Engineering Connection | Amy Ewing

Amy Ewing is a graduate process engineer, helping to investigate safety incidents while also ensuring the maintenance of safety standards.
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December 2021

Can you describe what a typical day is like in your role as graduate process engineer at Ampol?

At the moment, I am working in the Process Safety Team, so my first task each day is to see if any incidents have been reported overnight and communicate them to my manager. An incident could be any unit upset from temperature exceedances to unit trips or anything in between. Depending on the outcome of the incidents, I might be involved in investigating any further process safety risks or help in finding the root cause of why an incident might have happened.

Repeated incidents on the same unit, for example a recurring high temperature alarm on the same pipe, would trigger the need for a Plant Risk Assessment(PRA). My involvement in PRAs usually includes brainstorming with engineers, operators and contractors to identify hazards and assess risks, collect relevant data both through the control system and out on the refinery, and comple any calculations needed to quantify worst case scenarios. The outcome of the PRA determines if a unit can remain in service or should be shut down for repairs.

Another major part of my role is conducting safeguard field checks, which basically involves checking that the controls for a particular hazard are in place correctly. Each area of the refinery is routinely risk assessed for numerous scenarios and the safeguards are listed for each potential consequence. Alongside a more experienced engineer, my role is to investigate that each of these safeguards preventing the consequence from happening are reliable and effective.

Other than those major tasks, I try to be involved in as much on-site refinery work as I can. The refinery is a large and complex operation and I find a hands-on approach is the best way to learn the ropes.

What do you enjoy most about your current job?

Definitely being on-site is what I enjoy most. It’s one thing to learn about compressors, columns and pumps in a university setting, and another to see them in person in an operational refinery. I’ve always been a visual, hands-on learner so being able to walk from my desk out onto the refinery, climb up a ladder and look at the unit I’m doing calculations for is great.

I also find it helpful to work alongside the operators and contractors on‑site. Not only do they have a wealth of experience, but they are the people on the front line in the control room and operating vessels. Chatting to an operator or contractor about the impact an engineering decision may have on the process and on human safety is invaluable.

On top of that, being on-site is also a great way to get your daily steps in.  

Being a member of the Process Safety Team is the first rotation of your graduate role. What have you already learnt and what are you looking forward to in your next two rotations?

Working in process safety has allowed me to gain a great overview of refinery functionality, from both a safety and a process perspective. Maintaining process safety is fundamental to the function of the refinery as a critical state asset, but also to ensure the protection of people and the environment. In addition to the work I complete as part of my role, the position has allowed me to gain an appreciation for each area of operations, and how they interconnect and influence one another.

For my next step, I look forward to expanding my knowledge in my second rotation as part of the Gross Margin Engineering team. In gross margins I will be involved in modelling and optimisation projects, including helping Ampol reach our net-zero emissions target through numerous decarbonisation studies.

My final rotation will be in the Process Control and Support team. The refinery is split up into four operational sectors, one of which I will be assigned to in order to help optimise and maintain reliability. This will be a very in-depth look into particular equipment on site, adapting the operation of units depending on the composition of feeds and communicating those changes with operators for implementation.

Overall, I’m excited to learn as much  from the graduate program as I can. With innovations in technology becoming a regular occurrence, I’m certain I will spend the rest of my engineering days learning new modelling software, improving accuracy and reliability of equipment, and optimising control systems. What I look forward to is learning how to adapt my existing knowledge to solve new problems into the future.

Why did you get involved as a student ambassador at Engineers Australia and what have you learnt from this role?

As I progressed through my studies, I realised a career in engineering requires soft skills. I’d spent so long studying and building my technical skills in engineering, and almost no time learning how to communicate those outcomes effectively, or even what those outcomes meant in a bigger picture.

Shortly after this realisation, I became a student member with Engineers Australia and attended events on effective communication, critical thinking and discussion forums on new and rising technologies.

When the opportunity to become an Engineers Australia ambassador arose, I jumped at the chance to help build relationships and facilitate communication between students and Engineers Australia. After finding the events so helpful myself, I was keen on encouraging my peers to take advantage of the numerous networking and career targeted events Engineers Australia has to offer.

Overall, I was fortunate to be an Engineers Australia ambassador for my final two years at university. This role helped me to improve my organisational skillset, and both formal and informal communication skills at various events while also allowing me to expand my own industry network.

What advice would you give to graduates at a similar stage in their career?

Don’t be afraid to chase what you want to do.

After graduating at the end of 2020, I was fortunate to start working for a consulting firm straight away. I had experience in my role from working as a vacation student throughout university and I was excited to start full-time. I genuinely enjoyed the role and the company culture was great, but I quickly realised that what I really wanted was to be in a hands-on environment.

I had a lot of reservations about changing roles and I questioned what was right for me. Moving roles would mean a complete industry change and starting a graduate program a whole year after graduation.

Ultimately, going with my gut feeling and trusting what I wanted out of my career was the best thing I could have done.

Being a graduate is great because you are given the opportunity to learn as much as you can so don’t be afraid to ask questions and really take initiative with your own technical and professional development.   

Also, if you have the opportunity, talk to operators as much as possible. Many operators have more experience on a certain unit than years I’ve been alive. So if you have a question or want to try modelling or optimising something, they are sure to know the answers to your questions, or even answers to questions you hadn’t even considered.