Imagine this: You’re working in ExxonMobil’s Baytown Polypropylene Plant, a world-scale petrochemical plant in Texas, and your boss asks you to get the plant running at maximum capacity. This is very rarely done . But he explains that the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality has put out a new rule regulating emissions, and our job is to measure and report the maximum amount of emissions the plant could produce. It’s imperative to get our emissions measurement right because the accuracy of our reporting is at stake.
I’m no longer in Texas, as I relocated to Singapore to work at our manufacturing unit here a few years ago. But to this day, successfully and safely completing that job in Baytown back in 2014 remains the proudest moment of my career. I am happy to report that we were able to meet our objective, and the operation was completed safely, without a hitch, due to an excellent team and detailed planning for the activity.
I graduated in 2009 from Birla Institute of Technology and Science in India with a chemical engineering degree and started working at ExxonMobil. This company is made up of many engineers, so I knew ExxonMobil was the right place for me. But I didn’t work in a chemical plant right away. I was in a financial analysis team in India and at that time, I wasn’t sure how easy it would be to find my way around a finance department.
But it turned out that starting as a business and financial analyst taught me about the bottom line and how the company functions. It gave me the background I needed to understand fully the importance of the challenge I now have: keeping a world-scale olefins plant running without a hitch.
As maintenance supervisor at the Singapore Olefins Plant, which is a part of ExxonMobil’s Singapore Chemical Plant, I am part of the team that ensures everything operates smoothly all the time at optimal levels of production every month. I make sure that our maintenance team has the resources needed to regularly service and overhaul various equipment, like pumps, compressors, heat exchangers and instruments so that the plant runs safely, reliably, and profitably.
And, unlike my maximum-capacity run of the plant in Baytown, one of the most important jobs I have is to ensure that “turnarounds” are performed safely. A turnaround is when we shut down an entire plant, which is normally in continuous operations, for maintenance. These shut-downs are major events which take months to plan and execute.
As daunting as it is to ramp up a plant to its highest-performance capacity, shutting one down isn’t a piece of cake either. Some of the compressors we manage operate at enormous levels of horsepower (a combined amount greater than 100 Dodge Chargers) all in one machine. And being able to shut a plant down safely, in sequence, requires a high level of planning and careful execution.
The other part of managing a turnaround, of course, is starting the plant back up. Now that I’ve had the experience of running a plant at full capacity, my next challenge is restarting one safely. With the help of another excellent team and more detailed planning, I expect things to go just as smoothly as they did back in Texas, without a hitch.