The Voice of Energy: Communication in Engineering

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Jonathan Vogel is a chemical engineer at Citgo Refining in Lake Charles, LA

About Jonathan

In 2016, Jonathan graduated from Louisiana Tech University with a degree in chemical engineering. He now works full time at Citgo, with whom he previously interned, as an engineer. Throughout his experience in the field, Jonathan has used his technical knowledge and communication skills acquired at Tech to work through several issues, such as safely recycling chemical waste streams and getting the plant back in operation after a lightning strike.

The field of engineering attracted Jonathan from a young age. Growing up, his taste for applied math and science was developed through television shows such as Mythbusters, and through his fascination with space and NASA, which consists mainly of a collective group of engineers working together to do incredible feats.

Different Forms of Workplace Communication

Jonathan’s job as an engineer is to facilitate in the production of energy from crude oil, a complicated and multi-stepped process. Jonathan only works on a single section of this process, but because the operation of every section depends on that of every other section, it is vital that there be effective communication between the different parts of the plant.

Email

A large part of Jonathan’s job is writing emails to other engineers outlining the changes he makes and observes. This allows for other parts of the plant to compensate for changes in the process without ruining product or endangering workers.

Presentations

Jonathan must also keep his bosses and managers informed on the status of his work so they can be well equipped to make executive decisions. For instance, when Jonathan analyzes system performances to see if maintenance needs to be done, he has to give presentations to management detailing the process, the total cost, and why it is necessary. This allows the managers to analyze the cost effectiveness and productivity of new designs.

Face-to-Face

Although the operation of the plant relies heavily on email, Jonathan says that the most important form of communication is the face-to-face interactions with the operators and engineers. Many of the operators have been working on the units for decades, so a lot can be learned by talking with them. Furthermore, he says “it’s important to have a comfortable relationship with the operators so when you ask them to do something they don’t understand, there’s no resistance.”

The Challenges of Communication

Jonathan explains that poor communication can hinder productivity in a plant, and even cause alarm. For instance, he says that “you have to be aware of your word choice, because using the word ‘leak’ instead of ‘drip’ implies a different connotation.” This ambiguity could send an inaccurate perception of the issue to the management.

It is also important to make sure your written documents are clear and accurate. Every email he writes and safety audit he fills out are kept on file, and if there are discrepancies later, his bosses can find them. The paper trail he leaves must be honest so that he can not only help avoid accidents, but also prove that he isn’t responsible in case of one.

The Role of Technology in Engineering Communication

The development of technology in the engineering field helps keep plants in better communication, thereby making them safer and more efficient. Jonathan describes a technology called EELS (Electronic Event Logbook System) that monitors the conditions and changes made to a process. This data can then be shared or printed to allow the engineers and operators to discuss the reactions to turning a valve or changing a temperature.

Jonathan’s Expectations and Realizations

Jonathan was well prepared for the technical aspect of his job, but was surprised by the amount of communication it required. He advised that young engineers entering the workplace “learn to communicate well,” because “communication skills are just as important as technical knowledge.”

Andrew Pousson, guest blogger

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