Being a process engineer

04/29/2015

Process Engineer and 2013 MechSE graduate Valeria Laguna returned to campus to speak to ME 390 students about her job at Procter & Gamble. Laguna’s focus is chemicals and surfactants at the plant in Kansas City, Missouri. 

Procter & Gamble manufactures brand-name products like toothpaste, soap, and detergent. The company has 23 brands with annual sales of at least $1 billion, including Crest toothpaste, Bounty paper towels, Tide detergent, Febreze odor control, and their leading brand, Pampers diapers.

P&G uses surfactants (short for surface active agent) in many of its products to make them more efficient and effective. Surfactants serve to reduce the surface tension of water, which allows dirt to be lifted up and washed away. They contain organic compounds with hydrophilic heads and hydrophobic tails, meaning they have both water soluble and water insoluble components. 

As a process engineer, Laguna has three leadership roles: process, quality, and start-up. Being a process leader mostly involves work within the plant: checking operations, material inventory, taking care of outages in the lab. “As a process leader, I focus on doing things better and more efficiently,” Laguna said. 

Being a quality leader means just that: ensuring quality work.  Laguna has a lab team of 14 people who report to her.  And as a start-up leader, she brings in new and raw materials for the plant.  This role also means she’s involved in overseeing new systems being implemented by the plant.

One of the skills Laguna values most for her job is managing priorities. “There’s no syllabus for your job to help you figure out when you need to focus on each assignment,” Laguna said. “You have to decide for yourself which tasks are the most important each day and make sure to meet your deadlines.” 

Other Advice from Val:

  • Have patience in solving problems.  She said those crazy long TAM assignments helped her with this. 
     
  • It’s not good enough to just solve a problem; you need to figure out the cause so that you can prevent the problem from happening again.
     
  • Good communication is very important.
     
  • Value the skills you learn in school; they really do help you on the job, often in ways you won’t have predicted.
     
  • When you just don’t have time to do it all, go for “80 for the 20”: 20% effort for 80% result. “Sometimes done is better than perfect.”

The final thought Laguna left us with is also important: If there’s an interest you want to go after, a passion you want to make into a livelihood, now is the time to start.  In the words of Joan Baez: “Your future is created by what you do today, not tomorrow.”