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 Ali Al-Hemaid, Lead Process Engineer at Saudi Aramco. He discusses what drew him to his profession, why process engineers are unique, and what makes them vastly important.
Tell us a bit about your work as a process engineer.
I currently work for Saudi Aramco, the Saudi Arabian national gas and oil company. I work mostly in the field of natural gas processing, including gas sweetening, sulfur recovery, condensate stabilization, gas dehydration, sour water stripping, water treatment, and steam/power generation.
My tasks involve overseeing multiple process plant units and their process engineering activities, mentoring and directing the work of junior process engineers, and leading major engineering studies and investigations.
Process engineers are modern-day polymaths...
My team’s main responsibilities are to maintain and enhance plant operations by monitoring process parameters, evaluating performance, as well as recommending and implementing improvements.
Other responsibilities include troubleshooting process upsets, investigating failures, and developing start-up, shutdown, and other operating procedures. In addition, my team participates in the design and commissioning of plant facilities under design and construction.
Why did you become a process engineer?
I was primarily drawn to engineering because of its practical aspect. I enjoy science, but what I enjoy most about it is what I can do with it. Working as a process engineer allows me not only to make predictions based on the scientific and mathematical principles of my education but also to use those predictions to implement real process changes and see the effect on operations in the field.
What are some of the biggest challenges you face in your role as a process engineer?
Process engineering is unique among the other branches of engineering. Process engineers are modern-day polymaths, where they are required to effectively combine an understanding of a wide array of technical subjects. This includes chemistry, physics, computer science, process control, economics, and other non-technical skills like written and verbal communication, time management, and leadership.
This is because the projects and assignments process engineers work on can vary widely. From safety reviews, process control algorithms, simulation models, corrosion and damage mechanisms, equipment reliability, economic assessments, and even laboratory science.
Process engineers also need to be able to communicate effectively with a variety of personnel including plant management, engineers from other disciplines, plant operators, and technicians.
How is your work as a process engineer critical to your particular job assignment or industry?
I believe that my job as a process engineer in the energy sector puts me in a position of responsibility – if not privilege – to harness new advances and technologies in the field to come up with better, safer, cleaner, more efficient, and more sustainable ways to provide energy.
What do you think is most important about what you do as a process engineer?
The process engineer’s job is critical to maintaining and enhancing the safety, reliability and efficiency of plant processes and equipment. Process engineers help the plant achieve sustainable production with minimal failures, reduced cost, and increased revenue. This can be done through optimizing resource utilization, maintaining assets integrity, and reducing downtime.
Process engineers can be thought of as the glue which holds everything together, connecting other engineering disciplines, operations, and maintenance, to achieve production and quality targets – all the while keeping up to date with industry developments and technologies to meet existing and future challenges.