Shaping the Future of Chemical Engineering: AIChE Hosts Executive Leadership Forum

On Sunday, March 26th, the AIChE Foundation hosted its Corporate Council and Industry Leaders Forum to address the most pressing challenges facing the chemical engineering profession. The forum, its second to date, brought together 16 executive leaders from over a dozen companies, including Dow, Chevron, Exxon Mobil, DuPont, and Eastman, among others.

AIChE facilitated this meeting among industry leaders as part of its Doing a World of Good Campaign, which aims to solve societal problems and benefit humanity by shaping the industry to make it a safer, more sustainable, and more diverse profession.

T. Bond Calloway, 2017 AIChE President and Associate Laboratory Director for Clean Energy at Savannah River National Laboratory, opened the meeting by welcoming the industry leaders. AIChE Executive Director, June Wispelwey, gave an overview of AIChE to attendees and reiterated why AIChE is the global home of chemical engineering professionals.

Promoting safety, innovation, and diversity

At its core, the Industry Leaders Forum was created to engage the leadership from across the profession in shaping shared priorities, which include encouraging diversity and inclusion; promoting sustainable practices and innovation; and establishing guidelines and educational initiatives to advance process safety. S. Shariq Yosufzai, Vice Chair of the AIChE Foundation and Vice President of Global Diversity at Chevron, moderated the conversation regarding these three priorities, and was instrumental in keeping the industry leaders engaged and the atmosphere collaborative.

The Undergraduate Process Safety Learning Initiative — which aims to accelerate process safety education at the university level and better prepare graduates for the workforce — was a significant topic of discussion. Peter Holicki (Senior Vice President of Manufacturing and Engineering, and EHS Operations at Dow) spoke about the initial successes of this initiative and its future goals. Through the Undergraduate Process Safety Learning Initiative, AIChE is offering student outreach programs, new E-learning curriculum, and faculty workshops to better equip the next generation of chemical engineers with process safety knowledge.

AIChE’s commitment to innovation is exemplified by the creation of the Rapid Advancement in Process Intensification Deployment (RAPID) Manufacturing Institute. The Institute, which was formally launched on Monday, March 27th, aims to develop new technologies for modular chemical process intensification and therefore reduce energy usage and greenhouse gas emissions. June Wispelwey and T. Bond Calloway gave an update on the progress of this new manufacturing institute.

Yosufzai spoke about the importance of diversity and inclusion initiatives to AIChE. He reiterated the value of diversity, citing two robust studies that linked diversity with financial returns and revenue. “Companies that are more diverse perform better over a sustained period of time,” said Yosufzai.

Opportunities for collaboration

The heart of the forum was a roundtable discussion led by Yosufzai, who opened the floor to participation by asking, “What are some of the challenges you face in fostering a strong safety culture at your company?” By sharing lessons learned from their own processes and practices, industry leaders came away with a deeper understanding of how taking the blame out of incident investigations, and conducting thorough root cause analyses, could help to strengthen the process safety culture at their respective organizations. Incident investigations need to move away from blaming the operator or engineer who made the mistake or caused the accident, to examining the reasons why he or she took those actions and why the relevant safeguards failed.

Many attendees agreed that the complexity of modern process control systems has a tendency to overwhelm plant operators, and that better operator training and more-concise operating procedures, as well as stronger safeguards — that take human factors into account — are needed. The industry leaders also discussed using big data to predict process safety incidents before they occur, which may help companies shift from a reactive process safety culture to a more proactive culture.

The forum concluded with a commitment by attendees to continue the conversation. A follow-up meeting is being scheduled for this fall.

The Industry Leaders Forum is just one way that AIChE is using its ability to convene diverse stakeholders around shared priorities to advance the safe and ethical practice of chemical engineering.

Learn how you can get involved with the Doing a World of Good Campaign.