November 4, 2015

GLOBAL PROCESS ENGINEERING: WHAT’S IN A DAY?

Author: Gordon Stirling

When I was asked to share a blog on “a day in my life,” I was stumped. Why? Because no two work days in the life of an AFB process engineer are ever the same. But I can share examples of what I do and some things important to me and my AFB team members.

However, first I should explain what we process engineers do: We design and troubleshoot processes to improve quality and efficiency and reduce costs. At AFB, process engineers work with pet food industry customers worldwide to prevent and resolve challenges in handling and using our palatants and other products, as well as support our own plants by designing, implementing and improving processes.

Constant Variety

To illustrate the variability of my day, here are some examples of tasks from recent months:

Work with a customer to develop a new product in AFB’s process development lab at our Lovejoy Resource Center, co-located with AFB’s corporate headquarters in St. Charles, Missouri, USA, where I’m based. 
Travel to an overseas customer plant to troubleshoot a bottleneck in a batch coating system. The solution aligned coating and extruder output so the plant can now make more product or run fewer hours—reducing costs and enhancing revenue.
Commission a dryer at AFB’s Aurora facility. Every detail, from nozzle type and placement to operating temperature, must be planned and tested. Based on what we learned in early tests, we modified to optimize results, then trained operators.
Respond to a customer question about a control device. After researching the issue, I sent the customer information including an equipment quotation and design schematic so the customer team could install the system.
Brainstorm with the process development team strategies to enhance a new AFB product. We evaluated dozens of concepts to identify which could bear fruit more quickly and which need to be tweaked to make them more useable.
Fly to AFB Australia to design and model plant improvements, then create a capital plan to support that region.

That’s just a sampling of what I do…and some of the reasons I continue to enjoy being a process engineer in the pet food industry after more than 30 years in this line of work.

Opportunities and Challenges
My favorite part of any day is helping a customer or a member of our AFB team resolve—or better yet, prevent—a problem. That might mean visiting a customer who’s gearing up to use one of our products and providing an appropriate design given the nature of our products or helping a member of the AFB product development team determine the best options for taking a new product forward.

Common challenges I encounter probably sound familiar to any manager: keeping multiple balls in the air and balancing constantly-shifting immediate and long-term priorities. My guiding principle? Always put the needs of the business and ultimately, the customer, first.

Keys to Success
Keeping all of those balls in the air requires ongoing communication. Phone, email and especially texting are constants in my life. So is travel, sometimes with very little notice. If a customer has a crisis, I’m often on the next plane out.

That regular travel to plants around the globe has exposed me to a wide range of approaches and taught me that solutions may come in many different forms. I often use ideas from one part of the world to solve a similar problem in another.

Teamwork also is a key to success. I rely on multiple team members with varying capacities around the globe with whom I'm in contact with several times each work day. These team members include plant managers around the world—and others responsible for tracking metrics, ensuring process designs are translated effectively for consistency worldwide and much more.

Let’s Connect

If you’d like to learn more about how AFB’s process engineering capabilities can support your success, contact me at gstirling@afbinternational.com or connect with your local AFB representative.

Tags: troubleshooting, product development, process improvement, process development lab, problem-solving, plant improvements, pet food industry process engineer, palatants, Lovejoy Resource Center, afbinternational.com,


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