Mechanical Integrity group
U.S. Operations division
Tonawanda, NY, USA
Field: Equipment Design and Selection
Susan R. Kelley was born in Florida and grew up in North and South Georgia, finally settling into the Atlanta suburban area when she reached her teens. As a youth, Ms. Kelley always enjoyed her science classes, and in high school, she discovered a love of chemistry, but did not have much affection for labs and lab reports. When a family friend mentioned that engineering was a real-world application of science, she was intrigued and applied to Georgia Institute of Technology as a chemical engineering student. Graduating in 1992 with a bachelor’s degree in chemical engineering, Ms. Kelley went on to gain 22 years of experience in her field. She currently serves as a senior engineer for the Mechanical Integrity group in the U.S. Operations division of the industrial gas and technology company, Praxair, Inc.
Ms. Kelley joined Praxair in 1992 as an operations management trainee in the Theodore, Ala., facility. She was promoted to plant engineer in 1993, and became responsible for handling small projects and day-to-day operations of the facility. She also helped to implement the ISO 9000 quality system at several facilities. In 1996, she was transferred to Praxair’s central engineering office in Tonawanda, N.Y., where she began specifying equipment for new cryogenic production facilities of various sizes. After several years, she was shifted from project work to revising global equipment standards, and, in 2001, she rejoined the U.S. operations team as a cost reduction engineer. In this role, she estimated, solicited funds for, and executed projects of varying complexity to reduce production costs, primarily focusing on reduced power consumption and increased equipment reliability. She also provided non-project technical support for the production facilities. After 10 years in that position, she transferred to her current position as a member of the mechanical integrity team.
Ms. Kelley has honed her expertise in equipment design and selection, and for the past three years, she has been involved with the Mechanical Integrity program for Praxair’s Process Safety Management (PSM) locations. She provides technical assistance to operating facilities and works in the division focusing on the refinement of atmospheric gases and CO2. She also audits information for existing locations and closes gaps where necessary. She remains current with trends in her field through her affiliation with the American Institute of Chemical Engineers.
Giving back to the community is important to Ms. Kelley, so she volunteers as a cantor and choir member at her church. She also participates in a local bicycle ride for charity, called Ride For Roswell, and contributes monetarily to many charitable organizations. Additionally, she previously participated in a visiting scientist program for a local elementary school that was sponsored by Praxair. She attributes her success to having good mentors and good problem solving skills. As her career progresses, Ms. Kelley intends to continue learning new skills and broadening her existing skills.
Conversation with Susan R. Kelley
Worldwide Publishing: On what topics do you consider yourself to be an expert?
Susan R. Kelley: Equipment specific to the industrial gas industry, including small compressors, pumps and heat exchangers.
What characteristics help to separate you from your competitors?
I am detail-oriented — I like to dig down to find information and provide quick solutions to problems.
What motivates you?
I want to genuinely enjoy what I do. When I’m not learning anything new or don’t enjoy the challenges any more, then I start to look for the next area of interest. I like to deal with different things every day, and enjoy being a jack of all trades.
What lessons have you learned as a professional in your field?
I have learned that it’s okay to make mistakes, but [you must] take responsibility for them and fix them. Don’t take credit for other people’s mistakes.
What short-term and long-term career goals are you currently pursuing?
I’m planning to stay in my current job for a couple more years and help to make our production facilities safer. After that, I plan to look within Praxair to see if I can use my detail-oriented focus in a safety or internal audits position.
How do you plan to achieve these goals?
I keep my reputation up and my eyes and ears open so that I don’t miss an opportunity. I work closely with my managers so that I can develop the skills that I need for my next role.
What is the most difficult obstacle or challenge you have faced in pursuit of your goals?
Learning to have self-confidence — it’s partly learning and it’s partly my internal makeup. Also, getting the support of my management has sometimes been a challenge.
What is the most significant issue facing your profession today?
There are a lot of computerized control systems that can be used to reduce mistakes and improve productivity. This limits the opportunity for engineers to operate the process directly and gain more in depth knowledge of process interactions.
Did you ever consider pursuing a different career path or another profession?
I had all sorts of dreams when I was younger. My family is really into history and languages in addition to sciences and math. When I was in high school, my career aspirations ranged from archaeology to teaching English in a foreign country.
What do you find to be the most rewarding aspect of your profession?
I enjoy helping people, so I enjoy answering questions and helping our production facilities become safer and more efficient.
What is your favorite or least favorite work-related task to do and why?
My favorite task is fixing something that needs to be fixed — finding an error and correcting it before someone gets hurt. Also, providing non-technical employees the answers they need in a way that they can understand. My least favorite part is scheduling large or complex projects.
What advice can you offer fellow members or others aspiring to work in your industry?
Network — you should do personal networking as well as social media networking. Be sure to talk to people in person.
Who have been your mentors or people who have greatly influenced you?
I have had several great mentors. Jim Hecklethorn, one of my managers during my co-op at a different company, taught me the importance of personal interaction and people skills. My first manager within Praxair, Nick Rauch, continued those lessons and also taught me about political and organizational savvy in addition to process and management skills. Another manager who I worked with in cost reduction for 11 years, Chuck Mao, was also a big influence on me.
What changes have you observed in your industry/field since you started?
Computerized control systems were just starting to be implemented widely when I began my career. Now they are integral to both design and production engineering.
In addition, computers are more widely used in the design of engineered systems. Engineering design information and advice is available from a variety of Internet sources. Computer programs, designed both in-house and by professional developers, exist to reduce system and equipment design time and errors.
How do you see these changes affecting the future of your industry?
New control systems and design software are constantly being developed. Engineers will need to stay informed and be creative in implementing this software to make our production facilities safer and more reliable.