Welcome to the latest in a series of AIChE blog posts profiling process engineers, a diverse group of professionals spanning multiple industries and regions. In this series, we 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. Please also check out our online discussion group specifically for process engineers. You can find out about these initiatives and join our efforts by visiting https://www.aiche.org/processengineering.
This month, we introduce you to Ogochukwu Enekwizu. She is currently an Associate Technical Professional at Kellog, Brown and Root Inc. (KBR). She discusses her responsibilities at KBR, overcoming challenges, and the importance of being a process engineer.
Tell us a bit about your work as a process engineer.
My process engineering career began one month after my obtaining my master’s degree in 2013 when I joined KBR Inc. in Houston, TX, as an Associate Technical Professional (ATP) for the Process department.
KBR Inc is an EPC (engineering, procurement, and construction) company with a global presence that serves the hydrocarbon industry from wellhead to the production of specialty chemicals, and provides government services on projects ranging from cybersecurity to the international space station. I knew working for KBR would expose me to various fields and expand my knowledge base.
After going through several intensive training sessions, my first project as an ATP was on the front-end engineering design (FEED) of a polymer plant where I developed piping and instrumentation drawings (P&ID) for several processing units and offsite utility systems. I performed detailed hydraulic calculations for the sizing of various equipment, provided process data to support the classification and requisition of flow and control elements and generated steam and condensate balances for the proposed plant. I was also responsible for determining process stream properties and velocity criteria for sizing all the polymer slurry piping in the facility.
It is such a wonderful feeling to be able to point at equipment or an entire system and say with pride, ‘Hey, I designed that!’
I continued in this role during the EPC phase, where I performed dynamic process time simulations for safety systems and handled P&ID changes resulting from vendor capabilities, client preferences, on-going construction and safety- related concerns. In my junior role, I was very fortunate to represent the process team during process hazard analysis (PHA) and layer of protection analysis (LOPA) meetings to reevaluate designs during the construction process. This afforded me a tremendous amount of interaction with the client and other engineering disciplines during the project, as well as a front seat view of what it entails to get a full-scale plant in operation in a cost-effective manner.
One of the goals at KBR is training young engineers to think creatively, work proficiently and independently, and to have a holistic view of the project. Because of this, I got the opportunity to visit the plant site several times during the construction phase to see its progress and proffer solutions for any process-related issues that arose. It is such a wonderful feeling to be able to point at equipment or an entire system and say with pride, ‘Hey, I designed that!’
Why did you become a process engineer?
When I was in middle school, I was convinced I was going to be an accountant and follow along in my father’s footsteps. I was intrigued by science but never gave it much of a thought until I got to high school and witnessed a chemistry demo on titration and immediately got hooked. My dad was sad but supportive when I traded all my business- and economics-related classes for physics, chemistry, and calculus.
When I started my college applications, I knew I wanted to major in engineering, but I didn’t know which engineering discipline to choose. I initially narrowed it down to petroleum engineering (because of my love for all things chemistry) but then my dad suggested chemical engineering so that my knowledge would not be limited to oil and gas. I’m grateful I took his advice because it’s one of the best decisions I’ve ever made.
While I enjoyed the engineering classes on unit operations, reactor design, and process control I took in college, my appreciation for process engineering took off during a six-month internship at the national petroleum corporation in my home country, Nigeria. I got to see the enormity of the scale of operations from upstream drilling and production to downstream refining, storage, and dispensation at fuel stations. I began to understand how crucial the role of process engineer was to the success of any project.
My interactions with the R&D team during my internship spurred me on to perform research on alternative fuels and their purification processes during my final year in school. This experience motivated me to pursue a master’s degree in chemical engineering, which gave me the opportunity to construct, operate and maintain a lab scale setup for styrene production to test the separation capabilities of coated ceramic membranes for selective purification. Here, I was able to apply my knowledge of transport processes, thermodynamics, and reactor design, and become proficient at operating several instruments and machinery. Additionally, I honed my creative thinking and troubleshooting skills.
Through several plant and facilities tours organized by engineering associations I belong to (such as AIChE), I have been fortunate to interact with process engineers who specialize in pharmaceutical, automotive, cosmetic, atmospheric science, nuclear, and waste management fields to name a few. Whatever the industry, you need a process engineer to get things started and bring an idea to life. Being a process engineer allows me to be at the forefront of something exciting and novel. I get a huge sense of fulfilment in seeing my work transition from a simple sketch to a 3D model to a real-life, functioning system.
Some of the best feedback I’ve ever received was from a senior piping engineer who mentioned that whenever he sent engineers to me, he was always able to learn something new while getting his piping layout problems resolved. As a woman in a male-dominated field, that meant a lot.
What are some of the biggest challenges you face in your role as a process engineer?
As a process engineer, you always have to come up with creative solutions to problems that arise from design to construction. In one of my projects, I had to establish a set of criteria for the sizing of several critical pieces of equipment and piping. This required extensive research and consulting with industry professionals until I arrived at a result that met client preferences without compromising any KBR standards.
Given that the hydrocarbon industry is constantly evolving and competitive, as a process engineer, I’ve also had to face aggressive timelines to meet client demands. A detailed and well thought-out plan during the early phase of the project helps to mitigate such high-stress situations. However, one cannot plan for every single scenario. For instance, on one of my projects, the "summer shutdown" policy of an equipment supplier chosen by our client led to several hectic work weeks and sourcing for alternatives to ensure there was no delay in supplying details needed for construction.
Another major challenge about being a process engineer has to do with minimizing change orders which may arise during construction or safety evaluations. While being at the forefront of design development is exciting, it also makes you the go-to person for every change that needs to be effected. You have to carefully vet each request and make decisions that will ensure an efficient design that complies with safety regulations while remaining cost effective. Learning to work effectively with other disciplines can be a challenge as well.
Each discipline has its own set of assumptions, values, and priorities, and these differences can easily lead to uncoordinated services, or, even worse, to resources being spent on interdisciplinary conflict. Adaptability, decision-making, creative thinking and keeping calm under pressure are crucial traits for every process engineer because real life doesn’t show up in textbooks.
How is your work as a process engineer critical to your particular job assignment or industry?
KBR is a global provider of professional services and technologies that has pioneered several innovations in the hydrocarbon industry and government sector. Process engineers play a crucial contribution in the success of the company through the resolution of complex projects in challenging assignments to ensure feasibility, process efficiency and profitability. Depending on the project, the role of a process engineer can be extremely varied. I have been involved in the design, sizing and requisition of equipment, pumps, control instruments and piping for new facilities, developed existing systems to meet up with increased demand, participated in safety review meetings, evaluated overpressure scenarios, conducted site visits and served as liaison between the client and other engineering disciplines.
In the hydrocarbons sector, process engineering is usually at work during all stages of a continuous manufacturing process. Working with people across the entire life cycle of the project requires the ability to manage people well and communicate solutions or new ideas effectively. As a process engineer, I had to learn how to locate problems and examine them from a variety of perspectives to assess the best solution which is why interdisciplinary interaction is key. Process engineers don’t just deal with theoretical work. The knowledge of process design, control, operations and economics ensures that process engineers will always be called upon to be what they are known for: problem solvers.
As a process engineer, I know that doing my job well and efficiently as part of a team not only gives client satisfaction, but also saves cost and boosts confidence.
What do you think is most important about what you do as a process engineer?
Process engineering is at the forefront of all the different sectors process engineers work in: wellhead production, refining, chemicals and petrochemicals, fertilizers, research and development, carbon recovery, and biofuels. The aforementioned list of industries is by no means exhaustive, but they and others are made more effective by the presence of good process engineers, and this is of significant benefit to society as a whole.
As a process engineer, I know that doing my job well and efficiently as part of a team not only gives clients satisfaction, but also saves cost and boosts confidence. In one of my projects, I remember doing extensive work on pressure-drop calculations of an already purchased steam jacketed reactor to alleviate client and licensor concerns on reactor performance. I was able to ensure that a complete rework of the entire piping system around the core of the plant was avoided.
Being such a cross-disciplinary department, I have had the privilege of working with and learning from a talented pool of engineers and industry leaders. While serving as the coordinator of weekly management of change (MOC) meetings, I’ve also had to review and collate changes while defusing tensions that arise during meetings to make sure everyone stays on task. Some of the best feedback I’ve ever received was from a senior piping engineer who mentioned that whenever he sent engineers to me, he was always able to learn something new while getting his piping layout problems resolved. As a woman in a male-dominated field, that meant a lot.