Case study

Process engineer — Lawrie Campbell

Lawrie studied for a MEng in Chemical Engineering at The University of Sheffield. He now works as a process engineer at Essar Oil UK

How did you get your job?

I attended an assessment centre, following which I was offered an internship where I completed a meaningful project, critical to future efficiency improvements within the business strategy. Following the internship, I was offered a graduate position.

I additionally completed a year-long placement at a separate related site. This additional industrial experience put me in a strong position for starting the graduate scheme at a fast pace, allowing me to fit straight into a process engineering role that provided value to the business.

What's a typical day like as a process engineer?

As a front-line process engineer I am integral to the operation of two manufacturing units on the secondary processes facility. I monitor key process parameters that are required to meet process safety, environmental and economic criteria - taking the most appropriate actions to any significant deviation I observe. These are often only visible across wider time frames and thus differ from the instant control that operations manage. This is the most rewarding aspect as you see in real time the effects of any alterations you agree to implement on the plants control system to mitigate findings.

Longer term I am heavily involved with the sites management of change (MOC) process; specifically, I provide technical design and safety assurance for any minor modifications that are proposed to either aide continued operation, facilitate maintenance activities, improve plant efficiency or meet updated legislation/regulations. I attend meetings and pitch design ideas to a sub-team within the wider structure. This offers great exposure to senior managers and a route for progression.

What do you enjoy about your job?

Away from my technical role, I head up the companies Graduate Network, organising non-technical presentations from key stakeholders on relevant aspects of the business that helps improve new starters' wider understanding of business deliverables.

The job is made by who surrounds you, and I have certainly found the employees in the chemical industries positive. Teamwork is critical and I've always found positive synergy in abundance, building relationships in my growing network.

What are the challenges?

It's not until you see what's hidden behind the steel pressure envelope when a site shuts down, that you appreciate and understand how the asset physically works. I have also found that these are also some of the most challenging times, as you are under pressures to meet strict deadlines and to manage tasks under budget, often working long hours.

Working with an ageing asset always brings around some unexpected behaviour, reacting and implementing modernised equipment as part of retrofits is a continual process, but no such solution is identical, as such I am always learning. It's fast paced but in a rewarding environment.

In what way is your degree relevant?

Safely attempting a new trial on real scale processes is rewarding and a step-up from lab scale pilot studies, which I completed in research projects at university. Utilising my theoretical knowledge built over years of studying, it is very pleasing to see practical relevance with industry.

How has your role developed?

As a graduate I am enrolled on the IChemE Accredited Company Training Scheme (ACTS), which provides me with both the technical and soft skills required to support a growing list of competencies as I become more experienced.

ACTS also buddies you up with a chartered engineer as a mentor, this really helped me get to grips with the report structure and tailoring new opportunities to meet gaps within the framework.

How do I get into chemical engineering?

  • Study chemistry and maths at A-Level. If you enjoy them then chemical engineering is made for you.
  • The most valuable educational experiences are practical ones; get out into industry see it for yourself. The sheer scale of some equipment will make you curious as to how it actually works.
  • Placements. They're different to conventional studying but you learn some of the most valuable skills following graduation. Get in there early and apply for as many as you can.

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