MINDEN, Nev. (KOLO) -- A Northern Nevada company's influence spreads to millions of people on every continent. The Bently Nevada products produced in Minden by Baker Hughes, a G.E Company are designed to improve the quality of energy production and generation, potentially saving its clients hundreds of millions of dollars.
Tracey Generation Station Manager, Sean Berryman, giving tour to KOLO 8 News Now's Noah Bond and Bently Nevada executives
Its products are used to monitor wind farms, hydro-electric dams, coal petrochemical power plants and off-shore oil platforms.
The business is thriving today because of one man named Don Bently and the entirely new field of engineering he created in his Berkeley garage back in the 1950s. He called his start-up "Bently Scientific Company". He moved it to Minden in 1961 and renamed it Bently Nevada Corporation.
Bently worked in the aerospace industry, where he researched electrical sensing equipment for aircraft control systems. At the time, his employer felt there was limited use of the technology and gave him permission to use it to start his own business. He focused on machinery and vibration and traveled to different power plants, where he talked with diagnostic technicians about how they find problems.
At that time, they were just feeling the motors for vibrations. They put their ears on the the equipment to hear anything that might sound wrong. There was no scientific analysis in the early 1950s. Bently changed that. He invented the science of measuring microscopic vibrations so small they could be less than the width of the hair on your head.
"We get increments of 10th of mils, which is thousands of an inch worth of movement in a rotating piece of equipment," said the Tracy Generation Station's Maintenance Manager, Sean Berryman. The facility sits 17 miles east of Reno and is visible on the south side of Interstate 80. It can produce up to 800 megawatts, which is enough to power 800,000 homes at one time.
KOLO 8 News Now's Noah Bond toured the facility with Bently Nevada executives and Berryman. "On an annual average we provide about 30 percent of the power produced in northern Nevada," he said.
The technology is cutting edge and complex. Air filters clear dust particles from the air. The clean air is fed into a natural gas turbine where it's compressed to help produce 150 megawatts of power. The leftover heat is recovered through 12 heat exchangers. They extract 800 degrees worth of exhaust from the gas turbine.
"This unit is the most efficient unit in northern Nevada in respect to both thermal efficiently and our emissions," Berryman said.
Then the water in the system is cooled by these large fans and recycled back into the closed system. This process saves 2,600 acre feet of water every year, which is enough to cover Donner Lake with three feet of water.
A system like this is complex and has the potential for many problems. This is where Bently Nevada comes in.
Its sensors are all over the equipment, measuring vibrations including the plant's 6,000 horsepower pumps. Information is fed back to one of 15 vibration monitoring cabinets. The equipment can accurately predict a problem before it happens because of the fine-tuned science of vibration Bently Nevada has mastered.
It has saved the Tracy Generation Station's turbines from breaking.
"We were able to shut those down and correct those problems before they could turn into catastrophic failures," said Berryman.
"Bently Nevada has thousands of customers all around the world in all different industries mostly in oil and gas power," said Bently Nevada Systems Engineer Mel Maalouf.
One-third of Bently Nevada's customers own power generation plants. Two-thirds own oil and gas refineries like offshore oil production facilities. The titans of energy across the world rely on one place to protect their multi-million and sometime billion dollar investments.
The company's headquarters is at 1631 Bently Parkway in Minden. Anyone inside can look outside to see the mountains holding up the southeast side of Lake Tahoe. Approximately 538 people reported to work at the Minden Company in January of 2018.
The heart of the building is the remote monitoring center, where a small team is constantly monitoring machinery all around the world in real time, where a small team of workers monitors up to 50 sites from as close as the Tracy Generation Station east of Reno to as far away as Shanghai, China.
"In the past we had to put people on site. It takes a lot of time to get a person to certain parts of the world and now we can see things the same time the customer sees them. In fact, we can sometimes see things before the customer sees them so we can help avoid problems," said Supporting Services Agreement Leader David McNeilly.
Every piece of technology is created and made on site in Minden. A team of engineers on the second floor is working to push the boundaries of this technology. On the floor below, another team of workers produces customized circuit boards for each client.
The boards travel through several stations, where they're slowly constructed one piece at a time. Machines place resistors, transistors, and capacitors in just the right spots. Thousands of pieces come into perfect harmony to serve and protect the large energy facilities across the world.
It will take some machines 10 minutes to make one board and others will take an hour. It depends on the complexity of the board. Many of the boards that are made will make their way to a room where a large robotic arm will weld four parts in place in what is called the 3,500 rack system.
Fabtech Mark Steinman says it saves him and the company time. "It makes my life easy. I used to do it manually."
What used to take two and a half hours by hand now only takes one and a half hours and the robot never gets tired. The robotic arm welds circuit boards in place in preparation for them to be placed in larger cabinets, where they will monitor equipment at sites across the world. Each cabinet has the capacity to monitor 16 pieces of equipment.
We found Dan Foley working hard on what is called a screw machine. It makes the sensor that will feed information back to the circuit boards and eventually back to the monitoring room in Minden.
General Electric purchased Bently Nevada in 2002 and the company later merged with Baker Huges in July of 2017. The company's official name is Baker Hughes a G.E. Company, but the products are still under the Bently Nevada label to prevent confusion.
The company is hiring. If you're looking for a job, click here.