GE Innovation: Emirati Engineer Troubleshoots His Way to New Patent
When we think of innovation, our imagination often goes to flying cars, talking robots or our mobile phones. But GE mechanical engineer Bouria Faqihi knows that innovation usually begins with something as simple as a leaking pipe.
A UAE national, Bouria is a Senior Engineer with GE Power’s Fleet Management team in Dubai. He noticed a persistent problem for customers in the region: leaks in the liquid fuel pipes feeding their gas turbines. It’s a problem particularly common in the UAE and wider Middle East and Africa region, where customers use liquid fuel in their gas turbines more often than customers in other regions.
These leaks can cause fires and damage equipment, resulting in costly unscheduled outages to fix the problem. The fires are usually small, thanks to fire-suppression technology, so there’s little environmental or human risk.
The challenge for Bouria – and the GE team of engineers from the UAE, Bahrain and the United States: Abdul Khaliq, James den Outer, Thomas Moldenhauer, Michael Lynch, Preston Epley, Steven Castellaw and Jason Zheng – was how to detect leaks before they cause any damage.
They knew they could use existing handheld ultrasonic monitors to “listen” for leaks, but they had to figure out how to test piping during regularly scheduled maintenance in a way that would mimic operating conditions.
This required extensive experimentation, using both liquid fuel and air to pressurize a test section of pipe. Once they felt confident in their ability to identify leaks in the lab, they tested it on equipment in gas turbine power plants to confirm that it worked in the real world.
The testing included both the liquid fuel tubing inside the gas turbine chamber and in the accessory compartment, which includes the liquid fuel pump and distribution system.
After using it numerous times on real gas turbine systems, and following up with maintenance records to show they’d effectively prevented leaks, they began offering it to GE Power customers across the region. They also submitted the process for patenting in the United States.
In April, the patent was approved, making Bouria the first UAE national in the UAE to receive a US patent related to gas turbines.
“I love to troubleshoot and solve problems, and also to get involved in developing new designs that help us to get in front of future issues that may arise for customers,” explains Bouria. “This is what got me interested in working with a larger team outside my day-to-day duties to develop a new product that ended up in this patent.”
The team also has developed a liquid fuel leak detection product for the rest of the piping system that has a patent pending. As a result, GE Power is able to offer its customers an end-to-end liquid fuel piping leak inspection solution.
With the commitment to innovation from both GE and the UAE, it’s no surprise that these products have been developed in the country.
“The UAE is innovator friendly, with a lot of encouragement and support from our country’s leadership encouraging people in the UAE to innovate and to support the UAE through their innovations.”
An example of this is UAE Vision 2021, which recognizes that “Innovation, research, science and technology will form the pillars of a knowledge-based, highly productive and competitive economy.” The UAE Innovation Strategy seeks to make the UAE “among the most innovative nations in the world” in all areas of national life, including government, the private sector, and academia.
“This patent also reflects on GE, is a company that provides lots of encouragement to participate in innovating and developing new products.”
This includes giving employees like Bouria time to think about how they could better solve customer problems and providing a mechanism that supported Bouria with an international team with dedicated work time to solve this problem by developing a new product for customers.
GE’s support for innovation also is reflected in the company culture, he says. “I had a lot of supportive colleagues that formed a real team, with everybody bringing ideas to table.”
Bouria earned a BA in Mechanical Engineering from Carlton University in Canada, and an MSc in Energy from Scottish university Heriot-Watt’s Dubai campus.
“I always liked math and physics when growing up, and I’ve always wanted to develop new things and innovate as part of my career,” he says.
Bouria has been interested in gas turbine technology ever since doing an internship with Dubai Petroleum. “It was the most important machine, with everything on the operations and production side depending on the gas turbines operating properly. Also, it’s one of most advanced piece of engineering equipment out there, which is really appealing to me.”