Episode 113 — Chemical Engineering

chemicalplantChris Welch joins Adam, Brian, Carmen, and Jeff to talk about the field of chemical engineering.

  • Jeff believes in unicorns, even though he’s never seen one!
  • From his childhood, Jeff recalls watching a DuPont film about “Better Living Through Chemistry.”
  • Our guest for this episode is Chris Welch, a chemical engineer from New Brunswick, Canada, who works in the water treatment industry.
  • Branches of chemistry include (but are not limited to): physical chemistry, organic chemistry, and analytic chemistry.
  • Biological scrubbing uses bacteria to remove Hydrogen Sulfide (and volatile organic compounds) from a gas stream.
  • Chemical engineers concentrate on facilitating chemical reactions, thereby allowing for large scale production, while chemists focus on developing innovative materials and processes.
  • In the mid-1900s, it was possible to buy kids’ chemistry sets containing cyanide, uranium, and ammonium nitrate.
  • Chemical engineers sometimes make use of process simulators, such as Aspen Plus, ChemCad, and PRO/II.
  • Thermal management is an important part of controlling many chemical processes.
  • Plant shutdowns can be very expensive, especially when the shutdown is unexpected.
  • A chemical reactor is a vessel that contains (and facilitates) a chemical reaction.
  • Solids are removed from a liquid through sedimentation in a clarifier.
  • In Canada, licensed engineers carry a “P.Eng.” designation.
  • Our guest is a drummer in local pipe band.
  • Listners can reach Chris via email: cwelch -+= at =+- unb dot ca.

Thanks to Grey World for use of the photo titled “colourful chemicals.” Opening music by John Trimble, and concluding theme by Paul Stevenson.

Episode 112 — Boomer Exodus

lavalampThe gang discusses opportunities and challenges of dealing with Baby Boomers as they depart the engineering field.

  • Adam is aware of the “retirement cliff,” which describes an impending loss of skilled workers, nearly all of them Baby Boomers, in a short period of time.
  • Americans tend to derive much of their self-identity from their jobs, notes Jeff.
  • This episode focuses on dealing with the loss of crucial information as seasoned engineers retire.
  • Many baby boomers have not saved enough for retirement, and so are deciding to work longer.
  • Georgetown University’s Center on Education and the Workforce published a 2011 study on STEM careers, noting that 10 years after graduation, 46 percent of STEM graduates have left the field.
  • While the clamor for more engineering graduates continues, a number of authorities claim there is no engineering labor shortage.
  • A 2013 article from National Defense Magazine explained that the “engineering shortage” is not a myth, although the engineers who commented on the article seemed to feel otherwise.
  • The concern over retiring baby boomers dates back a while, with a July 2000 article (pdf) from Monthly Labor Review discussing the substantial effects to be felt by U.S. employers.
  • Jeff references a white paper (pdf) from The Integrity Group that discusses the effect of Baby Boomer retirement on the energy industry.
  • Harvard Business Review published a 2014 article examining the costs associated with retiring experts.
  • A Bloomberg article from earlier this year discussed steps taken by defense and aerospace company BAE to prepare for upcoming retirements within their engineering ranks.
  • Paying workers more money can overcome their reluctance to assume jobs they would not otherwise consider, suggests a Twin Cities Pioneer Press article.
  • Jeff notes that many Baby Boomers are in no hurry to leave the job market.
  • Many companies cope with the loss of retiring engineers by hiring them back on a part-time or flex-time basis.
  • An infographic (pdf) from Kelly Services forecasts engineering job growth through 2023.
  • Interested listeners can look up forecasts for engineering employment offered by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Thanks to Dean Hochman for use of the photo titled “lava lamps.” Opening music by John Trimble, and concluding theme by Paul Stevenson.

Episode 111 — Environmental Engineering

ducklingsBronwyn Bell joins Adam, Brian, Carmen, and Jeff to discuss the challenges and responsibilities of an environmental engineer working in the mining sector.

  • Carmen likes to help out local beer brewers in harvesting hops, but he’s not sure what makes for a good hops growing season.
  • Environmental engineers plan, design and manage projects associated with environmental protection or remediation.
  • Our guest for this episode is Bronwyn Bell, an environmental engineer from Western Australia with extensive experience in the Mining & Resources economic sector.
  • An unfortunate early experience with Super Glue, while building a popsicle stick bridge, convinced Brownyn that she’d rather not be a civil engineer.
  • Subsectors within the environmental engineering field include wastewater treatment, air pollution control, waste disposal, recyling, and public health management.
  • Bronwyn managed to make spending time at a nearby beer brewery an integral part of her engineering studies.
  • Our guest has worked in coal mines, iron mines, and diamond mines… and has also visited a number of gold mines.
  • Kimberlite is an igneous rock that may contain diamonds.
  • Alluvial diamond mining is usually associated with smaller-scale mining operations.
  • Browyn has done a lot of work in the Pilbara region of Australia, which contains some of the Earth’s oldest rock formations.
  • Tailings are the materials that remain after ore is processed to remove its more valuable components.
  • Brian jokes about differences in pronouncing the thirteenth element on the periodic table.
  • A metric ton, or tonne, is a mass equivalent to 1,000 kilograms.
  • Bronwyn notes that a good environmental solution is often a good financial solution, as waste reduction aids both.
  • One of our guest’s projects received financial relief due to the presence of Asian green mussels.
  • Our guest can be reached via email: billson.bell -=+ at +=- gmail dot com.

Thanks to Stephen Bowler for use of the photo titled “Ducklings.” Opening music by John Trimble, and concluding theme by Paul Stevenson.

Practical insights for the engineering crowd