator repairman. “After a year in the army, I realised that many second lieutenants who told me what to do were no smarter than I was,” he recalls. During his second year of military service, he took correspondence courses and prepared himself for college entrance exams – completing these exams while still in service.

Once out of the military, Bloch attended college full time, paying his way by working at the machine shop at night and during vacations.

A year after his army commitment ended, he became an American citizen. Bloch graduated from college and went to work at Johnson & Johnson, designing high-speed machinery to make cotton-tipped applicators, which resulted in patents in 14 countries. Since the company was willing to pay for his master’s degree, he went back to college at night and completed graduate school in two years.

Exxon hired Bloch away from Johnson & Johnson at a 3,000 US dollar pay increase, which, says Bloch, was a substantial fortune then. “This was an important career move,” he says.

At Exxon, Bloch quickly rose through the ranks. With his wife and children, he went on assignments to Italy, Spain, Holland, England and Japan, working on machinery reliability improvement. Very often, by doing failure analysis, he could determine the weakness in a machine and make a decision whether it was more cost-effective to repair the machine or to improve the components involved in the failure.

As his career advanced, Bloch was asked by Exxon to conduct design audits of a machine before it was purchased, looking at probable reliability, probable life expectancy and where it might be vulnerable. Initially, Bloch worked as part of a team, but later he headed up his own team, conducting solo audits as well.

Bloch typically spent 10 to 20 days on a design audit, at the end of which he often asked manufacturers for a design change. “This was a cost-effective policy for Exxon,” explains Bloch. “Think about building a new house. It makes more sense to change the closet designs before the house is built than after.”

Later in his career, Bloch became Exxon Chemical Company’s regional machinery specialist in the US. One of his most exciting projects was the initial machinery selection, installation and
ultimate machinery start-up of the Exxon Chemical Baytown Olefins Plant in Baytown, Texas.

In 1974, when Bloch was 41 years old, he began laying the groundwork for his retirement from Exxon. He knew he needed name recognition in order to work or teach independently in his field, so he began writing technical articles – at first one a year, then two, then three and then five. Textbooks followed, as did considerable name recognition.

In 1986, after 24 years with Exxon, Bloch did take early retirement and began a career as a consulting engineer and lecturer.

Bloch attributes his career successes to many factors. He notes that he has a unique combination of practical and theoretical knowledge. And, he says, his success can also be attributed “to my work ethic and grabbing every opportunity by the neck. I was never complacent. I was always focused on what I did. Ask me the top television shows then or now, and I couldn’t tell you. My genuine interest is my chosen field.”

All of which leaves little time for relaxation. Small pleasures include classical music, travelling and biblical studies. He says he also finds geography and history fascinating.

But not popular culture. According to Bloch, he should be mentioned in the Guinness Book of World Records as the only man on earth who fell asleep watching Star Wars. “My kids insisted I see the movie, but my wife had to keep nudging me because I was snoring. The movie was utterly uninteresting to me,” he says.

What has and always will interest Bloch is machinery reliability. Says Bloch: “Process plants worldwide can be divided into those that are repair-focused and those that are reliability-focused. In the long term, only the reliability-focused facilities will survive.

Reliability-focused facilities view every repair event as an opportunity to upgrade. This upgrading may be done in the form of smarter work processes, better procedures, modified means of lubrication and better components.”

Because Bloch can educate management and engineers about these issues, he is in great demand. Working five to six hours a day from his home office in Des Moines, Iowa, he turns down more consulting engineering and lecturing offers and private tutoring sessions than he accepts.

Bloch has passed on his work philosophy to his two children: “You have to truly excel. Don’t just be an employee: Be someone who adds value to whatever you do.”


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