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Wilmington company finds success in speeding up maintenance work
September 4, 2007 • By Leslie A. Pappas
The News Journal
For Charles "Chuck" Rudd, life hinges on studs.
Rudd says he plans to expand over the next year, opening an office in Louisiana and adding four more people to his Delaware work force.
"The whole world's put together with nuts and bolts," says Rudd. "And every once in a while, those nuts and bolts need to be removed."
That's when dozens of power plants, industrial manufacturers, chemical companies and refineries around the country call Rudd. He's president of Mechanical Services LLC, a private, Wilmington-based company better known by its old name, MSI (Mechanical Services Inc.), or its well-worn nickname, Studbusters. Rudd says his company can do in hours what it takes others days to do: remove giant studs, bolts, and other metal ties without damaging the casings that surround them.
It's an unusual job.
"There is no other company in the world that specializes in this," claims Rudd, who started the business 17 years ago and now employs 16 people with a second office in Benicia, Calif. "It was very hard in the beginning to get people to understand."
Studbusters specializes in just two services: stud or bolt removal and metal disintegration.
For stud removal, Rudd has patented a tool that tightly grips the stud and quickly unscrews it. He has manufactured a range of sizes, for use on bolts as small as 5/16th of an inch.
When bolts get stuck — sometimes heavy machinery use can cause metal studs to cold-fuse into their casings — Rudd moves on to metal disintegration. Using water and an electrical pulse, Rudd's machines pulverize the stuck bolt by striking it with tiny electrical arcs at a rate of 3,600 times per minute. As the pulse quickly heats the metal to 5,300 degrees Fahrenheit, a stream of water cools it down, thermally shocking the metal and causing it to break apart before flushing the pieces of metal away.
The process is important because it protects the surrounding machinery.
"We're not heating up the outside," Rudd says. To prove his point, Rudd holds his hand under the water and lets sparks of white light tumble into his palm.
Rudd started the business out of his garage in May 1990 after abruptly leaving a 20-year career working in nuclear power plants for Philadelphia Electric.
"I just quit," Rudd says.
The idea for Studbusters developed after years of watching the slow process of doing maintenance on the reactor, Rudd said. Men would unscrew the bolts by hand using giant wrenches — a process that took time.
Today, the bulk of Studbusters' business — which has come from as far away as mainland China — comes when the giant plants and refineries do periodic maintenance and have to disassemble pieces of equipment.
The company's list of clients include some of the largest companies in the world, including ExxonMobil, ConocoPhillips, BP Amoco Chemicals and Wilmington-based chemical giant DuPont.
"About every year and a half or so, we have some jobs in our high-pressure units," says Ken Lum, who works in the hydrocracking unit at the Valero Refinery in Benicia, Calif. "Whenever we schedule a maintenance on these projects, we try to make it coincide with whatever schedule he has."
Before Rudd came, men in the plant would drill out problem studs, Lum said, an 8- to 12-hour process.
"Chuck can get them out of there in three hours," Lum said. "So instead of three days [of work], it's down to a day and a half."
And that time savings is vital: shutting down the unit costs the plant between $400,000 and $600,000 a day.
"It behooves us to speed up the process as much as we can," Lum said.
When Studbusters first started working at the plant in 2001, Rudd was the only game in town, Lum said. Now, "there's a lot of copycats out there. We're not sure of their capabilities because we haven't used them."
Delaware's Director of International Trade and Development John Pastor calls Studbusters "unique."
"I'm sure there are other people that do what he does, but not using the methodology that he uses," said Pastor, who accompanied Rudd on a trade mission to Taiwan two years ago.
The business has grown over time as safety and environmental concerns move plant maintenance up company priority lists.
"They're very busy," says Rebecca Faber, executive director of the World Trade Center Delaware, who is helping Rudd explore opportunities at mining companies in Chile and Argentina. "He doesn't have enough time to fulfill the orders he has."
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