Shiau Yinn Chai
Shiau Yinn Chai, Process engineer, Shell.

The energy industry is a great place to develop your engineering skills. You’re putting your university knowledge into practice, developing your career and discovering there’s never a dull moment.

My first exposure to the energy industry was while I was still at university. During a six-month internship at Shell’s largest wholly owned refinery, the Pulau Bukom refinery in Singapore, I had the chance to experience first-hand how chemical-engineering concepts were put into practice. I worked on projects that were interesting and had an impact on existing issues, such as reducing energy consumption in plant units. I knew then that I wanted to return to Shell on a permanent basis when I finished my degree.

Upon graduation in 2011 I returned to Bukom as a process-control technologist assigned to various crude-oil distillation units in the refinery. Last year, as part of my development, I was offered the opportunity to be a process technologist for the hydrogen-manufacturing unit (HMU), solving process-control problems and taking the lead in providing solutions.

Hydrogen is an essential utility gas for the hydrocracking unit. A hydrocracker squeezes more value out of each barrel of oil by breaking down – or cracking – long-chain hydrocarbon molecules into shorter, lighter and more valuable ones. In the presence of hydrogen and a catalyst, the unit upgrades wax distillate left over from other processes into high-quality products like gasoline, jet fuel and diesel. So the HMU, which supplies the hydrocracker with the hydrogen it needs, is a vital part of the refining system.

My day-to-day role involves looking for opportunities to minimise the HMU’s energy consumption and optimise production from it. I study historical data in order to identify threats to the operation of the unit. For example, it’s important to ensure that the life of the catalyst is sufficient to run until the next scheduled maintenance shut-down, avoiding unnecessary and costly downtime caused by unplanned maintenance. That means ensuring operating conditions for the catalyst are optimal. I really see the impact my role makes.

It is a very fast-paced and dynamic environment. Something is always happening, but you get plenty of support from more experienced engineers, and Shell’s training – one of the things that attracted me to the company in the first place – really helps. Graduates get a structured three-year training plan, with a strong focus on process safety and on-the-job learning. I have now completed the Shell Graduate Programme and have moved onto the Shell Advanced Technical Programme, which should last another three years. This structured approach aims to help process engineers achieve technical depth and autonomy within around six years of arriving at Shell as a graduate.

I believe I made the best decision, both in my choice of internship and then returning to Shell to embark on the Shell Graduate Programme. My responsibilities have grown rapidly and there is never a dull moment at work. Whilst my work remains challenging and exciting, I can always count on my colleagues and supervisor to provide support and guidance and they are the ones who make Shell a great place to work.quotes-right