Production Engineer

Gwen Barthel

Tell us about your work---what do you do? I am responsible for the daily operations of a specialty chemicals plant. I order feedstocks, write operating procedures , and give daily direction to plant operators about plant happenings. I track the quality of our products by receiving and reviewing lab data . I troubleshoot operational and mechanical problems that affect product quality. I work with customers to determine their needs and how we can work together to meet their requirements. What skills are needed? I think the most important skills I use are the ability to organize my time and juggle several projects simultaneously. I am typically balancing at least four or five projects which are all equally important. I also do a lot of writing, so it's important that I can convey my intentions clearly and concisely. I use some basic engineering principles and simple arithmetic . It is also important for me to get along well with a variety of people including plant operators, engineers, secretaries and purchasing clerks; communicating with and respecting these people makes my job much easier. What was your major? Chemical Engineering How did you get started in your career? I got my first job directly out of college as a result of an on-campus interview. What experience do you need in this job? My job was an entry-level position, so only a degree was required. Describe your "typical" workday: When I get to work I typically go out into the plant to check if the operators are having any problems, discuss the progress of current batches with the operators, and just generally get a feel of how things are going. At least once a week I check the inventory of feedstocks we have on hand and make orders for any materials we're starting to get low on. I then return to my office and look over the lab results for the previous day and night. I usually have several meetings to attend every week: safety meetings, design meetings for new projects, meetings with customers to plan for upcoming product trials, etc. During the day I also spend a good deal of time 'fighting fires,' troubleshooting problems that arise during normal production. I also frequently generate written procedures for upcoming product trials. I check in with the plant personnel at least one more time during the day and then write orders about items to be worked on overnight. What is the hardest aspect of your job? As a new graduate, the hardest part of my job is accepting that many of the decisions made in the plant are made based on experience I don't have yet. I often find myself in situations that I just don't know how to handle. I get excellent support and guidance from my supervisor. What is the most rewarding aspect of your job? The most rewarding part of my job is that my successes are very tangible. I know when a product trial goes well it is partly because I was able to coordinate all of the aspects of the project and bring them together. What are your suggestions for someone considering this field? I think it would be helpful for a student to get a summer job or internship in chemical engineering to get a feel for the different types of work they could be doing. A summer job can also start the process of building experiences that will be used as a basis for future decisions.