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 Christopher Johns, a process engineer at MEGI Engineering Inc. He discusses his role as manager of engineering at MEGI Engineering Inc, overcoming challenges, and the importance of his work.
Tell us a bit about your work as a process engineer.
After graduating from college, I worked as a team advisor at Schreiber Foods, leading and managing a team producing retail packaged cheese products. I was fortunate to be part of the startup and qualification of several new production lines. The leadership and managerial skill sets that this role helped me develop have proven beneficial as my career has progressed. However, I wanted the opportunity to apply more of the technical skills I learned while pursuing my degree.
I next took a position at Jacobs Engineering as a process engineer, where I found the technical challenges I was seeking. I worked on a multitude of projects across the country and the world, all of which helped me develop a well-rounded and diverse skill set. My project involvement ranged from retrofitting semiconductor fabs, designing and sustaining capital work for petrochemical facilities, designing a food ingredient facility, to rebuilding a black liquor recovery boiler.
I feel very grateful to have been able to work on such a wide variety of projects and with some exceptional mentors. The varied exposure has allowed me to apply my technical skills and share concepts across multiple industries. Currently, I am the manager of engineering at MEGI Engineering Inc., where I am responsible for leading and developing the team of engineers and designers across all disciplines. MEGI is a growing full-service engineering and design firm serving industrial clients. The challenges of sustainably growing a team and business have allowed me to further improve my leadership and managerial skills. In addition, I have remained active on the technical side as a process engineer to supporting projects.
While I was set on which degree I wanted, I did not have a specific career in mind. It was getting a job with Jacobs and gaining firsthand experience in process engineering that sold me on the profession. The opportunity to provide positive impacts on projects and ultimately people's lives is immensely rewarding.
Why did you become a process engineer?
In high school, I enjoyed science and math, especially chemistry. After researching the job opportunities in the pure sciences (chemists, physicists, mathematicians), I found a stronger attraction for the applied science of engineering. Since I enjoyed chemistry, the logical choice was to study chemical engineering. While I was set on which degree I wanted, I did not have a specific career in mind. It was getting a job with Jacobs and gaining firsthand experience in process engineering that sold me on the profession. The opportunity to provide positive impacts on projects and ultimately people's lives is immensely rewarding.
What are some of the biggest challenges you face in your role as a process engineer?
Communication and the transfer of information are growing challenges and will continue to be so for the foreseeable future as corporate cultures and worker expectations evolve. Many engineers do well in school, understand how to solve complex problems, but fail at effectively communicating. It is rare that we will work on anything, be it on the job or at home, that is a 100% solo activity. This is magnified when working on multidisciplinary design projects, where the process engineer is often looked upon as the technical lead and must help to lead the entire team.
The most effective projects I have been a part of are the ones where communication has been the strongest. Right along with communication is mentorship and the transfer of knowledge between individuals. I have been fortunate to work with some very talented individuals who have also been great mentors and teachers. They took the time not only to provide answers but to explain the methodology and answer follow-up questions.
It is also important to seek out knowledge from others, be curious, be inquisitive, and not wait for someone to come to you. I work to emulate these characteristics as I gain knowledge and experience, taking the time to explain the how and why of a problem to those I am mentoring and being eager to learn when someone else is willing to teach me something new.
How is your work as a process engineer critical to your particular job assignment or industry?
MEGI Engineering Inc. specializes in the pulp and paper industry and supports other industrial clients. Projects from these clients include production upgrades, debottlenecking activities, and new process installations. Process engineers are the tip of a spear for developing the projects, defining the scope, and outlining the course of action. It is then that the other detailed design discipline—civil, structural, piping, electrical, instrumentation and controls—can engage on the projects. The process engineer is the backbone of most projects.
What do you think is most important about what you do as a process engineer?
While this may seem cliché, or sometimes difficult for outsiders to understand, I experience the greatest reward by providing solutions to improve people’s lives. Many times, the projects I have been involved in are debottlenecking or retrofits that result in energy savings, job creation, and waste reduction. These projects also lead to upgrading safety systems, addressing ergonomic concerns, and making facilities more maintainable. No matter if it’s a small or large project, I am encouraged to know that the changes and improvements we make have a direct benefit to the workers and company.