Earlier this fall and at the Spring meeting, the AIChE Foundation had a chance to sit down with Scott Love and learn more about how his passion for process engineering and how AIChE can help raise awareness about what process engineers bring to the table. A written version of my fall interview with Scott is below. In the video panel above, you can watch us covering similar subjects at AIChE's 2017 Spring Meeting.
Scott began his career as a process engineer at Phillips Petroleum Company’s Borger Refinery in 1980 and retired as Fellow from ConocoPhillips Company more than 34 years later in 2015. For Scott, process engineering is more than a practice, it’s a lifelong passion. And, he is hardly alone.
Foundation: What did you do as a recent graduate/new process engineer that helped you succeed later in your career?
Scott Love: If I think about how I approached the job of being a process engineer from very early on, I was all about trying to learn everything I possibly could about the processes I had responsibility for. This could be an attitudinal sort of thing, but I was passionately committed to learning everything I needed to know about the unit I was assigned to.
Back in the day, everything was hardcopy. When I started, even the amount of documentation available in written form for process engineers was somewhat hit or miss, depending on who came before you and how good of a job they did in documenting information. Moreover, the requirements for process safety standards, like process flow sheets or line specifications, were less transparent than they are today. Today, with US process safety standards, it’s a requirement for every facility to have all the process safety information readily accessible.
Back then, it was much more hit or miss.It was all the more necessary to dig deep through the “engineering vault” and learn about all the really important stuff that was in there that you needed to know! I met with the mechanical design guys and lead operators. I asked questions. This is what I did on a day to day basis. It’s an attitude. It’s all about finding stuff out.
Foundation: In our tech-crazy world, it seems like it would be a very different daily experience for a new process engineer starting out today.
Scott Love: Face-to-face interaction with operators is still important for a new process engineer. Perhaps it’s even more important nowadays. The biggest challenge in my mind for a new process engineer walking into the control room is how do you relate to the people around you and how do you get them to respond to you in a way that’s productive.
I once walked into a control room at a refinery. I was working in the energy optimization group, looking at fired heaters, fired heater operations, that sort of thing. I asked the shift superintendent where unit 11 was (I was in unit 10) and he just laughed and laughed and laughed… The things you assume going in- there may or may not be logic to how a plant is laid out or how things are identified. Every plant has its own system. I don’t want to say it’s a “secret code” but everybody on the inside knows the secret handshake and often those on the outside may not know. Yet, the only way to get to the inside and learn that secret handshake is to pester the heck out of people! So they get used to having your around and being to include you in the conversation…
You just have to be determined enough to find out what you need to find out. As a young process engineer, I was completely ignorant. But I wasn’t afraid to ask people. I imagine in today’s world, the great faceless cloud would not be nearly as accommodating.
Foundation: Who were your role models and how did they influence your career path?
Scott Love: This is an easy one from me. Astronauts. From a very early age. The Mercury and Apollo Astronauts.
Once I started my career, or even pre-started my career, when I was in in college, I looked up to several professors who had industry experience. The professors I had the best connection with were those who had industrial experience.
Foundation: Why was that?
Scott Love: Because they could talk to us about the real stuff. Real application of the stuff they were teaching us at the time. They were able to relate something that they were telling me, teaching me, to something they had done in the past. This real experience tied into what I was learning and becoming more curious about made a big impression on me.
Foundation: So what was at the root of this passion to be the best process engineer you can be?
Scott Love: Part of it was about getting ahead and doing well in my career. I did very well in my career. And this was due in large part to my abilities as a process engineer. But beyond that, there is a deep, internal sense of satisfaction in what you do as a process engineer—especially as I reflect now…. I am deeply satisfied that I had a good grasp at knowing what needed to get done, throughout my career, even if no one else recognized it, even if it was often behind the scenes.
During the time that I spent in the process engineering focus group earlier this year in Houston, by far the most beneficial aspect of it for me was this mutual understanding, the positive interactions I got from the other process engineers in the room. There is a strong connection between us. Trying to elucidate what that is specifically—well that’s the hard part.
Foundation: How can AIChE do more to help raise the awareness and advance the education of what process engineers bring to the table?
Scott Love: Well, I’d like to think that the webinar we did is a start. The webinar hopefully helped to bring more light to the practical aspects of process engineering, especially for the new process engineers. Through this kind of continued education and training, AIChE can play a bigger role in helping teach process engineers how to be better process engineers, how to be the best process engineers they can be.
Foundation: In your own words, how does process engineering positively impact society as a whole?
Scott Love: Well, I’m going to say that, excellent process engineers are excellent engineers and faced with any societal challenge they are going to approach that challenge in a way that they would approach any other process challenge.
Good process engineering is good for the industries that process engineers work in: oil production, refinery industry, chemical industry, bio industry. All of these industries are more effective by the value added by their good process engineers. Excellent process engineers working in industry enable these industries to be the best they can be. And that has enormous societal benefit.
On a local level, good process engineers who serve on their city or county or state boards, who are good citizens and involved in their communities, truly help to enforce better decisions, especially with regard to regulating things that are technical in nature. I have a friend who is a mechanical engineer by training and one of the better process engineers that I know. He serves on the board of the local water district, and is making a positive impact in the world simply because he has a great understanding of how things work.
Click here to check out Scott’s webinar on how to be the best process engineering you can be.
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Funding education, training and career development programs helps develop tomorrow’s leaders. It ensures that process engineers like Scott meet the mentors they need and get the training they need to be successful.