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ARCHIVED  August 1, 1997

Nunn high-tech facility keeps up with the flow

NUNN – This sleepy Weld County agricultural community is probably one of the last places you’d expect to find rocket science being practiced, especially by two guys who started with entry-level jobs at a research lab when they were still in school and ended up owning the company.But buried deep in an old Atlas missile silo, Colorado Engineering Experiment Station Inc. is quietly building a reputation as one of the world’s premier laboratories for calibrating the various meters integral to everything from underground pipelines to diesel engines to rockets bound for outer space.
And under the leadership of partners Walt Seidl and Steve Caldwell, Colorado Engineering Experiment Station, or CEESI, has become internationally known for its flow-measurement research and testing. Meters it has calibrated are in use the world over, and it regularly works with the National Institute of Standards and Technology in developing measurement standards.
“Flow measurement is pretty important – just about anything moving in a pipe requires measurement,´ said Seidl, CEESI president, who, like his partner, Caldwell, went to work for CEESI when he was still in school.
“People tend to take flow measurement for granted,” added B.J. Richardson, CEESI’s technical publication manager. “When you’re at a gas station pumping gas, how sure are you that what comes out is what registers on the pump? That’s what we do here – make sure the measurement is accurate.”
And CEESI does it on a grand scale. No meter is too small or too big for its remote 26-acre location, where the noise of compressed air tests echo through the former missile silo or above ground into the surrounding Colorado prairie.
Over the years, CEESI has calibrated or tested most of the components for the space shuttle main engine, some of the world’s heaviest measurement devices weighing up to 11 tons, flow passages for aircraft engine assemblies and a natural-gas calibration system for the People’s Republic of China.
Its clientele reads like the Fortune 500 list, or at least the Fortune 500 companies that are leaders in the aerospace, automotive and energy industries. On a given day, you could expect to meet engineers from companies such as Ford, Chevron or Pacific Gas and Electric overseeing a meter calibration or test.
The experiment station traces its roots back to 1951, when it was first established at the University of Colorado for research, development and testing of small rockets. In 1966, the station separated from the university and was established as a nonprofit corporation in an abandoned missile silo about 10 miles northeast of Nunn, a small community along U.S. Highway 85.
“There aren’t too many facilities like this, and this is an ideal location and site, because much of the equipment was already here,” Richardson said. CEESI has converted much of the old Air Force equipment for new uses, such as a water tank that once contained oxygen for rocket fuel.
The Atlas missile is long gone, of course, replaced by an underground laboratory where meters large and small are tested, calibrated and certified side by side. Tests can last as little as a few minutes or as long as years, according to Roger Keefer, the lab manager who thrives on the variety. A variety of mediums are used, including liquids, gasses and air that can be pressurized to emulate a jet-engine thrust. Tests can be conducted in vacuums and adjusted for sea-level pressures.
In 1986, Seidl and Caldwell acquired the experiment station and turned it into a thriving independent commercial calibration facility. Growth has been rapid, and annual sales last year were in the $3 million to $5 million range.
Caldwell was still in high school when the Colorado Engineering Experiment Station set up shop in the missile silo in 1966, and he was hired as a laborer and handyman. Along the way, he earned his degree at the University of Northern Colorado and now serves as vice president. Seidl came on board in 1969, three years before he received a math and computer-science degree from Colorado State University.
“We both kind of started at the bottom and worked our way up,” Caldwell said.
Their decision to acquire the nonprofit corporation in 1986 was based on the premise that companies would pay handsomely for accurate flow measurements crucial to their businesses, a premise that has proved correct.
“We always felt it was a good opportunity for a private company,” Caldwell said.
Added Seidl, “We knew from the telephone calls and inquiries we were getting that there was a need for this.”
To a relatively new employee such as Richardson, CEESI is an exciting, stimulating environment in which to work and the embodiment of the entrepreneurial American dream.
“A couple of people with a good idea went in with a little bit of money and built a company,” she said. “It shows what the free-enterprise system is all about.”
CEESI has 36 employees and is constantly expanding.
Five years ago, it launched the CEESI School of Flow Measurement, which offers periodic introductory and advanced week-long short courses in flow measurement principles and applications.
One of its latest new ventures is development of a large natural-gas calibration facility – the first located outside Europe – in cooperation with Colorado Interstate Gas Co. and Wyoming Interstate Co. at their gas compressor just south of Cheyenne.
Another is the Joint Industry Project with Chevron Petroleum Technology Co. and the Gas Research Institute to improve the transportation of unprocessed natural gas.
“We seem to be adding a building every year,” Seidl said.

NUNN – This sleepy Weld County agricultural community is probably one of the last places you’d expect to find rocket science being practiced, especially by two guys who started with entry-level jobs at a research lab when they were still in school and ended up owning the company.But buried deep in an old Atlas missile silo, Colorado Engineering Experiment Station Inc. is quietly building a reputation as one of the world’s premier laboratories for calibrating the various meters integral to everything from underground pipelines to diesel engines to rockets bound for outer space.
And under the leadership of partners Walt…

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