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 diverse fields, including petrochemicals, pharma, bulk chemicals, food, or 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 Jill Craven, Tool Installation Engineer at Intel. She discusses why she chose her career in process engineering, her biggest challenge, and the importance of her role.
Tell us a bit about your work as a process engineer.
I oversee and troubleshoot the installation of new process equipment. This involves design, construction, understanding hardware upgrades, learning about equipment environment and safety concerns, and how different equipment configurations impact product development.
A lot of my job is facilitating communication between different groups of people, such as designers, factory infrastructure engineers, construction workers and electricians, process equipment suppliers, supply chain engineers, and the process development teams responsible for developing and sustaining the equipment in the factory.
One of the best parts of my job is that it requires a lot of field work. Sometimes my job requires me to crawl under equipment and get up close and personal to help understand and troubleshoot an equipment issue. I love the hands-on aspect of my role. Not only do I have to understand the process equipment itself, but I have to understand how it fits into the overall factory systems.
I have found that using social connection and empathy greatly enhances technical information flow amongst a team operating in a 24/7 technical environment.
Why did you become a process engineer?
I have my doctorate and undergraduate degrees in chemical engineering. My favorite undergraduate engineering class was process control theory. I remember learning about transfer functions, a critical theoretical component of process engineering, and loving both the math and practical applications of this math to systems in my senior design class.
In graduate school, my thesis focus was on atmospheric aerosol mass spectrometer development and its use in measuring airborne pollution. In order to operate and maintain the mass spectrometer at varying altitudes, I had to understand and utilize process control on a pressure-controlled inlet so the equipment maintained a constant sampling pressure at different altitudes. I enjoyed constructing equipment from basic components and learning how the equipment responded to input signal perturbations.
When I was looking for employment, I felt the process engineer opportunities at Intel’s research and development lab were a beautiful combination of my traditional chemical engineering undergraduate education where I learned about process control in a theoretical chemical plant, combined with the field work and equipment specialty I developed in grad school. Although nothing could've prepared me for the excitement and intensity of working at Intel’s largest site in Hillsboro, OR!
What were some of the biggest challenges you faced in your role as a process engineer?
Effectively communicating technical information is my biggest challenge. I work in a diverse environment, often in high pressure situations, with teams of people of varying personality types, educational backgrounds, experiences and business interests. I have found that using social connection and empathy greatly enhances technical information flow amongst a team operating in a 24/7 technical environment.
How is your work as a process engineer critical to your particular job assignment or industry?
Semiconductor manufacturing and development is a complex and competitive industry. Process engineers are working to continually improve and optimize the current technology.
What do you think is most important about what you do as a process engineer?
For one project, I was able to help bring in a piece of equipment to better understand how the individual wafer is being processed with high-resolution chemical information. It was a new diagnostic tool that allowed process engineers to optimize their process with chemically supportive information to help make a process change.
Much of what process engineers do is heuristic based, but with this equipment we could understand at a more fundamental level what was going on in the process.