An Interview With Oliver Hills

On October 27th at 2:00 PM ET, Johns Manville Industrial Insulation Group is proud to co-host a live webinar with Pittsburgh Corning FOAMGLAS® addressing solutions to corrosion under insulation (CUI). This webinar, entitled “Science and Strategies to Inhibit CUI”, explores the critical components that go into designing systems that preemptively address CUI, the scientific conditions that contribute to CUI, and different insulating materials that can be used to help prevent CUI.

Register for the webinar here.

Our co-presenter, Oliver Hills, is the Director of Technical Services from Pittsburgh Corning.  Oliver’s background as a nuclear engineer and his extensive professional experience in the power generation industry have given him critical insights into how to address CUI and have made him a valuable technical expert and resource for the upcoming webinar.  Oliver sat down with us recently to discuss his journey and some of his views on CUI.  

Tell us a little bit about your role at Pittsburgh Corning FOAMGLAS.

I am a Director-level, Technical Servicesexpert for the FOAMGLAS product line. Essentially, that means that I am responsible for the global technical-services strategy for all FOAMGLAS industrial customers as well as providing pre- and post-sales support. This means my department takes care of conducting energy surveys and analyses, insulation calculations, system design and installation consultation – things that help our customers better understand what they will need for their applications. I’m also a key player for value-added services like training, education and on-site project support for the Americas and Asia.


You have a background in nuclear engineering – how did you find yourself as the Director of Technical Services at FOAMGLAS?

I was a nuclear process engineer, designing and project managing some exciting parts of the UK’s first commercial Pressurized Water Reactor project in the late ‘80s. Unfortunately, that industry began taking a nose-dive when the government started to lose interest in the mid ‘90s. Thus, I was looking for a new challenge and moved into an international commercial role for some years prior to joining the insulation industry 14 years ago.


This role as a country manager for our industrial market was a mixed technical & commercial role which was a great combination for me. More recently, Pittsburgh Corning Corporation wanted our separate geographical divisions to be more global in outlook and have closer working relationships, and so they offered me the Technical Services role in the USA to have global oversight of training and bring my overseas experience into the US corporate office.


Education is obviously a big part of your role. What other types of educational opportunities are you involved in?

A key part of my role is directing our global training programs, which provide everything from first awareness of FOAMGLAS® insulation for new-hire insulators, owners and our distributors, to refresher and key-skills training for people who have been in the insulation industry for many years.


With your emphasis on training, how have you seen the “knowledge gap” between new workers entering the industry and others retiring impact the industrial industry?

I already saw the skills gap appearing ten years ago in the UK and started providing training in my region to combat it. As many of the more experienced workers were about to retire, we found that skilled workers in the middle-age group were virtually absent. Unfortunately, in the UK, the industry was initially slow to react and begin investing in a recruitment and training strategy. Because of this, we saw a large influx of foreign workers who had the necessary skills and experience to fill the gap left by the retiring generation. Simultaneously, the industry in the UK brought on new, inexperienced hires and it took the time and expense to train them. Despite the slow initial reaction in the UK, the knowledge gap brought to light the enormous need to support contractors by assisting the industry associations (similar to union shops in the US) in training new talent and helping the overseas workers adapt their skills to different products in an unfamiliar working environment.


Today, we are seeing the same pattern emerging in the US. The difference is that the industry here has foreseen the need for recruitment and training at an earlier stage and has been working to raise the profile of training and of the industry. I find this very encouraging, but there is still a high-demand for product-specific training.


Despite the knowledge gap, what benefits does this next generation of engineers in the industrial industry bring to the table?

The new generation of engineers brings an enthusiasm to learn and an openness to change. There are good sides to this change, but it is challenging in that experience is being lost and old mistakes may have a greater chance of reappearing. I am excited whenever I am with groups of young engineers by their willingness to question and challenge long-established and accepted solutions and to immerse themselves in both the practical and theoretical learning process.


Let’s talk a little bit about CUI – have you personally seen any severe cases of CUI?

There have been plenty of examples. One of the most interesting was a reboiler vessel which was insulated in mineral wool with a metal jacket. The client could see that clouds of water vapor appeared from under the jacket but assumed it was because the wool was wet and was steaming out when heated. When they stripped the vessel they found a very different story:  parts of the steel shell of the reboiler vessel came away with the insulation and the vessel was condemned. The clouds of vapor had been coming directly from the inside of the vessel. Over time the silicone seals on penetrations through the metal jacketing had failed, water had entered the wool insulation, and the temperatures were ideal for rapid corrosion which had destroyed the shell of the vessel. This was an expensive failure leading to a complete replacement of the whole vessel.


Obviously, that’s pretty extreme. In your opinion, what’s the first step toward ensuring that your system is resistant to CUI?

Keep the water out. That’s the simple answer, to ensure that the installers understand that they should seal up a warm/hot system in the same way that they would seal up a cryogenic system. That’s the only solution that works long-term. Also, think of CUI prevention as being a system solution whereeverycomponent has a part to play but no single part has all the answers: coatings like paint and TSA on the pipe are not enough on their own and even good vapor retarders or jackets are not sufficient. All of those fail over time – so having insulation which also keeps the water out is a key part of that protective system.

Register for the webinar here. 



As members of the insulation industry, Johns Manville and Pittsburgh Corning are both committed to supporting professional development and to improving the overall depth of worker knowledge. Through blogs, webinars, videos and hands-on product workshops, Johns Manville Industrial Insulation Group offers you both timely and relevant information pertaining to our industry. Register now to attend our upcoming webinar co-hosted by Pittsburgh Corning FOAMGLAS. All attendees will receive a certificate of completion that may be submitted for one professional development hour.*


*The webinar content is provided for professional development purposes only. It is intended to assist attendees in retaining and expanding their knowledge base. JM will provide a Certificate of Completion for attending the webinar. Acceptance of the certificate as a professional development hour is at the discretion of the organization that receives the submittal. PDH not available for New York, North Carolina, Louisiana, and Florida.