Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Plenty of Opportunities for Career Development

This is part of a series of articles that appeared CETD championed issue of IEM's monthly publication - Jurutera, September 2013. The article is best viewed in its original published form, available from IEM in print or online.

An Interview with John Thurtell, PhD 

John Thurtell, Engineering Global Support Office (EGSO) Manager of ExxonMobil Business Support Centre Malaysia Sdn Bhd, said demand growth in the chemical industry is anticipated to strengthen over time, linked to the growth of the broader economy.

“Most chemical demand growth is in Asia, driven by manufacturing of consumer products for both worldwide export and to serve the growing Asian middle class. These consumers are expected to purchase more packaged goods, appliances, cars, tyres and clothing, many of which are manufactured from chemical products,” he said. “Asia Pacific has accounted for more than two-thirds of global demand growth since 2000, and this trend is expected to continue,” said the Canadian who has just arrived in Malaysia approximately half a year back.
In the next decade, global chemical demand is expected to grow by 50%, driven by improving prosperity in developing countries. Large scale investments are ongoing in the region, particularly in Singapore and China where world-class facilities are being built in the refining and chemical businesses. Thurtell feels this augurs well for the chemical engineering profession as the industry boom will require more engineers with strong professional capabilities in every aspect of the business.
Will the development of the oil & gas sectors in Malaysia & Asia Pacific region affect the chemical engineering profession? In Malaysia, ExxonMobil has been operating for over a century. In fact this year marks the company’s 120 years in Malaysia, which is a significant milestone. Thurtell said: “We are a major oil producer and natural gas supplier in Peninsular Malaysia. We produce about a fifth of the nation’s crude oil and condensate and supply about half of its natural gas needs which is mainly used for power generation. Beyond upstream operations, our Business Support Centre, which is the second largest within ExxonMobil, also hosts ExxonMobil’s IT infrastructure and provides IT support across the globe 24/7.”
As an engineering-based company, ExxonMobil hires a lot of engineers to meet the operating needs of its business. “We also employ engineers in our EGSO in Kuala Lumpur. By virtue of the EGSO functionally reporting to ExxonMobil Research and Engineering (EMRE), our engineers are given the opportunity to provide technical, engineering and application support for ExxonMobil’s manufacturing plants around the world,” he explained, adding that about 95% of its total workforce is Malaysian which “reflects the tremendous local talent we have in our organisation”.


Sadly, many chemical engineers are not registered with the Board of Engineers Malaysia. We asked Thurtell what ExxonMobil is doing to help develop young graduate engineers into professional engineers. He said: “We recognise that engineers play many different roles, depending on their specific job scope. ExxonMobil values the role of certification to ensure compliance with regulatory and process requirements. At ExxonMobil, membership in professional boards is not a prerequisite to employment or an on-the-job requirement as much of our focus is on safe and reliable project management and implementation, as well as operations of our existing facilities. Nevertheless, we are fully supportive of employees who wish to pursue qualifications to improve or maintain their skills and have over the years provided education assistance and reimbursement of the full cost of studies upon successful completion. We also provide internal training programme to strengthen the technical skills of our engineers.”


Chemical engineers can help to promote sustainable development in the country. Thurtell said ExxonMobil’s commitment to operating in an environmentally responsible manner is anchored in its Environment Policy, which fosters appropriate operating practices and training, and requires its facilities to be designed, operated and managed with the goal of preventing environmental incidents.
He added: “Our ‘Protect Tomorrow. Today.’ Initiative guides our management processes to continuously improve environmental performance. Our business operations continue to drive enhancements in environmental performance by incorporating Environmental Business Planning into the annual business planning cycle. In Malaysia, one example where environmental considerations are incorporated into the design basis of our facilities is the use of a hybrid power-generation system on our unmanned satellite platforms. Solar panels produce about half the electricity required, and thermoelectric generators provide the other half. This combination ensures high reliability and low operating costs. Within the global ExxonMobil group, we also focus on various renewable energy initiatives, apart from doing energy optimisation such as co-generation, etc.”
Thurtell shared with us more about ExxonMobil’s new Engineering Global Support Office in Malaysia and the industry as a whole.

Monday, October 7, 2013

Chemical Engineers are not Chemists

This is part of a series of articles that appeared CETD championed issue of IEM's monthly publication - Jurutera, September 2013. The article is best viewed in its original published form, available from IEM in print or online.

An Interview with Ir. Professor Mohd Ali Hashim

by Tan Bee Hong

Ir. Professor Mohd Ali Hashim is an unassuming man and so soft-spoken that I wonder if his students ever take advantage of him. But make no mistakes. Five minutes with the Professor of Chemical Engineering at University of Malaya and one realises that there is a steely presence behind his patiently quiet demeanour.
He shows Ir. Professor Dr Dominic Foo (Chemical Engineering Technical Division chairman of IEM) and I some facts and figures to back up his replies to our queries during an hour-long interview in his office.
He is smartly dressed with a tie to match, which he admits, at the end of the interview that he seldom wears, preferring a more casual style.
We wanted to know about how chemical engineering started in this country approximately 40 years ago. Being the most senior chemical engineering professor in this country, Ir. Professor Ali told us about the story. The university’s Department of Chemical Engineering was established in 1975 (first in Malaysia, followed by Universiti Teknologi Malaysia in 1983 and Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia in 1984) with the help of Professor John Kirkaldy, a Scotsman. Before that, an undergraduate course on chemical technology was offered in the Chemistry Department at the Faculty of Science.
At that time, only a selected few were among the intake, less than 10 students a year. “Today, there are about 60 students annually,” said Ir. Professor Ali. “When we first started, my students were picked for jobs by corporations, even before they graduated.”
However, he adds: “It’s not easy to start a chemical engineering department in general, as it involves very expensive lab equipment.” Later, he walks us to the lab to show us the impressive equipment set-up.
Despite this, more and more universities have started offering Chemical Engineering studies as the demand for chemical engineers continues to grow. Ir. Professor Dr Foo stated that there are more than 10 Chemical Engineering departments set up in the past 10 years, bringing more than 20 departments that offer Chemical Engineering courses in Malaysia, with approximately 1,600 graduates each year. However, Ir. Professor Ali agrees with Ir. Professor Dr Foo that while graduates are excellent in the “hard” skills part, many are still lacking in soft skills or the ability to communicate and make presentations. One of his ways to overcome this is to get his students to do reports as presentations which he feels, will prepare them better for the job in the real world. 


Friday, October 4, 2013

IEM CETD Design Competition RESULTS

The Final Poster Presentation held on 23rd February 2013 was the most anticipated event of the IEM Chemical Engineering Design Competition 2012. The competition, which was organised for the first time by the Chemical Engineering Technical Division (CETD), had attracted twenty four teams from the higher learning institutions nationwide. After submitting three progressive reports, only eight teams were shortlisted for the poster presentation in Wisma IEM, which contributed the final 10% for the competition’s assessment.

 Each team was given fifteen minutes to present the poster on their biogas plant design. The A2 size poster must contain the background of the plant design, the design basis and criteria, process flow diagram (PFD), piping and instrumentation diagram (P&ID), design drawing of one equipment and brief summary of the plant’s economic performance. The teams were assessed on poster design as well as oral defence by the panel of judges that consisted of experienced engineers from the industry and academics.

 After an hour of presentation, the floor adjourned for lunch break while the Secretariat and Organising Committee consolidated the marks. Finally, the event ended with the announcement of the winners and prize giving by Ir. Prof. Dr. Dominic Foo, the Chairman of CETD. 
The winners are:
1st prize winning RM 3,000 goes to Monash University

Chee Beng Siang - Aaron Ng Tze Heng - Voon Seen Yee
Sarah Yeoh Ee Lyn - Manura Ananda Kumar

2nd prize: RM 2,000 goes to Universiti Tunku Abdul Rahman (UTAR)

  Har Chen Loon - Chan Ying Xin - Liu Chun Mei - Neo Lei Yee - Nicole Lam Chooi Yan

3rd prize: RM 1,000 goes to Universiti Malaysia Pahang (UMP)
 Chiew Yee Ket - Law Woon Phui - Lau Siaw Jing - Ling Yeu Shin - Tan Ni King

2 x Consolation prize: RM 500 and certificates goes to
Monash University
Cheang Khai Hong  - Lee Pui Ee - Low Yen Yen - Tan Kian Tiong - Teh Hock Xiong


Universiti Tunku Abdul Rahman (UTAR)
How Kha Tiam - Chan Junda - Pang Wei Xiong - Carina Hoon Huey Q - Danny Ho Pui Fui


Ir. Prof. Dr. Dominic Foo had also presented letter of appreciation to all the judges that had been involved in the entire competition during the event. Participants who did not bag any prizes from the competition were also given certificate of participation issued by IEM. Overall, the competition had been a great success with many positive feedbacks from the participants and panel of judges. The same competition will be organised in year 2013/2014 and it is hope that more chemical engineering students will benefit from this design competition.

Reported by,
Engr. Noor Zuraihan Mohamad Noor
Organising Chairperson

Finalist teams at the final poster presentation session.