Year in Industry – Synthomer PLC by John Redwood

Published: Posted on

Having settled into my seat on the plane I allowed myself a moment to reflect upon the solid foundation gained at work so far and upon the challenges I was to face over the forthcoming six months.  At this point I had been on placement for a little over seven months working at Synthomer’s Harlow site in the UK, where I was involved in the commissioning of several large projects.  During this time, I also helped with a site safety review which included reading, understanding and repeating PLC code and relief vent sizing calculations.

For context, Synthomer is a FTSE 250 company, with 25 production sites worldwide.  In 2017 it earnt an annual group revenue of £1.05 Billion, and is a top 5 supplier of emulsion and specialty polymers.  The products produced by Synthomer are sold to a wide variety of industries and can be broken down into the core business units: Adhesives, Foam, Carpet, Health & Protection, Coatings, Paper, Construction and Textile.  The company is rapidly expanding through strategic acquisitions, most recently Hexion PAC (2016), Perstorp Oxo (2017) and BASF Pischelsdorf Austria SBR (2018).

Working in Harlow proved to be a fantastic introduction to working in the chemical industry.  Whilst under the wing of a more senior engineer I was able to learn more about how the company functioned in terms of:

  • Change management
  • Project implementation
  • Ensuring quality by design through internal standardisation
  • Safety principles

Although chemical engineering principles are covered during tuition, scenarios where you can put these into practice are limited in the university environment.  Working at Synthomer also allowed me to implement much of the core technical engineering knowledge and understanding I had gained at university to add value to tasks I performed.

During my placement I had the unique opportunity for travel and working abroad.  In the second six months I was based in Oulu in Finland.  My role subtly shifted whilst there and I was able to experience the earlier stages of engineering projects, not just the latter commissioning stages.  I was given the responsibility of managing three small safety projects and acted as technical support for a couple of larger ones.  This involved helping in the design qualification of monomer bulk storage vessels to ensure that it was up to internally published standards detailing materials of construction, safety equipment and more.  I was also required to help specify parts of the associated equipment.  Being given the responsibility of managing projects allowed me to make a positive contribution to operational safety.  For example, one of the projects I was given was to remove the use of a temporary steam hose and replace it with a hard-piped system.  Whilst this was fairly contained and well defined as a piece of work, it allowed me to take a project from concept through to a fully installed and commissioned system, using Synthomer’s project excellence framework under the guidance of experienced engineers.  I also had the opportunity to help run, observe and write up new product trials on site, and make recommendations for future process conditions for further trials.

Having never been to a Nordic country before, working in Finland allowed me to experience a plethora of lifetime firsts which included cross country skiing, snowboarding, snowmobiling, travelling inside the arctic circle, walking over the frozen sea, and seeing the Northern Lights.  It’s also important not to forget the authentic Finnish sauna experience!  I was also able to indulge my passion for white water kayaking and paddle some of the biggest and best rapids I have ever encountered.

Following my placement, I was fortunate enough to have been offered a graduate position, and a bursary from Synthomer to support me through my final year at university.  I am looking forward to going back to work with them following graduation.