We recently met with Ken LeBlanc, NDE operations manager, from our La Porte, Texas office to learn about his professional background, expertise in nondestructive testing and what he likes best about being a Braun Intertec employee-owner.
Tell us about your background
I actually went to school to become a professional journalist but what eventually led me to nondestructive testing (NDT) was my concern for where I lived. When I was younger, I saw how material and process failures caused risks to life, property and futures. I felt a more noble career path would be to work on a team that addressed those issues. I considered a mechanical engineering path where I could get involved in inspections and failure analysis of the plants. But I found NDT to be a field where people had tons of experience and knowledge on top of being tangible.
I got into the quality assurance side of things which goes through the codes and specifications and makes sure they are being followed. With that knowledge, I could show individuals the correct way to do things and make sure we do our due diligence. That’s also what inspired me to get my level-III certifications.
How do your level-III certifications enhance your expertise?
To get my level-III certifications, I had to clearly understand the different NDT methods and how they complement each other. Some things can be verified with one NDT method, other materials have multiple valid methods or require more than one NDT method for proper confirmation.
Also, some clients simply choose the absolute least costly way and others desiring a full gamut of tests that were overlapping and still failing to accomplish the desired (or required) demonstration of quality at much higher costs. That’s where I need to step in and make sure that the desired method(s) are actually the most effective way to do it. When you have a level-III, you also develop a certain level of trust with clients and want to be able to demonstrate your technical expertise.
If we were to ask your colleagues, what would they say your on-the-job superpower is?
That’s a tough one to answer! I would say something that I personally excel in is being able to see the big picture and understand what’s truly essential on a project. A client might have an idea of what they would like, but I’m the one who will suggest a different approach in an effort to resolve a problem or add additional value to the inspection proposed. In client meetings, I present facts, and confirm the team is mindful of the requirements we need to meet.
Using the five NDT methods, I have to offer a client an approach to their project that meets time and expenditure requirements while helping them confirm they meet their code requirements. My other specialty is in Computed Radiography which is just starting to take off. Wesley Soape, another level-III here in La Porte, and I have that in common which is helpful.
What sets Braun Intertec apart from our competitors on the Gulf Coast?
Our team knows what to do. We catch mistakes before they happen, and we can choose the methods that produce the best results. Our team also balances efficiency with economy with the end game, which gives accurate results to the client. We also understand the bigger picture which isn’t common.
Braun Intertec also has a fantastic training program for our NDT technicians. It helps us address some of the bad habits that technicians might bring with them and confirm Braun Intertec technicians do everything the same way, every time no matter who is on the job.
What do you look for in an NDT technician?
The first thing I look for is personal integrity. Can he or she take constructive criticism? Are they willing to improve on the skills we’re looking for? Those are the qualities I look for first.
I often find out a lot about a person when we’re assessing their ability to review film. I like to see how a candidate works through things and what their process of elimination is. I watch for their drive to push for the answer. At the end of the day, when I look at the people we hire it’s all about aptitude and attitude. Attitude is 90% of it.
How do you approach mentorship of your team?
On the technical sided of it, if they ask me a question I’ll give them a 30-minute long explanation- that’s just how I am! However, I really appreciate when people who are new to their careers take the initiative to ask questions and seek me out to build a relationship. I also encourage my team to try new things and help them figure out how to apply new skills.
How does safety play a role in your day-to-day work?
Safety is extremely important. We work in areas that have multiple hazards that are addressed but still require a high level of personal responsibility to remain safe. We work on boats in life jackets, tied-off on elevated structures and in areas that are excavated. Which is to say, they are all serious conditions where safety is essential. We need to keep safety as our number one responsibility and priority on and off the job. Braun Intertec is good at that, in my opinion.
What does employee ownership mean to you?
It means that my actions are just as important as those of an entry level employee or our corporate leadership. We are all owners on the same team. It’s a rewarding feeling!