By Sara Mathov and Angelica Pajkovic
Engineering as a Dream Career
Maria Johannesmann has been working in the oil and gas industry for over 15 years. “I grew up in a small petroleum field in Venezuela, and everyone I knew worked in oil and gas refineries. To me, each person’s role in our community seemed very important, and I wanted to be a part of that world. I would repeatedly ask what should I do to work in the refinery, and everyone gave me the same answer; ‘you have to be an engineer,’” laughed Johannesmann. “As I grew up, I became more interested in pursuing engineering and ultimately chose to study mechanical engineering, as it offered the most versatility.”
Johannesmann graduated from UNEXPO with a degree in mechanical engineering and quickly began her career in a refinery. “I was willing to work in whatever position was needed, so I started with static group, performing non-destructive testing. My goal, however, was to be part of the Rotating Equipment group and work with big machinery,” said Johannesmann. “I had to learn a lot about pumps to be considered for this type of role, but it was what I wanted to do. I therefore dedicated most of my time to refining my skills and relied on the support of my excellent mentors who were willing to advise and teach me; with their help I began working in refinery, manufacturing, and later in an EPC.”
After leaving Venezuela, Johannesmann transitioned her focus to rotating equipment and began her position at Wood plc. “I have worked with API centrifugal pumps, reciprocating pumps, canned pumps, fire water pumps, sealless pumps, and a number of other applications,” she said. “I have now been at Wood as a rotating equipment engineer for nearly 10 years, and the Section Lead for Rotating engineer for over 2 years, I really enjoy it.”
Day in the Life
A typical day as a rotating equipment engineer includes liaising with clients, vendors, and multiple engineering disciplines. “My focus ranges greatly depending on the requirements for the task in question,” explained Johannesmann. “I work with anything that has to do with rotating equipment, such as pumps, compressors, blowers, etc. and am responsible for the selection of equipment, procurement, vendor data approval, and any of the processes related to them. More specifically, I work with the clients to select vendors that can provide the best equipment, and put a package together, including specifications.” Once a package is together, Johannesmann and her team conduct an evaluation to make sure the vendor has met the client’s specifications and are offering the best quality possible.
With such a comprehensive role, Johannesmann must be informed on a variety of industrial sectors, while simultaneously maintaining a knowledge of how the applications within each sector function. “I am the interface between the client, the sectors of the company,the vendors, and the responsible equipment engineer, so it is a big responsibility,” said Johannesmann. “We are in charge of the technical side of pumps, compressors, turbines, mechanical seals, motors, and really anything that rotates.”
Rotating Equipment Projects
Following specifications and delivery the best product is a large part of any engineer’s job, but for rotating equipment there are several pieces to consider when determining the necessary equipment. For example, type of pump, pump driver, mechanical sea plans, coupling, lubrication, monitoring system, and instrumentation to protect the equipment, explained Johannesmann. “Sometimes, smaller clients do not have their own specifications, so we can establish this for them. We are familiar with standards like API or ANSI and can therefore work with clients to put together a list of requirements or develop the specifications,” she continued. A very important aspect of the job is to review supplier’s proposals, develop a technical evaluation, and to select the best equipment that meets the client and industry standards. Once the purchase order has been placed, the review and approval of vendor documentation, followed by shop visits, witness testing and FATs are also conducted.
Although her company works on both greenfield and brownfield projects, the current market conditions have made brownfield much more common. “Brownfield projects are often a challenge because they include reengineering while the plant remains operational. This forces both the client, and EPC firm, to be really creative in the way of executing engineering.
A common issue we have struggled with occurs when we retrofit existing equipment. It can be very difficult to get the parts that are needed,” stated Johannesmann. “Sometimes a previous vendor has merged with another company, and the product you are trying to locate and replace no longer exists; information can also be incomplete at times, or lacking serial numbers, so you have to dig a lot and find somebody willing to help on the vendor side.”
Working on challenging large-scale projects that require a thorough understanding of the applications involved, is one of the aspects Johannesmann enjoys most about her role. “I take great pleasure in the satisfaction that comes from working with clients to develop their projects and finding solutions to the various problems that arise,” she said.
Women in the Industry
It is very important to build good relationships and communication with account managers, vendors, coworkers, and clients. Maintaining these relationships promotes a healthy work environment. Being a woman in the industry means not only working on those relationships but showing that you are an asset to the team. “I am a woman, in a male dominated field. It can be challenging, because you have to take an extra step to prove that you have the knowledge, and earn respect. Some colleagues have more experience, maybe even more than 40 years. You have to work with them and at times tell them what you need them to do, so putting pride aside is a part of it as well.”
“Sometimes, I still get scared when I walk into a room filled with men. But you learn to get comfortable, start talking more, and trust that you have the knowledge, therefore, you deserve respect. There will always be people that want to challenge you, or test your knowledge, but there are also a lot of people willing to teach, help, and relate to you. My advice to other women entering the industry is, do not be intimidated, we can be great rotating equipment engineers.”
For those that are new to the industry or have interest in it, Johannesmann recommends not being afraid to talk to superiors and advisors. “Find a company that wants to invest in you, find mentors that will help you, and ask, ask, ask lots of questions; never be scared to say you do not know something, there are no stupid questions,” she said. “We all need to learn. Additionally, do not be afraid to take on a challenge, or try something new. Many Rotating Engineers have lots of experience and are willing to pass the knowledge, having good relationships will allow you to learn and gain your own.”
Having a large repertoire of experience and knowhow is useful to be able to understand different sectors, and therefore better understand specific projects. Experience in downstream, midstream, and offshore work has allowed Johannesmann to gain wisdom in all the facets of the industry, and the ability to recognize emerging trends. “Everybody is noticing a change in this line of work for a push towards cleaner energy and reducing emissions. As the government is interested in assisting with this, and new innovative technologies are addressing these issues, I believe that everyone will start transitioning,”
Although many individuals in the in the oil and gas industry are resistant to transition to new technologies, Johannesmann believes that new practices are slowly being accepted by those that have been around for several years. “A few years ago, I think the advancements were going too fast, and there was a lot of resistance,” she explained. “As time advances, there seems to be less resistance to adopting new methods and processes.”
Most of the individuals who currently work with Johannesmann have over 40 years of experience. “As this industry is a very niche, not many people want to do this line of work, which is creating a generational gap,” she related. “When you go to school, educators do not typically talk about rotating equipment specifically, and the opportunity to engage with the industry is therefore often missed. To fix this I believe we must elevate this experience and mentor people to show them how rewarding a career engineering can be. There is so much to do in rotating equipment, it is not just pumps; it is compressors, turbines, blowers, etc., and all the auxiliaries associated with equipment. There are hundreds of opportunities for people who give it a chance.”