Welcome to the fifth in a series of AIChE blog posts profiling process engineers, a diverse group of professionals spanning multiple industries and regions. In this series, we aim to profile process engineers who work in various fields, including petrochemicals, pharma, bulk chemicals, food, or any process-intensive industry.
Are you a member and process engineer interested in being profiled? We'd love to hear from you via this volunteer opportunity. Also, we hope to build an online discussion group specifically for process engineers. You can find out about both of these initiatives and join our efforts by visiting aiche.org/processengineering.
For our fifth profile, we meet process engineer Venkat Subramanian. Below, he discusses the beginning of his career in plant operations and production, and also shares details of more recent experiences working as a process engineer in the hydrocarbon industry. He also discusses the skills that have helped him succeed in process engineering, as well as the challenges he has faced throughout his career.
Tell us a bit about your work as a process engineer.
Early in my career, I worked in process engineering and project engineering in a medium-scale petrochemical plant. In the plant, I also worked on utilities and in the petrochemical plant's four process plants.
Currently, I work mainly in the areas of water and process treatment in the hydrocarbon Industry. This stream of process engineering is an emerging field as industries face challenges in process optimization and water management. I work with water as a key process input and the process engineering associated with water. I also work with process streams that face issues like corrosion, fouling, and phase separation.
I realize that major improvements and cost reduction can be achieved while enhancing plant integrity and reliability. This can be done by applying the core principles and concepts of chemical engineering and chemistry.
I have worked in various countries all over the world including in the Middle East, South East Asia, India, Europe, and the U.S. My experience at the beginning of my career in plant operations and production helped me immensely in process engineering. In addition, AIChE membership has also added invaluable skills to my abilities.
Why did you become a process engineer?
I was appointed to be a process engineer after seven years in plant operations and production. It has always been my desire to become a process engineer as I possess many of the key components that make a highly efficient PE. These include keen analytical skills, problem solving ability, and a big-picture view of the process as well as of the final objective and end result.
I'm also skilled at calculations and, thanks to my computer engineering diploma, I became proficient in process simulation as well as modeling. These skills were particularly helpful in process improvements.
Furthermore, I possess people skills due in large part to my interest in sports. Having people skills is essential when convincing stakeholders to allow the recommended process improvements to be made by process engineers. I keep learning and updating my knowledge base mainly through AIChE resources, Knovel, and other outlets for information.
I'm particularly proficient in relating process engineering efforts directly to financial gains or impact. I also have interests in process automation, instrumentation, and analytical chemistry—all of which contributed to my becoming a process engineer.
What are some of the biggest challenges you face in your role as a process engineer?
The main challenge I experience daily is providing sustainable solutions that are practical, easy to understand, safe, and cost efficient.
Another challenge I face is getting consensus from all stakeholders, which entails being able to present steps for solutions or improvements in a brief and concise manner. To further expand on this, it is difficult when using chemical engineering terms to explain certain activities in process engineering while also making it easily understandable for someone with little to no experience in chemical engineering.
When it comes to new projects, it is also difficult when liaising with project teams for key process engineering inputs. Justifying the importance of having a physical process engineering team is also another big challenge today, as many plant operators are outsourcing process engineering work.
How is your work as a process engineer critical to your particular job assignment or industry?
Process engineers possess all-around knowledge of the chemical industry. As a result, I'm always called upon to perform audits and assess the present operational conditions to improve operation, reduce cost, and optimize processes. The ability of a process engineer to view options through mechanical, operational, and process retrofitting aspects makes a process engineer critical to the chemical industry.
In most cases, I'm able to provide recommendations for continuous improvements and facilitate the implementation process. Furthermore, I'm able to educate and train operators and production engineers. Predictive techniques using process engineering concepts help plant operators in planning preventive maintenance, production planning, routine maintenance, production improvement, and plant safety.
My role is critical in presenting to the upper management with the goal of obtaining resources and funds for projects. My job function is also crucial in providing quick solutions to process problems, performing root-cause analysis, and establishing standard operating procedures and best practices.
What are the most important skills a process engineer should have?
I believe the most important skill a process engineer should possess is the ability to work with various people to achieve process engineering goals, while utilizing professional competency.