We recently spoke to Paulvin Mathew, Lead Instrument Engineer for Gas Train 5 (Fire and Gas) EPC Project in KNPCMina Ahmadi Refinery, Kuwait. In his interview, he points out the challenges an Instrumentation Engineer faces and discusses the importance of working together with vendors and customers in order to execute a successful automation project.
Mathew has been involved majorly in EPC & Shutdown projects, commissioning, sales and maintenance expertise in industries like Refinery, Petrochemical and Pulp & Paper as an Instrumentation Engineer. Excerpts from the interview are below…
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What made you decide on working as an Instrumentation Engineer? What challenges did you face and how did you build your career around this?
I am a graduate in Electronics and Communication Engineering from India. However, after the completion of my degree, I had to try hard to get myself into any of the core fields in engineering. Unfortunately, it was pretty difficult to get a job in that domain at that time.
Though there were many opportunities across the IT industry, I decided to chase my passion, rather than getting into any other industry. This was certainly not easy for me and did not benefit me initially.
As a result, I decided to pursue some additional certifications to gain a practical understanding of instrumentation. Research courses in automation, additional PLC or DCS training are important to nurture your knowledge base. So, I underwent DCS training (Industrial Automation) at Yokogawa India. Soon after, I realized that such courses only have a definite procedure of programming for Yokogawa, they do not give one field experience.
Working on an automation project is related to practical knowledge and field experience. So, I finally relocated to Kuwait to work with a Petrochemical company. One of their plants had shut down and they were expanding the production capacity of the running plants along with its up gradation.
I was working with the traditional plants that needed to be integrated with new ones that needed engineering designs. I was working in the Engineering domain (design, supervision of construction and commissioning).
What are the major challenges an instrumentation engineer faces?
This is one of the core fields in engineering, which needs careful applications of engineering practices and the integration of multiple control systems via different communication protocols.
With more developments will come the implementation of newer technologies. With the help of technologies that enable Predictive Maintenance, as well as the latest automation practices, the area of maintenance will not need a higher number of employees. This will gradually lead to a lack of employment opportunities in the area of instrumentation.
Also, the use of automated practices is gradually replacing the role of manual labour. One of the major crisis instrumentation engineers face is the lack of job opportunities in the Oil&Gas, Petrochemical and Mining industries.
In addition, today countries are working towards developing and investing in renewable sources of energy. As such, areas physical labour is majorly affected in areas in which technologies are less complex.
Moreover, instrumentation engineers in sectors like Oil&Gas and Petrochemicals are expected to work in live environments with hazardous working conditions. In such a scenario, health and safety become a matter of concern too.
As an EPC Engineer, what are the basic necessities you feel are required for the successful execution of an automation project?
Designing the essentials of a project and working on it real-time vary greatly. Things you design might not always work in real-time operations. This is one of the major concerns today. Upgrading a system always involves a risk factor. This is because the older systems have traditional designs and specifications to cater too. In addition, the electronics used are also different.
As such, when you upgrade a system, you see a mismatch wherein some parts are new and some work with existing communication platforms. So, challenges arise with regards to proper communication of signals. The newer instruments might not be compatible with traditional ones.
Secondly, teamwork and communication between clients and third-party vendors (Honeywell, Siemens, ABB, Yokogawa and Schneider Electric) are crucial. In a project, the control systems might be available from vendors like Honeywell, but the subsidiaries might be from other vendors like Siemens.
So, here the communication protocols will be different and will require alignment. Since signal transmission from one system to a subsystem will be from different companies, it is important to have a proper understanding of the project.
Therefore, to execute a project successfully, I believe a vendor also plays a crucial role. A client can only give his inputs or requirements. Understanding their requirement and successful applications depends on control system vendors. Only with the vendor’s assistance are the factory FATS (Factory Acceptance Test) and logical programming and testing taken care of.
How do you think smart digital practices like IoT and Industry 4.0 are changing business dynamics today?
Though such practices are reliable and efficient and come with lots of advantages, they are pretty expensive to implement. So, I believe none of the existing production companies will prefer such a sudden change in technology.
One of the factors for this is the decline in oil prices. Today, we see a gradual fall in the number of petrochemical projects across the globe. In such a scenario, it seems difficult for them to implement a sudden change. Plants that are already running will certainly not look for changes, while the newer ones might prefer to.
How do you help a client select the right instrument for their needs?
To select the right instrument, one must consider the following parameters:
-Higher rate of accuracy in an instrument
-A minimum level of fluctuations in the measurement of processes
-Having an efficient and reliable operation
-Ease of maintenance
-Have proper standards and certifications
-Compactness and interoperability
Moving ahead, what is your advice to next-generation engineers?
I would say one should always chase his or her passion: If you don’t like it, do not do it! One should not compromise the skill set he or she has built just for the sake of a profession. Grades and ranks at universities are not actually the pillars that judge you. Exposure to the practical aspect of your profession, along with having vocational experience, is equally important to build your career.