Technician of the Year: Mike Huisingh
If you spend any time with the VMT Maintenance team talking about the future of TAPS, Mike Huisingh will be in the room. Not in person – he’s likely working at his lathe in the shop – but his name will be mentioned frequently by members of his team. His creativity, problem-solving and breadth of skill are legendary, and you’ll hear his team laud his latest works, asking how Alyeska can recruit more Mike Huisinghs to TAPS, or grow “the next Mike Huisingh.”
Humble, knowledgeable, and always considering the system view: Huisingh is the 2023 Atigun Awards President’s Choice for Technician of the Year.
A library of ideas and solutions
Mike comes from a proud line of machinists; his dad and grandfather were in the trade and Huisingh worked in his dad’s shop for a few years after following a vocational track in high school. Early exposure to the technical world still informs his expertise.
“Even as a kid in his dad’s shop, he’s always been around equipment,” said Dennis Hansen, Alyeska valve engineer and frequent collaborator. “So he has a large library of ideas, and solutions.”
While visiting a friend in Kotzebue one summer, Mike heard about the ample opportunities in Alaska thanks to some federal funding for water and sewer projects.
“When I learned how much my friend was making … well, I’ve been (in Alaska) ever since,” he said.
Wearing many hats
Mike was hired by Crowley and worked in Northwest Alaska in their tank farm and shop. He eventually made his way to Valdez as Port Engineer, just as the first generation of escort tugs were arriving in the early 2000s. As Port Engineer, Huisingh wore many hats; regulatory interactions, maintenance coordination, and keeping his hands on the tools when he could.
“Mike kept those Crowley tugs running,” said Andrés Morales, former Crowley Operations Manager who is now Alyeska’s Emergency Preparedness and Response Director. “Even after he started working for Alyeska.”
“Mike could fix things no one else could,” added former Crowley coworker Larry Miles, now SERVS Marine Superintendent.
After 18 years at Crowley, Mike was encouraged to apply for a job with Alyeska and hired onto the Valdez Marine Terminal Mechanical Maintenance team in 2010, where he continues today.
“It’s the work I have the most interest in,” Mike said with a smile.
Creating an industry first
In more than a decade with that team, Mike’s had a hand in repairs and maintenance to almost every VMT system, and many on the pipeline. The most memorable project to date was an Atigun Award-winning effort all its own: the 6-inch bypass plugging tool.
Over a two-year period, Mike worked with Dennis Hansen and then-Maintenance Supervisor Brian MacDonald to design a custom tool that allows crews to swap out the small-diameter bypass valves that are a part of check valves along TAPS, without requiring a pipeline shutdown. The work was all done in-house.
After designing a prototype over a few months in 2019, Mike and Brian went through 18 months of validation testing with input from engineering and other SMEs. It was a collaborative and positive experience for those involved.
“Their prototype was so close to final design,” said Dennis. “Mike and Brian were a cohesive team – they were open to input from everywhere.”
The collaboration process was quick and efficient in part because Mike was, as well. “We’d discuss a problem, brainstorm a solution, and Mike and Brian could manufacture piece in a matter of hours,” Dennis added.
The tool was put into the field an August 2022 shutdown. Mike, Brian, Dennis and others were there to see their creation in action.
What made the work so special for Mike?
“Not knowing if it could be done,” he admitted.
Dennis agreed: “The plugging tool is an industry first. No one else has done it.”
The tool is slated for use again in this summer at Check Valves 110 and 11, and Mike hopes to be there. Everyone else hopes he’s there, too.
“The savings Alyeska will see annually and for years to come may potentially be the largest in the history of the company,” Brian said.
The work continues
Mike continues supporting maintenance around TAPS from his spot in the VMT Maintenance Shop. He was recently working on stem risers for Check Valve 11 and its upcoming April shutdown. And his handiwork is in demand throughout the system.
“He has completed so many repairs that no one picks up on because the system just keeps running,” Dennis said.
Keeping TAPS sustainable remains on Mike’s mind, too. Exceptional at his craft, he is consistently praised by coworkers for taking the time to mentor and coach others.
“I have worked with Mike off and on throughout the years and he always went above and beyond to explain things on a level that I could understand,” said Johnnie Stock, an integrated planner at the VMT.
And how does Alyeska make sure it grows more pipeline people like him?
“Continue to bring outside people in,” he said. “Sometimes the best perspective is from a fresh set of eyes.”
Notes and quotes about Mike from his Alyeska teammates
“In 2022, I was invited to a demonstration of the 6-inch bypass tool for company leadership. It was an unforgettable hour. Mike and Brian were on their tools and their work was smooth, competent and efficient. Another newer technician was calling the procedure and I’ll always remember watching two master mechanics stop, listen and absorb each step of the procedure before carrying it out. It was a lesson in Acting with Discipline.” – Kate Dugan, Corporate Communcations
“He always wants to take a full system view: What am I working on, how does it work, what is it supposed to do. He’ll never mindlessly perform tasks without thinking about the larger system. In so many ways, it’s vitally important to the health of the system.” – Dennis Hansen, Valve engineer
“He has an incredible mindset for technical and three-dimensional thinking. He can picture the issue in his head and work creatively toward solutions.” – Andrés Morales, Emergency Preparedness and Response Director
“His vast knowledge, experience and ability to troubleshoot is absolutely impressive. Mike is a great teacher and has always been more than willing to share his vast knowledge with others.” – Brian MacDonald, retired Maintenance Supervisor
“He is clearly a lifelong student. His approach to problems and his mental process for deducing how things work (or don’t work) together is really something. He’s also very humble and quick to help, teach or ask questions that allow someone to learn on their own.” – Ken Lares, Mechanical Maintenance technician
“Mike is truly a gifted problem solver and solutions provider. His mechanical creations would be better described as works of art. He’s a skilled machinist and a key contribution to the highly capable maintenance team here at Alyeska.” – Klint VanWingerden, Valdez Marine Terminal Director