A day in the life of a Principle Process Engineer

We recently interviewed one of our contractors, Alex S. to find out what it’s like to work as a Principle Process Engineer. We asked Alex what a general day involves, what experience and qualifications are required for this job and what advice she would give to aspiring Process Engineers.

What is your  job title and what does the company you work at do?

I am a Principle Process Engineer at a company that provides engineering, architecture, environmental and construction services to private and public sector clients.

Can you tell us a bit about your background – what qualifications and work experience do you have?

I started with A levels in Physics, Chemistry and Maths and went on to get a  BEng (Hons) Chemical Process Engineering from Aston University. I had an industrial placement year at Associated Octel on a Chlorine plant. I then went on to be a contract Commissioning Engineer for Davy McKee on THORP; 23 years as Process Engineer/Control and Automation Engineer at Warwick Chemicals, N. Wales; contract at BASF as Automation Engineer on DeltaV migration project; contract at GHD near Chester as Principal Process Engineer on Springfields and Sellafield projects as well as some water treatment projects. I’m also a STEM ambassador visiting schools and careers fairs and Chester IChemE committee member.

What does your job involve?

My roles at Octel, THORP and Warwick were all site based. The first two were short term and predominately process optimisation and commissioning roles respectively. My 23 year staff role at Warwick involved anything from feasibility studies, process design, HAZOP, process development, control configuration, project engineering, installation, commissioning and operator training on both process and control equipment. Also process and control system optimisation including alarm reviews and fault diagnosis etc. Any project that required process modification would also include the modification of the control system too. My other roles were mainly office based with some site work and were control configuration and design verification/ FAT testing projects respectively.

What is a typical day like in your role?

On a 24 hour production site, there are always issues to resolve, faults to diagnose and shutdown work to prepare for. In addition, there are numerous meetings and HAZOPs to attend and also design and P&ID drawing work to complete.

How did you get into your current job role?

What do you enjoy most about your job?

The variety – each day is different, each project is different.

What is the hardest part of your job?

Time – when learning and configuring a new control system on a new process plant, I need a couple of hours of continuous time each day to focus on the logic required to perform the necessary function. As this is difficult to achieve during work hours on a 24 hour operating plant, and there is a shutdown deadline to maintain, it is necessary to take the work home with me which unfortunately encroaches on family time.

Why did you decide to pursue this career?

I enjoyed maths and science from an early age and loved taking things apart and putting them back together! I therefore decided to pursue a career in engineering.

What can this type of job lead on to?

In smaller companies with little or no movement of staff, there is less opportunity for career progression to a senior level but within larger companies, there is more opportunity to move up the career ladder and into senior management. Also there is the possibility to move between sites here in the UK and abroad if the organisation has multiple sites of operation.

What advice would you give to somebody considering this role as a career?

It’s a very interesting career encompassing many areas of interest and many industries from chemicals, water treatment, oil and gas, pharmaceutical, power generation, food and drink etc. There are also opportunities across the UK and abroad with excellent salary potential.

All my job roles have required communication with staff, contractors and consultants at all levels within the organisation and therefore, it’s extremely important to be able to talk to people and also write technical reports to convey relevant information.

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