Some Back Ground
I was inspired to choose chemical engineering when I first saw the chemical formula from my father’s chemistry book. The chemical formula shapes look fascinating and interesting to me.
My father is an organic chemistry lecturer in Universiti Teknologi Malaysia (UTM). When I was 14, I read his organic chemistry book and willingly learnt from it by myself. When I was 17, I wanted to have a career associated with chemistry. Back then, my first choice was chemical engineering and my second choice was biochemistry. To be honest, I was unaware of what chemical engineers do and what the industry is like. I could not imagine it due to lack of exposure and information.
After completing my high school education, I pursue my A-Levels and took 3 core subjects which are essential for engineering: Physics, Chemistry and Mathematics. Then I continued my degree in chemical engineering. I managed to get a place in Bradford University, United Kingdom. I was unlucky because in our contract, practical training or sandwich course is not included by our sponsors. Therefore, we don’t have any valuable practical and industry exposures. That doesn’t matter and I keep on studying until I graduated in 1999.
Post graduate - Research and Development
After completing my degree, I returned to Malaysia and was appointed as a research assistant for 5 months in UTM. I joined “Chemical Reaction Engineering Group” (CREG) which its main research was developing the single step conversion of natural gas to gasoline using zeolite catalyst. It was a very interesting topic and that encouraged me to further my chemical engineering masters degree in it. Hence, I then became a full time research student and my research title was “Optimization of Oxidative Coupling of Methane (OCM) Using Experimental Design”, which is part of the natural gas to gasoline research project. As a master’s student, I conducted a thorough research, synthesized catalysts, run experiments, optimized reaction, published technical papers, presented posters and participated in related science-technology exhibitions. I learned and used various analytical equipments such as X-Ray Diffraction (XRD), Scanning Electron Microscopy (SEM), Fourier Transform Infra Red (FTIR), Atomic Adsorption Spectroscopy (AAS), Nitrogen Adsorption (NA), Nuclear Magnetic Resonance (NMR) and Gas Chromatography (GC). Besides that, I developed my own experimental rig to study the reaction of natural gas and the catalysts that I synthesized. To optimize the experiment, I used “Response Surface Methodology” (RSM) – “Central Composite Design” (CCD) from Statistika software. The software enabled me to arrange my experiment systematically and I can easily obtain a model equation for the reaction. With CREG, we won numerous local and international awards from our research and inventions. It was such a great honor to be part of a successful research group.
Oil & Gas Exposure – Servicing Company
After completing my masters, I was offered a job as chemical technologist for a local oil and gas servicing company. In a year, I became a project/chemical engineer in the same company. My main task was to lead the “internal pipeline chemical cleaning” project for a local oil company. We basically have to assist the oil company to reduce corrosion activities inside the downstream pipeline and prolong the life span of it. The pipelines were chemically treated using degreaser and corrosion inhibitors; and physically cleaned using pigs. It was part of my responsibility to ensure correct formulations as well as performing necessary test to ensure the chemicals were fit to perform its duty. To efficiently and effectively monitor corrosion activities in the pipelines, we utilized latest corrosion monitoring techniques such as electronic resistant probe (ER) and field signature method (FSM). I was also in charged of the oil and gas specialty chemicals. I traveled to a number of offshore platforms in East Malaysia to conduct deoiler and descaler tests for their oil reserved. It was very challenging and fun performing those tasks. I love going offshore because the working hours are less compared to the amount of time we spent on the platform. The foods are marvelous and comparable to 5 star hotels. Entertainment and other activities such as television, movies, snooker, ping-pong, gymnasium and reflexology chair are made available for the platform dwellers. To be able to go offshore, I have to undergo Helicopter Under Water Escape (HUET) training and get myself an offshore passport.
With this job, I traveled extensively and visited neighboring countries, Singapore and Indonesia, for work purpose of course. In Kalimantan, Indonesia, I joined our company principal to conduct bottle test field trial for local oil company on their onshore oil rig. It was a very interesting and exciting assignment because I got to see how simple the setting of an onshore oil rig because in Malaysia we only have expensive and complicated offshore oil rigs/platforms.
Oil & Fats Industry – Refinery and Other Challenges
I love my oil and gas career but I was unfortunate because I could not continue being in that industry. The company management has bigger plans and they moved to Kuala Lumpur, the capital of Malaysia. I was instructed to transfer which I could not do because I don’t want to hinder my wife’s career establishment as a lecturer/researcher/consultant in UTM and we also have just purchased a house in Johor Bahru in the same year.
I seek for other jobs and managed to get one in a physical refining plant associated in the oil and fats industry. This is a whole new chapter and totally different from my previous job. I’m required to scan in and out every time we enter or exit the factory. Life is no longer as flexible as before. I don’t have ample time to do my work and that made me work longer hours and I always reach home when it’s already dark. I don’t really mind because it’s a new working environment and I know I have to learn as fast as possible. I set my target to know everybody around my circle of work as soon as possible.
Being in a process plant is a perfect place to learn and put in practice your unit operation knowledge. It also gave me a better comprehension on what process control is all about. I learned about other supporting units like heat exchangers, cooling towers, boilers, utility boilers and much more. The learning curve continued everyday and never stopped.
My first task given by my boss was to identify and list down all the valves in the plant I’m in charged of. It was an interesting and good assignment. It made me traced the entire pipeline from the feed tank to the plant and to the product tank. I learned a lot of stuff regarding valves. I know and understand various types of valves, brand/ origin, sizes, spare parts, principle/operation, tag number etc. In addition to that, indirectly, I learned about the plant process and operation. That was just the beginning.
Not only that I learn about all the technical stuff, handling manpower and conflict is another challenging area that I made myself good at. Manpower is not an easy matter to deal. Some of my down line manpower never experienced any disciplinary action taken when they violated certain laws such as coming in late and simply not coming to work. Despite a series of reminder and warning, the bad attitude still continues. I could not stand it. With the support of my senior colleague, I enforced the discipline and forced them to obey. I gave the problematic staffs some disciplinary action. I want them to learn some lesson and be more serious on their responsibility and work.
During plant shut down or some called it turn around, I learned a lot. Techniques on ensuring the fastest and effective way to cool down the plant, managing and coordinating a team of people to service the plant, conducting air test, steam test and driving the plant start-up are among some knowledge I acquired during 4 shutdowns of my plants.
A Little Something from Me
There are a lot more to share, but it’s impossible to include everything here. I’m glad to have experienced chemical engineering in three different areas; research (academics); oil and gas; and oil and fats. Each area has their own challenges, advantages and unique.
Being very vague about the chemical engineering industry during my student life urged me to improve the situation. Wouldn’t it be nice if somebody can tell and share what they can expect from the industry? It will be some sort of a chemical engineering informal education for the students and other junior engineers. That is why despite of my busy life as a process engineer, I progressively and continuously share some of my experiences in my “Chemical Engineering World” blog that I created on the third quarter last year. I sincerely hope it can provide at least some useful information for fellow young chemical engineers. I believe it’s a good thing if other professional and practicing engineers out there can do the same for others to benefit. It will be a great contribution.
posted by zaki yamani @ 8:37 AM,
I’m Zaki. I’m a process/chemical engineer. Check on the about to know me better.
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