Get to Know Jimmy Woodard, PE, LEED AP BD+C
National Practice Leader, Process Piping

How the End of the Space Shuttle Program Opened the Door to a Specialized Career in Aerospace and Manufacturing

Man sitting on desk smiling at cameraFor those who may not know, what is process piping?

Simply put, process piping systems involve the connection and distribution of pipes in conjunction with pumps, compressors, tanks, heat exchangers, vaporizers and valves often found in the aerospace or manufacturing environment. These systems are not part of a building’s mechanical systems, like plumbing, but instead, carry liquids or gases that may be combined or used for manufacturing—or as is often the case with many of our projects, to launch vehicles into space.

What does the process piping group do—and why is it important?

Here at BRPH, we design and implement systems for complex industrial and aerospace programs while ensuring safety, efficiency, and regulatory compliance. The integration of various components, such as control valves, pumps, tanks and instrumentation requires meticulous planning and coordination to achieve optimal functionality.

An example of this is the design and installation of piping systems for high-pressure applications, such as those at rocket launch complexes. These systems often involve the handling of volatile substances or extreme temperatures, both hot and cold, and require meticulous consideration of materials, stress analysis and appropriate routing to prevent leaks, failures or hazardous situations.

What’s the most interesting challenge you’ve faced in your career? Large cylinder with purple lights inside

On the manufacturing front, I’ve had the privilege of collaborating with multiple aviation manufacturers who employ sizable autoclaves for curing carbon fiber wings and other components. These projects are both enjoyable and demanding because of the intricate coordination with autoclave suppliers and the diverse fluid systems essential for process support.

For example, my team worked on the design for the world’s largest autoclave—160 feet in length and 30 feet in diameter—and featuring a complex network of 54 distinct piping connections including nitrogen, natural gas, vacuum, cooling water supply and return, as well as various effluents. Understanding the complex functionality of the autoclave and seamlessly integrating our systems within the broader framework of the device led to some very lively engineering discussions and resulted in innovative designs that helped the client achieve their mission.

What are some of the skills you rely on most as a process piping engineer?

A process piping engineer has to be proficient at conducting thorough research and utilizing advanced engineering tools and simulation software to model and analyze a system’s behavior under different conditions. This discipline requires an in-depth understanding of fluid mechanics, thermodynamics and structural integrity to ensure the safe and efficient operation of any system.

Two men sitting at a desk looking at papersWhat are you most excited about when you drive in to work each day?

Seeing my teammates. Collaborating with them, brainstorming solutions and engaging in dynamic projects fuels my passion for the job and motivates us all to meet our goals. Beyond the professional aspect, the genuine friendships we’ve formed make each day enjoyable and meaningful. They make me proud to be their leader and in turn, I am happy to serve them.

Was there a particular person or event that inspired you to choose this career?

From a young age, I had an inherent curiosity about how things worked and a fascination with machines and their inner workings. This curiosity naturally led me to explore the field of engineering. Just as I graduated college, the Space Shuttle program was within two years of its retirement, creating a remarkable opportunity to repurpose older, unused facilities and launch pads for the emerging commercial aerospace industry. This pivotal moment in the industry presented a chance to utilize my skills and expertise to contribute to the transformation of these facilities into cutting-edge hubs for aerospace innovation.

Man sitting in space shuttle cockpitWhat’s the most interesting place your career has taken you?

I was fortunate enough to crawl around all three orbiter processing facilities (OPF) after the Space Shuttle program ended to decommission and modernize each OPF for various new programs. I felt a bit nostalgic, tracking down information on hand-sketched drawings dated before I was born! I spent a few months documenting the existing systems and confirming whether something had been removed within the previous 30 years.

Also, I was fortunate enough to sit in the commander’s seat of the orbiter Atlantis while it was sitting in OPF-2, prior to it moving to its final home at Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex.

What advice would you give to advancing professionals or to your younger self?

1. Never stop learning. 2. Always try to understand the entire problem before diving headfirst into solving it. 3. Be curious.

Jimmy Woodard has 15 years of experience, including 13 years at BRPH.