International Cooperation and Professionalism Produce Engineering Excellence

Earlier this month, we posted an Emerson Process Experts blog showcasing a recent success with Reno de Medici (RDM), a recycle fiberboard producer located in northern France.  In the blog, we highlighted how the project deliverables were met, and even exceeded in many ways.  It was also stressed that this was an international effort involving consultants from France, the UK, and the USA.  I would encourage the reader to follow the above link to better understand the unique challenges and solutions that made this project a success.

What was not expressed, however, is just how three different countries were able to work together under intense time pressure to achieve such a solid win.  It’s this aspect that I wish to shed some light on in this article.  The human side of this tale bears some consideration and, for me, is best summarized in two words: Professionalism and Trust.

In the case of Emerson’s combustion control group (to which I am privileged to belong), we are primarily responsible for controlling the considerable energies released from the combination of fuel and air in industrial furnaces and boilers.  An error or lapse of judgment can spell a bad day and even loss of life and property for our clients.  A theoretical knowledge of combustion fundamentals, burner design, process dynamics, and control philosophy are the tools in our tool bag.  Moreover, the ability to efficiently communicate both verbally and, more importantly, to express yourself in writing to your peers (perhaps the ultimate mark of a professional) is extremely important when intense collaboration is needed under not-so-ideal circumstances.

Such was the situation with the RDM project.  The above blog link can provide the reader a detailed background, but for the purposes of this article I’ll provide a précis of the situation.  Emerson France sold a combustion DCS migration to RDM.  Consulting resources from France, the UK, and the USA were assembled to execute the project which was unique and had some peculiar aspects, to say the least.  When the time drew near for start-up and commissioning, a series of events occurred such that Emerson could not provide a start-up resource on the promised dates.  The situation was further compounded in that RDM had a fixed date to resume production or a negative commercial impact would result.  Here’s where my part in the story begins.  On a Friday afternoon, I was quietly working away on assigned projects when our resource coordinator rang to say “Hey Andrew, can you be in Lyon France first thing Monday morning to support a pulp and paper HRSG (Heat Recovery Steam Generator) with supplemental firing start-up in northern France for the next two weeks?”  What do you say to that?  I was in!

Arrangements were made and I was quickly put into touch with my colleague in the UK, who had done the bulk of the preparatory work.  A flurry of emails, files, and phone calls took place and soon I was off on my mission.  As I have indicated, there were complexities to this projects as well as real time pressure for a successful outcome.  What I want to highlight here is that while there was genuine stress and expectation on the line, enormous amounts of information were exchanged between my colleague and I in a very short amount of time.  I attribute this efficient exchange primarily to professionalism.  Very specific questions were asked, and answered.  A knowing “yes” or “no” to pertinent queries added to or eliminated whole swaths of information that needed to be considered.  Speaking the “lingo” is one thing, but to possess a requisite understanding of the underlying concepts is quite another.  True Professions are able to transcend language, transcends national and cultural boundaries.  These separations are beneath true practitioners and the fundamentals never change.

Being able to work with world-class professional colleagues, asking the right questions and getting succinct answers that anticipated my needs made this a very pleasant experience.  Just as I would be nervous seeing my surgeon anxiously flip through an anatomy text before my surgery, likewise I would question two engineers groping to remember combustion or flow concepts before attempting a complex controls commissioning effort.  Consummate professionals follow a path of knowledge that has changed them forever – it’s a part of who they are.  Do they know all the answers all the time?  Probably not, but their training and experience tell them where to go to quickly fill in gaps for a peculiar situation.

The second word that I identified earlier is simply “Trust”.  I trusted my colleagues abroad to properly equip me for the task at hand.  Even during the twists and turns that are so common with any commissioning effort, my colleagues were a phone call away and issues were quickly resolved.  Trust was also put into the Emerson standards that our group has meticulously developed over many years of experience.  We don't re-invent the wheel, but have rather perfected in many ways the various facets of combustion control.  Familiarity and trust in our standards often prevents that unsettled feeling of untested logic in a live environment.

All in all, our efforts with RDM surpassed expectation for both client and company.  The statement was even made that we “pulled a rabbit out of hat”.  No, not really.  Smoke and mirrors belong to the realm of illusionists and showmen.  The beauty and peril of engineering is that your work is out there for all to see – no excuses.  This engineer is fortunate to work with true professionals.  We may not speak the same local language (as I’m gently reminded by my UK cohorts!), but when we speak on technical terms and work toward the same engineering goals as professionals, nothing’s lost in the translation.

Andrew J. Verdouw, P.E. | Professional Services Organization

2 Replies

  • Great post Andrew! This project was a great success and a good lesson in the value of standardization. Because the configuration was based upon Industrial Energy standards, you knew your way around the configuration although you had not been a part of the original project team. Couple that with your extensive process knowledge along with a local resource ready to learn (and translate!), and Emerson had a crack start up team.
  • In reply to Barbara Hamilton:

    Andrew , Thanks for sharing the rest of the story! I've updated the blog post to connect back here.