This spring we met with Thomas Dunnam, Materials Lab Manager for our La Porte, Texas location about his new role, how he built his laboratory to include specialty sulfate and chloride soil testing and what it means to him to be an employee-owner.
How long have you been the La Porte Materials Lab Manager with Braun Intertec?
I’ve been here since May 2019. Before that I worked in materials labs in the La Porte area for almost five years.
What is your background?
I got a bachelor’s degree in chemistry from Texas Tech University in 2011 and then I went on to get a master’s degree in chemistry from Baylor University in 2013. My focus was on inorganic chemistry—most of what I studied was what we call “main group chemistry”.
What attracted you to Braun Intertec in La Porte?
When I started talking to Kevin Williams about joining Braun Intertec, he offered me a lot of freedom to build up the La Porte lab and add specialty soil testing capabilities which are uncommon to not only other Braun Intertec labs across the company but to Texas in general.
Specifically, they wanted me to build their chemical testing ability in the materials lab for sulfates and chlorides in soils, concrete, pozzolans like fly ash, and water. It was really exciting to get this level of freedom. Kevin was offering to let me take this opportunity and run with it and to develop sulfate and chloride testing right out of La Porte.
What do you like about Braun Intertec culture?
I like that everything feels like a collaborative effort. When I started at Braun Intertec I went to the Beaumont office, which already has a fully functioning materials lab, to learn about the Braun Intertec way of doing things because we hold ourselves to very high standards. Elaine DuBray, our Kansas City Materials Lab Operations Manager came down here to help as I was setting up, too. Even though we’re spread out across the country, the materials lab team has a meeting every week. It feels like a tightknit community within our materials lab testing group and I really like that.
How does safety play into the day-to-day operations of your lab?
Safety is a huge deal in our lab. There are a few pieces of equipment we deal with in our lab that could seriously injure you if you’re not careful, so we take safety very seriously.
I don’t want to say safety is routine because that makes it seem like you’re not consciously thinking about it—safety is something you must be cognizant of all the time. We want to make sure nothing goes wrong in the lab and if anything ever were to happen, we want the team to be familiar with the safety procedures posted so they understand how to address the situation.
What type of projects are your favorite?
I really like the environmental treatability work we do down here. Here in Houston and on the Gulf Coast we have a lot of contaminated soil and we have a lot of clients who interact with that contaminated soil.
There are a lot of samples we get in the lab that are routine. Which is to say, the process to analyze these samples typically have the same steps—the results might vary but the process is the same. However, when you receive environmental treatability samples, it’s up to me, the client and Kevin to sit down and spread all the pieces of the puzzle out in front of us and decide: what do we want to do? What are the tools we have to stabilize this material? What is the stabilization criteria? It’s up to us to put those in place. Getting to sit down, figure out the puzzle and put the pieces back together is one of my favorite parts of my job.
What does it mean to you to be an employee-owner?
To me, being an employee-owner means there is an extra level of pride you take in your work. It’s not just the Braun Intertec name that’s going out on work because, as an employee-owner, you’re a part of the company and you feel a sense of ownership in the service you provide clients. It also gives you a shared feeling of success when things all come together.
What do you think our clients should know about your materials lab team in La Porte?
I would want a client to know that our pride at Braun Intertec is that we offer top-of-the-line technicians, scientists and engineers. The people I work with here are day in, day out a truly excellent group of professionals. This goes back to being an employee-owner but these people—whether they’re out in the field or in the office—take an extra level of pride in their work.
Our team wants to be sure we get it done right. I think we do.