Engineering for better

February 19, 2019

The 67,000 U.S. employees at Koch (130,000 worldwide) work to create everything from toilet paper, transportation fuels and water filtration to advanced electronics and medical devices. One belief all Koch companies share is that everything they’re doing can be done better.

That’s where engineers come in. From process engineers, to chemical engineers, to material and electrical and data engineers, their job is to help find new and better approaches to the challenges of industry that generate more value and create mutual benefit with and for Koch’s customers. By making innovation and transformation a priority, Koch provides its engineers with unique opportunities to develop their abilities and discover new ones while doing what they do best.

There are more than 3,000 engineers across the companies of Koch. Here are eight of them in their own words. 

VICTOR ZADEREJ

Manager, Advanced Development, Molex

I tell everyone that I have the best job in the company because I enjoy what I am doing and my work leads to solving some of the most interesting challenges in the electronics industry. In many ways, Molex has allowed me to create my own job. I’ve worked on everything from computers, to automotive electronics, to lighting, to finding new methods of manufacturing electronics that use 90% less water and half as many process steps.

Engineers by nature are curious people. We never stop learning, asking questions, and wondering why something needs to be the way it is. We want to know how we can make something better, smaller, lighter, or less expensive. We must always be finding ways to make our lives better through innovation. Our quality of life is dependent on our ability to find ways to always do things better.

Vic_engineer_Koch_molex.jpegFour years ago, a not-for-profit organization called Watts of Love asked Molex if we could help them develop a new generation of solar light that was small, powerful, rugged and affordable for people in parts of the world that do not have access to light when the sun goes down. There are 1.2 billion people on this planet with no modern source of light at night. They are often left to burn kerosene or wood, which can be very bad for your health in an enclosed environment and a dangerous fire risk. I have been fortunate to be a part of the development of this solar powered light. Two years later, I was honored to join the Watts of Love team on a trip to Nepal to deliver roughly 800 of the lights our Molex team engineered to people in villages that do not have access to electricity.

LULU WILLIAMS

Advanced Analytics Engineer, EFT Analytics

To explain my job to a non-engineer I’d say it like this: Engineers get to solve complex problems with teams of awesome people in order to make the world a better place. This requires problem solving skills, an inquisitive nature, the relentless determination to challenge the status quo and a passion to improve peoples’ lives. And, yes, it’s a super power.

Koch-News-Engineers-EFT-Analytics-Lulu.jpgThe most rewarding part of my career has been my work with EFT Analytics. I am privileged to be a part of a wonderful team that consists of research and development, chemical engineers, data engineers and software engineers. Together, we are developing our Advanced Analytics software, named Cortex. We are transforming complex machine learning algorithms into a user-friendly interface for our customers – one that doesn’t require data science and coding knowledge. Our software is empowering people to extract knowledge from their own data. Based on predictive modeling and real-time visualizations, our customers are able to improve their operations and reduce downtime. 

I bring the voice of the customer throughout our reseach and development, software development, process engineer, sales, and marketing teams. I also help conceptualize features to shape our product. I love the opportunity this road has given me to help people connect to a better way of doing things.

The ability to shape and improve our world is incredibly empowering. I enjoy sharing that passion with my two daughters. Together, we enjoy learning about science and music!

COURTNEY RAU

Plant Engineer, Flint Hills Resources

Growing up, I loved taking toys apart to figure out how they worked. But I didn’t know what engineering was or have technical role models to guide me. It wasn’t until my college advisor directed me to Mechanical Engineering that I was able to connect my love of math and desire to figure out how the world worked, all while making the lives around me better.

My work role is to help eliminate manual and repetitive tasks in the workplace, first by eliminating unneeded tasks and then by creating automation solutions. This frees up time for the rest of our team to focus on the higher value tasks that they are passionate about.

Koch-News-Engineers-Flint-Hills-Resources-Courtney.jpgGood engineers have the ability to fail quickly, think creatively and communicate effectively. It’s not natural to be “good” at failing, but we are constantly experimenting and trying new things. Sometimes they don’t turn out as we expected. We need to see those situations, not as failures, but learning opportunities. Creativity gives us the ability to look at problems in new ways and design new solutions. The ability to communicate those ideas effectively to management, subject matter experts, peers and sometimes even children is critical.

At Flint Hills Resources, I’ve been able to volunteer for Girls in Science Festival events. I think it’s so important to get girls curious! I want to be that encouragement for girls, so they know they have a choice and that all this math and science stuff isn’t just for the boys!

MELANIE BLAKE

Senior Process Engineer for Water and Wastewater, Koch Membrane Systems, Inc.

As an engineer, I take scientific theories and turn them into practical applications. Just as an anesthesiologist needs to understand the interactions of all the body’s systems to keep a patient stable, a process engineer must understand all of an industrial plant’s system interactions to know how a small change in one area can cause complex chain reactions across the entire production process.

Koch-News-Engineers-Koch-Membrane-Technologies-Melanie.jpgThe majority of my projects are in either filtration for drinking water or in wastewater treatment. For drinking water, I help ensure a reliable and high quality product for public consumption. With wastewater, I am helping to reduce or eliminate hazards to our environment as well as always seeking opportunities for reuse that will decrease the burden we put on the planet's limited water resources. I have been a part of designing and executing systems on six continents, treating everything from seawater to ultrapure water for microelectronics. These facilities have ranged in size from the smallest pilot unit to 70 million gallons per day.

When a situation arises that a solution has not been developed for, a good engineer identifies the need to innovate rather than settle for the status quo. A great engineer can skillfully implement these ideas to create solutions. The world around us is constantly changing, and in my industry that means the contaminants we need to address keep becoming more challenging. If we don’t innovate, we will become obsolete. We must innovate to be able to rise to each new challenge and have continued success.

MARK PETER

Materials Innovation Engineer, SRG Global

I’ve always had a passion for understanding how things worked. Growing up, my father would explain the science behind various household objects and technologies. We would take them apart just to put them back together. Engineering has allowed me to transform my curiosity and constant desire to learn into a career with never-ending fulfillment. 

A good engineer’s capabilities extend beyond understanding science and mathematics. They’re able to discover problems that need a solution before a customer knows they need it, rather than develop a solution and look for a problem for it to solve. I like to think of engineering as the bridge between scientific theory and tangible solutions desired by consumers and society. 

Mark_engineer_Koch_SRG-Global-1.jpgAs new technologies are developed, a process known as creative destruction makes older technologies obsolete. For example, in the automotive industry, we want to replace products proven to have a negative impact on health and the environment with innovative technologies to improve the lives of our customers.  At SRG Global, I had the opportunity to lead the ThermoPlate™ innovation project.  ThermoPlate™ is the first material of its kind – a chrome-platable plastic that can survive high temperatures.  By using ThermoPlate™ to replace decorative metal, such as an automotive tailpipe bezel, we deliver 40-60% weight savings over stainless steel. Lowering the weight of the vehicle increases its fuel efficiently and lowers a vehicle’s carbon footprint while allowing the consumer to travel further on the same amount of fuel.

Our innovation team at SRG Global is very unique. Rather than having 20 individuals with an expertise in a single engineering field, we have a diverse group that includes materials science, physics, mechanical, electrical, aerospace, chemical, and many other types of engineering. It’s amazing how frequently a solution is readily available if one is willing to admit they can’t do everything themselves, especially when you have a network that includes people with different skillsets and in other industries.

MEGAN BERGLAND

Turnaround Planner, Flint Hills Resources

When I chose engineering as a career path, I never imagined it would be at a big industrial plant. It has felt like a big accomplishment to be able to expand outside of my comfort zone and try something new that I’ve ended up loving!

The Pine Bend Refinery supplies products that touch everyone’s lives in some way: transportation fuels. I see our impact every day – from the gasoline that powers people’s cars, to the asphalt that these cars drive on, to the propane that powers a grill. My role is to manage construction projects at the plant in an efficient and safe manner, while ensuring the equipment installed meets all specifications – to keep our environment and people safe. I’m involved with planning and field execution during these maintenance events in the refinery. We develop very detailed plans and schedules that help us get our units back up and running in a safe and efficient manner. 

Koch-News-Engineers-Flint-Hills-Resources-Megan_cropped.jpgA big part of Koch culture is striving for innovation to transform the way we work by increasing efficiency and eliminating waste and low-value tasks. It's part of what makes being an engineer at Koch unique and fulfilling. Innovation destroys the ‘status quo’ and pushes the development, improvement and transformation of work processes, tools and mental models. As time goes on, technology is advancing exponentially and it is exciting to see new applications that are transforming the way we do things at the plant! 

I also enjoy participating in the Girls in Science Festival. Historically girls start to lose interest in math in science around middle school, so it’s important to get them involved and interested early. Showing them the growing amount of women in the field and the variety of fun, fulfilling jobs that are available can go a long way in inspiring them to pursue a career in the STEM field. 

ALLISON ROGERS

Process Engineer, Flint Hills Resources

My dad is an engineer. As a kid I always loved doing projects with him like taking the vacuum cleaner apart to figure out what was wrong and how we could fix it. I enjoyed solving problems like those so much that I decided to explore engineering full-time.

Allison_engineer_Koch_Flint-Hills-Resources.jpegIf I had to explain engineering to my grandmother, I’d tell her I’m a chemical engineer and it’s a lot like cooking. I’m trying to make fuels like gasoline and diesel out of crude oil and it’s my job to look at the recipe and make sure the ingredients are exactly right. If they aren’t, I figure out how to change the recipe. I make sure we have all the right equipment and are “cooking” at the right temperatures, pressures and for the right time. I use math, science and general problem-solving skills, as well as my computer to do research. The result are fuels that help people visit friends and family, receive goods and services, and travel around the world to gain new experiences.

I am passionate about giving back to the community, so I mentor at a low-income housing facility. I also mentor two Society of Women Engineers college students studying chemical engineering. I stay active in the Girls in Science Festival events – it is a blast every year! It is so hard to know if you enjoy doing something you haven’t tried so I hope to give young girls and boys the opportunity to try STEM skills out.

KEVIN COOPER

Advanced Analytics Process Engineer, EFT Analytics

My mom is a CPA and my dad is a commodities broker, so I was ‘pre-destined’ to do something with numbers. Today, I work on the processes of making the everyday things that we take for granted, by focusing on solving problems of safety, compliance, reliability and efficiency. I really enjoy working on solutions that make our facilities and plants easier to operate and maintain, which helps our employees.

At EFT Analytics, we believe we can disrupt the market by giving process engineers and operators the software tools of data science—without requiring them to go to school to actually be a data scientist. I work with our customers to help provide solutions to their industrial problems and also bring their feedback to our developers to create a better product. Through step-by-step industrial improvements, we can improve the lives for all of society. 

Koch-News-Engineers-Kevin.jpgI’ve had the opportunity to work on delivering solutions in a number of Koch companies. Throughout this, I’m fortunate to have worked with people much smarter than myself. They have helped me learn rapidly and I cannot thank them enough. I only hope that I’ve been able to make a similar impact on them.

My advice for future engineers? Be curious. Learn to prioritize and effectively communicate. Never stop learning. The career of an engineer rapidly changes. Humility throughout all the learning is critical. Finally, always leave whatever you're working on in a better state than when you received it.