Featured Engineer

Interview with Engr. Stephen M. Butler, P.E

Engr. Stephen M. Butler, P.E

Interview with Engr. Stephen M. Butler, P.E - Principal and Chief Electrical Engineer at M.C. Dean, Inc.

Can you give us a little background about yourself? How did you get into Electrical Engineering?

I have been working in the electrical field for 31 years. I started out as an electric motor repair mechanic right out of high school in North Charleston, SC. I then entered Federal Service and completed an electrical apprentice program at the Charleston Naval Shipyard in Charleston, SC. After completion, I was an electrician providing temporary electrical services to ships and submarines undergoing repair or overhaul in the shipyard. In 1991, I was laid off and forced to relocate to Kingsland, GA as the shipyard had a reduction in force (RIF) and no other opportunities were available in the Charleston area. I had a dear family friend that was an electrical engineer working at the NASA complex in Huntsville, AL. He had a very nice lifestyle and his career seemed steady. So, in 1993, I started working on my AS degree in pre-engineering at the Georgia Military College in St. Mary’s, GA. After completing my AS, I transferred to the University of North Florida and completed my BSEE. In 2001, I accepted my first EE position with the Naval Facilities Engineering Command (NAVFAC) back in North Charleston, SC. I remained at NAVFAC until the command was closed due to Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) in 2006. I accepted a position with the Space and Naval Warfare Command (SPAWAR) as a senior EE and earned my MEEE while employed there. I remained until I left government service in 2008 after 24-years to pursue private company opportunities. I worked for a small defense contractor from 2008 to 2010 prior to joining BRPH as a senior EE. I remained at BRPH throughout the massive Boeing South Carolina expansion in Charleston and left the company in February 2014. I recently accepted a position at MC Dean as the Charleston office’s Principal and Chief Electrical Engineer.

You are currently working at MC Dean as Principal and Chief Electrical Engineer. Kindly tell us what you do/your line of work.

As the Chief EE, I am responsible for all design work done in the office. My PE stamp is affixed to all design drawings that originate from the office. I do not typically perform the CAD/Revit functions but oversee, review and approve all such work. I assist our planners and estimators in development of proposals as we are a major construction firm as well as an engineering firm. I also act as the Boeing Design and Construction Program Manager leading design and construction efforts for Boeing who is one of our major clients.

MC Dean is currently working on the Boeing SC Campus. How does it feel working on such a big project?

One word…..AWESOME!! I am in a very unique position as I worked for the major design firm (BRPH) that designed most of the electrical systems on campus. I was the engineer of record (EOR) for a majority of the work and it was amazing to be on site during most of the construction. Typically engineers design systems but rarely get to watch them be constructed on a daily basis. Now that I am with MC Dean, we are continuing construction and engineering work on campus.

Where do you see your company heading?

MC Dean is a major construction and engineering firm with offices located globally. From a local perspective, my addition to the team in Charleston has brought a design element that had been missing. Our strategy is to add the engineering element thus providing turn-key design and design-build capabilities to an already successful construction team.

What are some interesting projects you have worked on? What are you currently working on?

While at NAVFAC, I worked on a jet-fighter simulator facility and jet-engine test-cell facility. The simulator is a real-world simulator allowing new jet-fighter pilots to train in real-world situations without risking injury to themselves or risking damage to the jets. The jet-engine test-cell is just that. New jet-engines are literally secured in place and tested. An amazing facility if you think about a jet-engine being secured in place and ramped up to max capacity!!

While at the small defense contractor position, I was the design engineer for mobile telecommunication systems that were literally constructed in tractor-trailer containers and sent to various locations in the middle-east and other destinations. Amazing what one can place in a tractor-trailer container.

At BRPH, I was involved with design and construction of the massive Boeing South Carolina 787 Dreamliner facility. At this facility, Boeing manufactures and assembles the 787 Dreamliner for customers both domestically and internationally. The fabrication building, where the plane is actually assembled is 1.2M square-feet of conditioned space….one of the largest buildings on the east-coast to my knowledge. The 787 Dreamliner facility is truly an amazing project and one that I am proud to have been a part of and continue to be a part of.

At MC Dean, I am currently continuing design and construction services to our Boeing client at the South Carolina campus. In addition, I have been involved with the Clemson Wind Turbine Test Drive Facility (WTTDF) here in Charleston. A unique facility, the WTTDF will test 7.5MW and 15MW drives to be used on wind turbine facilities globally, another first for the Charleston area.

What tools (software and hardware) are your favorites?

Of the software I use, I like SKM and Revit the most. SKM is power systems analysis software used for electrical coordination and arc-flash studies. Revit is just an amazing tool!! In the construction world, systems look great on 2D paper. However, in the real world, things don’t always go together as shown which is something you cannot always avoid using CAD. Much coordination in the field is required to make systems “play well together”. With Revit, all systems are done in 3D so the sprinkler pipe or HVAC vent shown is actually above lighting fixtures and other devices to make real-world installation much easier with less coordination.

What is the trickiest bug/project problems you have fixed?

The one that comes to mind the most is electrical clearance on a 15-kV electrical substation. This relates back to the CAD/Revit discussion as well. On our CAD drawings, we had ample electrical clearance as required by the National Electrical Code (NEC) between the substation and the nearest grounded surface. In reality we had less than 30”, where 60” was required. Had it been done in Revit, this may have been noticed during design. The authority having jurisdiction (AHJ) would not sign off on the situation and indicated the substation had to be relocated or the obstacle (a steel beam) had to be removed. Neither was a plausible solution. We had the substation manufacturer install infrared (IR) windows in the rear of the substation thus not requiring it to be open during IR scanning which would require the full 60”. It was an on the fly decision that would have had severe consequences to schedule and cost had we not come up with this solution.

What is on your bookshelf?

2011 National Electrical Code (an EE’s bible), various electrical manufacturers’ product data manuals, various electrical engineering books.

Do you have any experiential stories you’d like to share? (Blowing things up, getting shocked, etc.?)

As embarrassing as this is, I think it is important to tell stories of stupid things I have done as a young electrical apprentice. We all think we are invincible when we are young and electricity is not very forgiving. As an electrical apprentice, I thought I knew it all. I was working on top of a submarine which was in dry dock. I was 60’-70’ above the bottom of the dry dock working on an electrical distribution panel. This panel had (2)-200-amp disconnect switches attached to it. A fuse had blown in one of them and I thought I had de-energized the one I was about to work on. Without verifying the circuit was de-energized, I reached in with my bare hands to pull out the fuses. Bad mistake. It was energized at 480VAC and all I remember was the safety rail keeping me from going over board to certain death. I was amazingly uninjured from my stupid maneuver and am LUCKY to be alive to talk about it. That was in 1988. I have not been shocked since and don’t plan to ever again. Bottom line: Always verify the circuit is de-energized and locked-out no matter how sure of it you may be.

Is there anything you’d like to say to young people to encourage them to pursue Electrical Engineering?

Electrical engineering is an awesome career field. There are many different avenues within electrical engineering one could travel down. The choice must be made early in one’s undergraduate work. But, no matter what the choice, there will always be a need for electrical engineers especially in today’s fast-paced and ever changing world. It is a rewarding career where you earn respect for the knowledge you have developed. It takes much time and effort but the rewards are well worth it which includes good salary, respect from peers and the general public and a long-standing career. If I could offer one piece of advice, the most important thing an electrical engineer needs to pursue is the professional engineer (PE) license. I can’t count the number of doors that have been opened for me based on achieving my PE designation.

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