Meet Process Engineer Delia Contreras

10/10   in the series Meet the Process Engineers

Welcome to the tenth 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 fields as diverse as petrochemicals, pharma, bulk chemicals, food, and 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 https://www.aiche.org/processengineering

For our tenth profile, we meet process engineer Delia Contreras. She was a keynote speaker at the 2018 AIChE Spring Meeting and 14th GCPS Tuesday luncheon. We had the pleasure of interviewing her prior to her keynote to discuss topics relating to the AIChE's Women Initiatives Committee (WIC). Click on this link to watch her interview. 

Delia Contreras is currently VP of global engineering at Ecolab and she discusses beginning her career as a process engineer at a refinery in Colombia. She also talks about the specific challenges faced by the process engineers she mentors, and the importance of being a process engineer.

Tell us a bit about your work as a process engineer.

Currently, I am not working as a process engineer. My current job title is vice president of engineering at Ecolab.  When I was a process engineer, I practiced at a refinery in Colombia. 

At the refinery, I supported a regeneration of Sulphuric acid plant and also an FCC (cracker). 

My responsibilities included reviewing and analyzing process data and providing direction to the operators on a daily basis.

I believe the job of the process engineer is critical because they are the people who are closest to the day to day data. They have the information needed to optimize the operation.

Why did you become a process engineer?

I was a process engineer when I first started my career in Colombia in a refinery. That was my first job and it helped me realize that, as a process engineer, you have access to a lot of information that can be utilized to optimize the plant operations. 

After that, I had several jobs in engineering as a process engineer and I had the opportunity to further grow my technical and analytical skills. At heart, I am still a process engineer.

What are some of the biggest challenges you face in your role as a process engineer?

I can speak about the challenges that process engineers face based on what I hear from the people I mentor. Being a process engineer in a manufacturing plant is not an easy job. It is a lot of work and it's a job that is very reactive by nature. Often times, process engineers don’t get proper training and they have to learn while doing. This is not a bad thing; however, it can cause some frustration. 

Process engineering is a job that is undervalued and because of that, not many people want to do it forever. The process engineer is like the meat in a sandwich; there is push from the plant management and also from the operator's side. I think the other challenge is the lack of proper tools to analyze data and improve process performance. 

How is your work as a process engineer critical to your particular job assignment or industry?

I believe the job of the process engineer is critical because they are the people who are closest to the day to day data. They have the information needed to optimize the operation. 

Being a process engineer is also critical because they are able to identify early warning signs of when things may be going in the wrong direction, which helps prevent process safety incidents.

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