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A day in the life of…
Graduate Process Engineer at Rio Tinto
Jodie Koh graduated with a Bachelor of Science (2016) and Master of Professional Engineering - Chemical Engineering (2018) from the University of Western Australia and is now a Graduate Process Engineer at Rio Tinto’s Yarwun Alumina Refinery.
Morning Routine. The day starts with a karaoke session in the shower. Lunch today looks promising - I’ve made some potato waffles for our team’s potato themed lunch day.
Drive to Work. We usually carpool since most of us live a few streets apart in Gladstone. Today, I’m sharing my 15 minute drive to work with a fellow process engineer. The early start guarantees a riveting view of the sun rising behind Mt Larcom - conveniently located just behind the refinery.
Walk from Carpark to Central Processing Building. I am already wearing high-visibility clothing when I get to the front gate. Monogoggles and hard hat? Check. So begins the 5 minute 47 second hike up to the Central Processing Building.
Check-In with Control Room. I quickly print out the lab sheets and the shift log from the previous shift. These documents provide an overview of how the refinery was in the previous shift. I collect my printing as I head into the Control Room for the 6:30AM morning tactics meeting. Most of the refinery is controlled via the Control Room. For each key area in the process, there is a Control Room Operator (CRO). At this meeting, Operators and Area Process Engineers check in with the CRO for their respective area. The Shift Controller and the Shift Engineer join in these short check-ins to determine where the refinery limitations are. Currently, I spend the first part of my day with the Shift Engineer, as I will be covering for the role in a few weeks’ time. During the meeting, I’ve noticed an unusual lab result and have requested addition samples to be taken by the Operators in the field. I have also been asked to follow up on filter performance and a process safety incident.
Reviewing Trends. As a Shift Engineer, from 7:00AM-7:30AM, I review squiggly lines (process trends across the entire refinery) to gather information on plant inventory, impurities, production rates, and gas nominations for the day. With 20 spreadsheets recalculating in the background, there’s enough time for another cup of tea and breaky.
Site Meeting and Team Pre-Start Meeting. Safety is our number one priority - we take a few minutes for a safety share at the start of every meeting. As there are numerous workgroups and activities on site, it is important for team leaders and management to communicate and align these priorities at the site meeting. As Shift Engineer, I provide a summary of key process constraints to production and quality. At 7:50AM, I head over to Red Side (Digestion and Clarification) for our technical team pre-start meeting, where each Area Process Engineer checks-in on their daily activities. The second half of my day is spent being a Red Side Area Engineer.
More Trends and Follow-Up Actions. I quickly reply a few urgent emails, and review my trends on filter performance. It looks like a filter could be passing. I request a sample from the suspect filter and make a note to check back later. No time to lose - it’s back to reviewing trends.
Technical Leadership Meeting. The technical leadership team discuss plant performance, process parameters and follow up actions. Although it can be a bit daunting presenting technical information, I know my leaders will coach me through the problem if needed. No follow up actions from this meeting today.
Follow-Up Actions and Trial Monitoring. The lab analysis from the filter has come through - looks like we’ve found our culprit. I present findings to the Control Room Operator, who puts the filter on a wash. Now to investigate this morning’s process safety incident and complete an investigation report for distribution. And… Finally back to being an Area Process Engineer. One of my projects includes recommissioning a heater, in which I have trialled a few operating strategies. From my heater performance monitoring spreadsheet, a temperature reading seems a bit off. The data pull seems fine, so it’s field time.
Field Time. I radio the team leader to check if it’s safe to enter the area and complete a Take-5 before heading out. Using a thermogun, I record the temperature readings across the pipe work. It looks like a manual valve might be shut in. I radio for an Area Process Technician to come take a second look, and they open the valve using a wheel key.
Lunch. Potato themed lunch with team! The menu: potato curry, potato bread, potato waffles, chips, and mash (read: butter with potato). Mini food coma to follow. Team member to the rescue with coffee. We discuss what process conditions are optimal for solvent extraction of coffee.
Long Term Projects. I reply a few more emails and check that the changes requested this morning have been completed - filter performance and heater looking good. I check-in on a project I did on my last rotation in Production Planning and update last month’s savings in my project tracker. A contractor has also gotten back to me regarding a pump upgrade request. I review the new pump curve sent through. I swivel over to my desk neighbour who is an electrical engineer, to see if he thinks we need a new motor too.
Coaching Session. As part of Rio Tinto’s Graduate Program, we are assigned coaches who help develop our soft skills. Today the topic is negotiation. My coach has provided some insightful strategies and activities for me to try before our next session.
Technical Learning Session. Our team gathers for a technical learning session. Don’t forget your thermodynamics! It’s back to basics with flash trains today.
Close-Out Work and Overnight Instructions. I finalise some slides for my safety share that I will be presenting the Rio Tinto Graduate Summit held in Perth - can’t wait to meet all the other Asia Pacific Graduates! I put through a few overnight instructions for the Control Room Operator, for a trial I am running. Final emails for the day. 3:30PM - home time.
Tennis and Squash. Today is Wednesday, so a group of us from work will be playing social tennis. I zip next door to quickly play a squash match at the local squash club. We played badminton yesterday, and will play squash tomorrow before hockey.
Dinner with Friends. We head over to grab Thai for dinner. We get a discount as it is this month’s social club’s restaurant of the month.
Bedtime. Early start at 6:00AM for the monthly site Health, Safety and Environment Committee meeting.
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