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Meet Kevin Del Castillo, R&D Project Engineer at VAM USA

Kevin grew up watching his automotive mechanic father take apart complex machine engines before repairing and reassembling them.

Kevin grew up watching his automotive mechanic father take apart complex machine engines before repairing and reassembling them. Fascinated by how machines work, Kevin’s interest and love for engineering grew, and he fostered his passion for engineering and a problem-solving mindset by interning at a VAM USA production facility as a Methods & Processes Engineer Intern while working on his engineering degree.

He’s now a Project Engineer level 1 at VAM USA’s Houston (Texas) R&D facility. Kevin aids in design, validation and qualification of onshore pipe connections through integrated design rules, computer analysis and physical connection testing, and by working together with Vallourec Tech Sales and customers.

What is your role at Vallourec?

As an R&D Project Engineer level 1, I help create and qualify new connections for Vallourec to offer to the market for our existing and incoming customers. My tasks also consist of expanding the qualified sizes on existing connections, simplifying the production criteria to produce the connections, and aiding in any customer requests or issues.

Of all my tasks, one of my biggest contributions is my role in running finite element analysis (FEA). To do this, I use computer software to predict how a product reacts to real-world loads. Instead of multiple – and costly – physical prototypes and testing, I can use FEA to create a digital version that helps us virtually see how connections will respond to real-world pressures and external aggressors. Following the analysis, we have a better idea of which connections might be most vulnerable. Then, those parts are physically tested to qualify them, as well as the less critical connections, for field use.

With onshore drilling, time is of the essence. The sooner we can get our analyses to our customers, the faster they can get their job done. This means that I often work with them to create tailor-made solutions. In one case, a customer wanted to increase their running torque, and needed results fast. In our R&D prototyping lab, we can machine and produce our own connections, but to work to this tight deadline, we used our own production samples to get the testing done. In this way, we helped our client reach their goal within their timeframe. It was a real team effort, and I’m proud of what we accomplished.

When did you join Vallourec?

I started at Vallourec four years ago as an intern and loved my experience. I applied as a Methods and Processes Engineer Intern, working on improving the facility’s processes in pipe threading. I was originally only meant to stay for three months, but my manager was happy with my work and extended my internship for two additional school semesters. While I enjoyed seeing myself improve the overall workflow around the plant and found my work fulfilling, I really loved the work environment. My bosses struck a great balance of mentoring and guiding employees, but also ensuring we met our deadlines and company goals.

I wanted to join the company full-time after I finished school, but COVID-19 threw a wrench in those plans. When I got an email from Vallourec several months later, my heart jumped. I immediately applied for the position and was so happy to be back at the company. I had an amazing new boss, great colleagues and felt even more fulfilled working on connection design. Great colleagues are key to a collaborative work environment. When Vallourec is called a great place to work, I 100% back that sentiment.

What skills have helped you succeed in your job and overcome challenges?

My dad is an automotive mechanic and, since I was a little kid, I was always amazed watching him work and repair vehicles on which most people were not able to find the issue. He taught me how to fix cars, and that’s really where my love for engineering started. It gave me a better understanding for how things work, the mechanical movement of objects, and seeing how components work together to create output. The brainstorming and innovation skills I developed working with my dad have definitely helped me in my current role at Vallourec.

What are the impacts of the ONE R&D organization on your assignments?

ONE R&D has resulted in increased data sharing and a more collaborative environment. For example, I work with Vallourec’s France-based FEA group, and through the ONE R&D organization, we can quickly send each other resources to collaborate on uncommon FEA simulations. Sometimes, customers have FEA requests, and we don’t have the resources to respond to those requests at VAM USA R&D in a timely manner. Through ONE R&D, I’m able to collaborate with the FEA team in France in a timely manner to quickly resolve these uncommon requests. We help each other tidy things up.

What do you find most rewarding about your job?

The camaraderie, the ambience and the mentoring. Everyone is friendly, open and willing to help, which makes it easy to go to someone for advice. The people at Vallourec have built up a vast amount of knowledge. Having that knowledge easily accessible makes it easier to complete my tasks and grow within my role.

Additionally, bosses and managers place a great deal of trust in employees. Even as an intern, I had the power to make changes in the plant, and I had free rein to do what I thought was best in many situations. Seeing my idea then implemented was extremely fulfilling. I think this is one of Vallourec’s greatest assets. The company supports and guides employees and then continues to use their knowledge and ever improving skillset for the betterment of the company.

One of my goals is to become a mentor myself – one of the “go-to guys” for the next generation at Vallourec. I’m excited to use the knowhow that I have gained from my mentors at the company and help guide future colleagues.

One of my goals is to become a mentor myself and one of the ‘go-to guys’ for the next generation at Vallourec.
Kevin Del Castillo
R&D Project Engineer at VAM USA