Samurl Thompson, Chemical and Process Engineering student

Sam Thompson

Why did you want to undertake a year in industry?

From previous summer internships and professional experiences, I knew that a year in industry would not only improve my graduate prospects but also put me in a better position to apply my industrial knowledge for academic gain in my Masters year. After completing my bachelor’s degree in Chemical Engineering, I felt I was ready to develop my technical knowledge in a fast-paced, dynamic working environment.

What company are you working for and what do they do?

I am currently based in York working for Cargill in the Cocoa and Chocolate Division. Cargill is the largest privately owned company in the world, employing 150,000 people globally and generating annual revenues of approximately £100 billion. The company is vast and diverse, comprising of multiple sectors, including food, agricultural, financial and industrial services. On our site, we process cocoa beans from Côte d’Ivoire to produce cocoa liquor through cleaning, separation, roasting and grinding operations. Our core customers include some of the largest and most popular confectionary brands in Europe, so please feel free to thank me next time you have a KitKat!

What is your role within the company?

As a Project Engineer, my role at Cargill includes process optimisation, project implementation and problem solving on a daily basis, alongside coordinating with external contractors to improve our plant performance where possible. I have recently been assigned to a global team of five Cargill employees to design and commission a multi-million pound project to improve plant capacity and efficiency. Within this project, my role will comprise of engineering design, heat transfer calculations, contractor acquisitions, financial analysis and travelling to Holland to assess similar operations on a Cargill site. Although this project will be my priority in the upcoming months, I must manage my time effectively in order to continue my work on several other projects.

Can you please give me an insight into a typical day?

A typical day at Cargill starts with a compulsory coffee, followed by attending the morning meeting where I present the ‘Process Stability Report’ to our plant operators and managers. The report is generated from an Excel database that I created, to analyse our production targets and investigate which assets are causing recurring downtime in the plant. After the meeting, I will then prioritise my day with a ‘to-do’ list, strongly focused around managing the workload of other projects that I am currently involved in.

I will regularly monitor and develop the Maintenance Schedule, which I created for all plant equipment for the next two years, using Maximo (an Enterprise Asset Management system). I am currently researching Zero-Based Budgeting (ZBB) for its application to our maintenance expenditure.

A daily task involves communicating with external companies for any process improvement jobs that are required. For example, I have been heavily involved with Fike UK when upgrading our on-site explosion suppression systems, required due to the hazards faced with transporting powders and fine materials.

What have you enjoyed the most so far?

Within my first week at Cargill, I was tasked with finding a solution to ongoing issues relating to disposing of cocoa shells, which are removed as waste in our process. From my research, I identified that crushed cocoa shell can be used in biomass production and animal feed industries. As a result of this, I became the Project Manager of the ‘Cocoa Shell Crusher Project’ which aims to increase the bulk density of the shell by installing crushers into our pre-treat lines. There are significant commercial advantages to this project, including: reducing transportation, processing and labour costs for the customer, increasing the sale price for the crushed shell and improving operator productivity.

I published a scope document for the project, which included: ‘Proposed Asset Orientation’, ‘Crusher Specification’, fully dimensioned ‘Engineering Drawings’, ‘Installation Overview’, ‘Economic Evaluation’, ‘Maintenance Requirements’, ‘Projected Cash Flow Diagram’ and ‘Customer Demand’. Through financial analysis, the project will return a very attractive payback and generate a new line of income. My role in this project will involve budget management, producing the functional design specification and leading the installation strategy. The shell crushers are expected to be commissioned on site in January 2018.

What do you feel you will get out of this experience? 

Having worked for Cargill for over two months now, I am confident that I will enhance my engineering and commercial expertise, alongside developing my business acumen and project management skills. I feel that I will benefit from working closely with my experienced colleagues in group projects but also profit from the freedom to think innovatively, while functioning effectively under my own initiative. I am looking forward to how my role and responsibilities will progress over the remainder of my year in industry at Cargill.

Do you have any tips and advice to current students thinking of undertaking a year in industry?

My advice would be to start applying for industrial placement positions early and try to get a placement sorted before Christmas. The reasoning behind this is that the course steps up a notch in the second semester so, by sorting your placement out early, you’ll have more time to focus on your studies. Apply for a diverse range of opportunities, in a variety of different sectors, so you can start to identify possible career paths of true interest.

Use the assessment centres to demonstrate your abilities and strengthen your interview skills. Always remember to seek constructive feedback from employers for your own personal evaluation and improvement. Take full advantage of the Employability Team as they provide a fantastic, bespoke service which helped me significantly during my CV preparation and when choosing which placement offer to accept. The team arranged a career guidance session for me, which enabled me to confidently select Cargill – a decision that I’m delighted with!

I believe that taking the placement after your third year is advantageous for both the student and employer, as you can deliver a higher level technical knowledge to your work, most significantly attained from your third year design project.