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Being a chemical engineer in the industry versus academia

I have been a chemical engineer in academia for 2 and a half years already, helping students get their own engineering degrees. This coming July, I will reach the three (3) years mark being a chemical engineer academia.

In the other hand, I have been a chemical engineer in the industry for 5 years plus (2.5 years as a project/chemical engineer in an oil and gas based company while the remaining 3 years plus as a process engineer in an oil and fats related company).

Prior to that, I have been in the research arena for about 3.5 years plus (including the time I did my masters degree).

I have experienced working in various chemical engineering fields and I must say all of them are different. Chemical engineering field are very broad. There are basically too many things to explore and learned.

If a person ask me which one of the field I worked presently and before is the best... I would answer... Well, it is a paradoxical feeling. I love working in all areas I had worked before. I experienced and learned uniquely different knowledge and skills. I cannot say I only love my present career. I missed being a process engineer too. I missed walking up and down the plant, visiting the control room, checking the daily log and report book of my plants, siting in the meeting and receiving instruction from my superiors as well as giving instruction to my downline manpower. Oh... I missed all those moments.

I also missed my shift supervisor calling me each and every morning at 6.30 am (regardless of working day or holiday) to give me report on my plants status. I missed writing the daily and monthly report. I missed trouble shooting the plant whenever there are any problems...I missed being scolded by some of the managers...haha....

Last week, my senior production executive colleague (who is working with the company I served before) called me and asked about a situation which had just happened to the plants. According to him, a disaster happen when suddenly all the heat exchanger choked due the oil or something else solidify in it. After analyzing the sample taken from the heat exchangers, it was found that 90% of the compound contained glycerin. Glycerin should not be inside the CPO (crude palm oil)!!! We immediately know that someone irresponsible has blended the CPO with glycerin because CPO is far more expansive compared to the crude glycerin.

I presume, the moisture/water detector supplied by a very established instrumentation company could not detect the differences between CPO and the glycerin (Well, both compound have H an C elements). The instrument can only detect water... a very cheap compound with chemical formula H2O that was also blended with CPO few years back.

As a result, glycerin which when heated without water will solidify and turned blackish colour. The problem now is how to dissolve the solids. I discussed and gave some ideas to my senior exec friend on how to dissolve the blackish solid. However, I have not followed up or check back on the outcome.

Maybe I should call him tomorrow and asked whether the problem has been solved or not. But for sure, a serious production downtime occurred and an ethical issue of some irresponsible selfish person is to be blamed for all of this mess.

Well, that's just a slice of what I can feel happening in the place where I worked previously. Honestly, I don't feel the same challenge now, here. The situation, environment, atmospheres are totally different. I won't elaborate on this now... Maybe some other time.

I just wish to complete my Ph.D as soon as possible and start building up my career, get some post graduate students, research grants, involved in consultation works and collaborate on some projects with the industry. I cannot just stay inside the university. It won't be enriching enough... Please don't misunderstand me....

Oh...I want to visit the plants and factories... I miss them all...

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posted by Kipas Repair JB @ 11:01 PM, ,

The Author


I’m Zaki. I used to be a project, process and chemical engineer. Few years ago I successfully became a Chartered Engineer (IChemE) and Professional Engineer (BEM). I'm now employed as a chemical engineering educator/researcher/consultant. Hope you like reading my blog. I welcome any feedback from you. My email: zaki.yz[alias]gmail.com. TQ!

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