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Muffler of the future

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It looks like a huge backyard-built barbeque pit.

But inside is technology that could revolutionize the oil and gas industry and more.

The New Horizons Foundation in Hobbs and the Combat Capabilities Development Command of the U.S. Army Research Laboratory (CCDCARL) have worked together for the past two years in creating a muffler that could drown out the loud sounds of today’s major oil and gas devices used in the industry.

Last week the first prototype muffler was tested on a fracking machine at CUDD Energy Services in Hobbs. While the results are not official, it appears the muffler did it’s job.

“Everyone who works on or near a fracking engine said the machine was noticeably quieter,” said CCDCARL mechanical engineer Mike Scanlon following Thursday’s test.

Scanlon is a civilian scientist with the CCDCARL who develops technology for U.S. Army. He developed a muzzle for high-powered sniper rifle used by the U.S. Army. Once it was successful, Scanlon was tasked with developing technology using the same muzzle premise.

That’s where New Horizons comes into play. The local 501c3 foundation was formed about seven years ago by New Mexico Junior College and Lea County. It’s purpose is to create jobs and opportunities in Lea County and Southeastern New Mexico. The idea is to help create technology that would lead to the creation of a new business. That thriving business would then be sold and remain in Lea County to diversify the community. The royalties from the sale would be shared between New Horizons and the research laboratory.

“We found one of the ways to find the brightest minds was with the Department of Defense,” said New Horizons interim executive director Dennis Holmberg. “We developed a number of agreements with a variety of research labs.”

Scanlon said agreements between the U.S. Army and entities like New Horizons to create new technology is commonly found within the research and design industry. By partnering with the CCDCARL, New Horizons will have a Cooperative Research And Development Agreement called a CRADA. The agreement allows New Horizons to benefit from ARL intellectual property and subject expertise and ARL can benefit from New Horizons connections with the community, the resources, manufacturing, testing and evaluation and eventual marketing of items.

Through New Horizons, Watson Hopper in Hobbs was chosen to build the muffler. The device was designed by Scanlon, who then worked with Watson Hopper personnel in its construction. While all engines have the same concept, by using oilfield equipment Scanlon avoids all the bureaucratic red tape that comes with working with government entities. It would take longer to test the muffler on an Army vehicle, than on a fracking engine. Plus, that Army vehicle would be out of commission and once the testing is complete Scanlon said the vehicle would have to be re-evaluated to be returned to standards.

“I never would have been able to pvroduce a muffler like this in my lab,” Scanlon said. “It would have cost me a huge amount of money. The guys that we have (at Watson Hopper), the skills set they have here, they understand the vehicle aspects, engines, the oilfield requirements, which I don’t know much about. But I know the designs that we are working with and testing here can be scaled down for Army vehicles or Army generators or ATVs.”

If this new muffler proves successful, it can be modified to fit any type of engine. For Scanlon it means quieting Army vehicles in the field. For the oil and gas industry it means quieting their machinery use close to a housing neighborhood or for their employees who have to work next to those machines. For New Horizons it means modifying the muffler’s design to fit anything from a vehicle to a lawnmower or leafblower. Any device that creates a loud sound.

Thursday’s test seemed to prove successful, but Scanlon won’t know for sure until he researches his data. He spent most of the test monitoring the muffler’s sensors that assessed how the engine’s temperature and acoustics change as it goes through the muffler. As part of the test, there were microphones used to monitor ambient sound level meters near the machine.

“That’s how we can relate to how an operator would need to satisfy OSHA requirements for minimum noise hazards for hearing protection and things like that,” Scanlon said.

Holmberg said the research and development may use a lot of scientific mumbo-jumbo, but the end result could lead to an easier way of life, both for people wanting to bring new business to Hobbs and for potential customers who could use this new technology in their every-day lives.

“This technology could lead to breakthroughs in anything mechanical, while also bringing more good jobs to Hobbs,” Holmberg said. “It’s a win-win for everyone.”

Burkett Shaw
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