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 Adrián Córdova, a process and project engineer at Cobra. He discusses his passion for process engineering, his experiences working in Peru, and overcoming challenges throughout his career.
Tell us a bit about your work as a process engineer.
I am a Peruvian chemical engineer, currently working for Cobra. It is a Spanish company, related to engineering, procurement, and construction plant projects. I report to the main office located in Doha (Qatar). I was working there for a few months between 2019 and this year.
Now, I'm continuing my studies and working remotely in the USA due to the coronavirus pandemic, which caused the Doha International Airport to close. I have worked in the field of mining, the largest industry in Peru, and for oil and gas projects, like the Talara oil refinery project.
I have also been involved with process design and equipment sizing & development, as well as project management. My main tasks in these last years have been related to fluid-handling equipment and control valves.
...a process engineer who knows about the process and the suitable equipment for different plant processes is always important for any new plant updates and improvements.
Currently, my tasks are related to developing engineering documentation such as operation manuals, mechanical manuals, instrumentation manuals (P&ID and loop diagrams), RTU (remote control) systems, PLC (local control) systems, and technical specifications for process equipment (pumps, compressor, blowers, RO membranes, and all fluid-handling equipment).
Sometimes it's necessary to visit the plant to gather data, and update documents, especially now that we're at the commissioning project stage. Our Middle East team is really committed to the new water resources projects in this region. I really like my project team which includes many nationalities (Spanish, Peruvian, Indian, Filipino). They are good engineers, and very professional!
Why did you become a process engineer?
I have been interested in process engineering since I was an undergraduate. I discovered this important chemical engineering branch and wanted to learn more about it. In class, I really enjoyed doing engineering calculations and equipment sizing, like fermenters, or absorption towers.
When I had the opportunity to apply for a job in the field, I was excited to try my hardest. When I first started working, I really discovered my passion. I enjoy the day-to-day engineering topics and issues. I like the process engineer responsibilities, like developing PFDs & P&IDs, equipment sizing, process development, and related documentation.
After I started doing these tasks, I really enjoyed going to work. I learned a lot from my first bosses who really taught me the ins and outs of process engineering. This is where my love for process engineering began, and now I wouldn't change anything. I consider process engineering an important part of my life.
What were some of the biggest challenges you faced in your role as a process engineer?
In my experience, I consider one of the most important challenges to be developing engineering documents without much plant information. Sometimes it can be very difficult to obtain plant data, so we have to improvise and try to get more data from our calculations and latest reports.
This is especially a challenge for me because, for example, I have worked on many projects with native communities and foreign employees, who do not speak Spanish, my mother tongue, fluently. In some cases, we have to review process equipment registers in order to fix some issues with the process, which requires getting information from foreign plant operators. The language barrier can be difficult, but they make a great effort to explain all prior events.
It is also a big challenge when trying to obtain more information related to process engineering in my country. In Peru, we regrettably do not have a good chemical engineering development, so we have to deal with this lack of information and knowledge.
Important concepts, like process intensification for example, are unknown for many plant professionals. This produces technical difficulties in many engineering projects. For that reason, one important strategy in my former job was making technical presentations related to process engineering, in order to spread information about the new developments in our field.
How is your work as a process engineer critical to your particular job assignment or industry?
When I was in Peru working as a process engineer, I was part of an engineering team that had to review many projects in different industries. These including mining, oil and gas, food and beverage, polymers, pulp and paper, etc.
I believe my role in that team was critical because a process engineer who knows about the process and the suitable equipment for different plant processes is always important for any new plant updates and improvements.
In my personal experience, we had to deal with many different and challenging situations in a variety of industries, and I dealt with enough issues and had enough experiences that taught me how to proceed in many process plant problems.
What do you think is most important about what you do as a process engineer?
I have two important projects in Peru that I consider the most important work developed by me and my team. One of them is related to the new maceration, cooking, and filtration area in an important brewing company, also the biggest in Peru.
The other project is in regards to a new water well system for an important copper mining plant in Peru, with medium voltage lines and equipment. I am very proud of them and I am grateful that I got to be a part of the team, enabling me to learn so many interesting things about different topics within my field.