Meet Process Engineer Veronique Kayem

22/23   in the series Meet the Process Engineers

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 Veronique Kayem, founder and technical consultant at Verata Solutions Ltd. She discusses her love for chemistry and physics, the importance of her work, and the challenges she continues to face as a minority in the process engineering industry.

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

Process engineering finds applications in numerous industries such as oil and gas, petrochemicals, water, chemical, food, agriculture, medical, pharmaceutical, nuclear, supply-chain, plus many more. The list is never-ending. With a background in chemistry, petroleum production engineering, and more broadly process engineering, I find myself on varied shelves primarily in the petrochemical, chemical, and oil and gas industries.

My work in the last decade has been largely focused on process design and conceptual studies. I analyzed process simulations, heat and material balances, and piping and instrumentation diagrams. Another aspect of my work has been production optimization/technology and plant/field operations in the upstream oil and gas sector, where I utilize the techniques of water or steam injection, pressure surveys, and production logging for enhanced oil and gas recovery.

At Verata Solutions Ltd, my current projects make use of my designing and field operations knowledge and experience to contribute to projects in the chemical, petrochemical, and oil and gas industries. Some projects are completely new builds and require sound fundamental process conceptual studies as well as detailed engineering, while others are modifications of existing plant facilities for optimized production. Each project, assignment, and client is different, making the work both challenging and fulfilling.

Why did you become a process engineer?

The core of process engineering is chemistry and physics. My natural love for chemistry and performance optimization meant that I would inevitably choose something in that area. My family often teased me about seeing problems and solutions in terms of atoms and chemical reactions. My fascination with analyzing transformation processes and bringing chemical reactions to life also had a role in my decision to become a process engineer.

Throughout my process engineering journey, I have had the support of a sister who never stopped believing that my talent rested in engineering rather than in analytical chemistry or pharmacy. I also had my family coaching and championing me at every step.

I suppose it wasn’t until I started working as a process engineer that I realized how well suited I was to this kind of innate understanding of processes and analyses.

On the other hand, there are non-professional problems such as being black and a woman. There is no subtle way to put this, and there is no easy solution because the problem lies in the non-verbal cues rather than in spoken words. It is an uphill task, but I handle it by doing my job, doing it well, and proving that I am as good as any other engineer. 

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

On one hand, there are professional challenges which involve my quest for optimal solutions for processes, process safety, and project problems. I find that balancing the best solution with the client-appropriate solution is not a precise mechanism. There are times when the solutions are relatively straightforward but there are also instances when a solution to a design or simulation problem involves a lot of intricacies and lengthy back and forth to arrive at a compromise.

On the other hand, there are non-professional problems such as being black and a woman. There is no subtle way to put this, and there is no easy solution because the problem lies in the non-verbal cues rather than in spoken words. It is an uphill task, but I handle it by doing my job, doing it well, and proving that I am as good as any other engineer. It's an endless battle, but I take it day by day  and handle each situation independently.

One thing is certain: I am keeping my SMILE!

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

I am a consultant in the oil and gas/petrochemical and chemical industry. Most of the tasks I undertake are in process engineering, although sometimes I do training, management, and tutoring, but essentially my assignments revolve around my core skill: engineering.

What do you think is most important about what you do as a process engineer?

I believe process engineering is a core engineering-type which finds applications in a broad set of industries. It essentially deals with transforming. How the transformation is achieved and which unit operations are applied depend very much on specifications for the desired product. 

Therefore, being meticulous in the analysis of process design, the process safety and control are central or most important for what I do.

My goal is to always ensure a safe project/process design for maximum operability.

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