A day in the life of a supervising engineer: Meet James, Day Coordinator, Altona, Melbourne

Supervising Engineer - James
At Qenos, our people have the freedom to work on projects and improve processes. Meet James Smith, a Supervising Engineer from our Altona plant.

James joined Qenos in 2012 as a Junior Project Engineer and has since progressed to Day Coordinator, acting as the interface between the maintenance and operations departments. This supervisory role sees him looking after the major and day-to-day maintenance tasks in the plant, from coordinating equipment availability and operators to planning major plant shutdowns and providing technical assistance to junior engineers.

James starts his mornings with a production meeting, discussing how the plant has been running over the past 24 hours. He keeps an eye on any maintenance issues that arise and prioritises them. Another part of his role is long-term planning for large jobs, such as when the plant shuts down twice per year for maintenance, which involves coordinating between the production team, maintenance tradespeople, engineers and a number of contractors and sticking to a tight schedule.

“My first position out of university was as an engineer at a paper mill. I wanted to return to Melbourne, so after two years I found a position at Qenos. I knew they were a good vacation student employer from university, and I had a few friends that worked there over the summer who had great things to say! They had fun and learnt a lot. At Qenos, we make the raw polyethylene material that goes into many household products. Even though customers will be familiar with products made from our plastic, they don’t necessarily recognise our name. Qenos’s strong reputation as an employer of choice for vacation students really drew my attention.”

James enjoys interacting with different people throughout the day, from technicians to operators and engineers. He also enjoys the strategic side of his role, doing long-term planning.

“There’s a bit of pressure and importance placed on this role, which can be difficult, but it’s really rewarding too. There’s sometimes a bit of firefighting! But that breaks up the routine and keeps things interesting. Part of the role is reactive and challenging, so you have to be able to think on your feet and use your leadership skills. But I also get time to practice my engineering skills by running major projects and making improvements to the plant. It’s a good balance.”

He also has the chance to create projects and seek funding. Qenos permits their people to come up with good ideas and provides them with opportunities to pursue them.

His favourite experience at Qenos was during his time as a process engineer. He had an idea to build a computer simulation model of the batch polymerisation process used at one of the Qenos plants.

“It’s like cooking. You know the properties of plastic you want to achieve for different purposes (such as bottles, or wheelie bins!), so you throw ingredients into the reactor and see what it produces. There was a lot of trial and error, and each trial is expensive. I came up with the idea of a computer simulation model and got people on board. Qenos gave me the opportunity to develop it, which resulted in saved costs and time by reducing the number of trials we had to do. It was a really fun and rewarding project.”

Qenos has a focus on innovation, encouraging people to think outside the box and come up with new ideas. They even have an internal awards ceremony for people to submit ideas.

“This is great, especially for engineers, as inventing new things and making improvements is what we want to do most! Qenos gives you the opportunity to do that. Before I came to Qenos, my previous engineering role was very reactive, constantly responding to problems. That’s why Qenos was a great place for me to join.”

Qenos has a reputation for employing talented technical engineers, a key difference James has noticed from his other roles.

“They hire very switched-on, clever engineers. I’ve learned a lot from the more experienced engineers, things I didn’t learn at university. The culture here is great. The people here are helpful, friendly and open.”

Despite the challenge, James is looking forward to the upcoming plant shutdown, a big event which will involve many major jobs and contractors on site, and 12-hour days for a few weeks.

“You learn a lot and get to do a lot of interesting things, opening vessels….finding surprises! I’m also looking forward to making improvements when it comes to permit issuing and tracking during major shutdowns. We’re a very safety-focused organisation. I’m hoping to improve our paper based process through an electronic system with big visible displays so everyone is clear about what work has been completed, what jobs are scheduled and how we are progressing compared to the plan. We’re also building a new cooling tower, which is another big project I’ll be heavily involved in.”

For people interested in joining Qenos, James recommends having a willingness to give things a go and being excited about improvement initiatives.

“Even if things don’t work, my managers are happy for me to go through that learning process. If you have good initiative and are self-motivated, you will do well here.”