Lucite International places great value on investing in the next generation of skilled people to join the chemical industry. At our Cassel site in the UK, two engineering students have spent the past year experiencing life on a large-scale, busy manufacturing plant.

Matt Bennison, Chemical Engineering student at the University of Birmingham and Josh Walton, Chemical Engineering with Energy student at the University of Sheffield, spoke to us about their time here as they prepare to return to their studies.

Pictured: Matt Bennison (left) and Josh Walton (right).

What made you choose to come to Lucite International (LI)?

MB: A placement year at LI gave me the opportunity to work on a large-scale chemical manufacturing plant. As I had no previous industrial experience, coming to Cassel was an ideal way of gaining insight into how an industrial plant operates and the role of a chemical engineer within that.

JW: I chose LI because I was interested in chemical manufacturing after a previous placement experience in the industry. LI offered a challenging environment to increase my experience in this sector, combining a top tier COMAH site with ageing equipment meant this would be a fantastic place to gain wide-ranging experience that would be interesting and engaging throughout.

What has your typical working day involved?

MB: My main responsibility has been assisting with technical support on the cyanides area of site, so my day begins with a morning meeting to discuss plant status and any issues that may have arisen. If anything requires inspection, then the meeting will be followed by a site walk. Otherwise, I’ll continue to work on day-to-day issues with the plants or one of my long-term projects. Most of my tasks this year have been focused on process optimisation, improving operability and environmental work.

JW: I haven’t been assigned to one specific plant area, therefore I have attended both the methacrylates and sulphuric acid recovery (SAR) production team meetings depending on current work. I then typically talk to operators about how the plant is running and look at plant issues ‘in the field’. The rest of the time is mainly spent supporting projects in various capacities.

What are the top three things you’ve learned from your time at LI?

MB: Firstly, don’t be afraid to ask lots of questions! Trying to figure things out on your own can waste valuable time, so making the most of the experience and knowledge of your colleagues can massively boost your productivity.

Secondly, this year has taught me how to build on the skills developed during my studies to become successful as an engineer in industry. The theory learnt at university needs to be applied to real problems that often require a creative approach to solve, along with soft skills that are not directly taught during a degree.

Finally, I’ve learnt that pushing yourself outside of your comfort zone is key to improvement! This year has provided me with plenty of challenges and overcoming them has been crucial for my development as an engineer.

JW: Firstly, it’s important to consider the practical elements of engineering alongside the theoretical.

Secondly, that you haven’t finished learning just because you aren’t at university!

Finally, that there is more than one valid solution to a problem and your first idea might not necessarily be the best one.

How has your time here helped you to achieve your goals?

MB: I’ve developed skills and gained experience that will not only translate to academia to help me achieve my short-term goal of obtaining a Master’s degree, but will also provide a strong foundation for achieving my long-term goal of having a successful career in engineering.

JW: Everyone at LI has been supportive from the start, patiently answering my many questions. They have helped me gained a varied experience that has exposed me to many of the cornerstones of chemical engineering. The variety and depth of this placement has been beyond that of a typical placement and has provided me with the foundations to become a well-rounded chemical engineer.

What are your plans for the future?

MB: This year has confirmed that chemical engineering is the right career path for me, so my initial plans are not only to obtain further experience in operations, but also to broaden my skillset by branching out into design work and possibly research in order to find the role I am most suited to.

JW: After finishing my final year of university, I plan to pursue a job in the chemical manufacturing industry rather than a research-based role. I have enjoyed working on a production site with its variety and challenges.

Describe working at Lucite International in 3 words…

MB: Welcoming, challenging and rewarding!

JW: Varied, full-on, challenging.