A love of science and the realisation that variety and the ability to build something was the key to a fulfilling career were the reasons AMS’ analytical product manager Dr Dion Houtman became a process engineer.
Having had his current role for the past year, Houtman said he knew during secondary school that the sciences were going to help him in his chosen career.
“In high school, I always really enjoyed sciences,” said Houtman. “I never had a preference for one, but rather I enjoyed learning about how things work. Then one day I stumbled upon roles of process engineer and chemical engineer [Houtman is qualified in both fields] and I found out that they were roles you get exposure to in all the different fields of science. You can apply aspects of each science without being an expert in any of them.”
He sees the sciences as an eclectic branch of education that opened up a lot of doors, not only to him, but his contemporaries, too.
“If I look at all my old class mates who had similar interests they all ended up in careers that had variations within the industry,” he said. “From engineers, to recruitment, to writing patents, while another became a scientist. They all went different ways. Nothing really completely matched with what we studied. Our studies set us up to have the flexibility to be able to adapt to all these various roles.”
And it is this flexibility, along with technical knowhow, that not only helps him enjoy his work, but it keeps him challenged, especially with the analytical side of the job.
“Sizing a flow meter, or finding a suitable pressure gauge or temperature gauge – that’s pretty straight forward,” he said. “When you talk about analytical instruments, it is a lot more complicated because you have to mix knowledge of chemistry and physics with a clear understanding of the process in which the instrument is going to be installed. Because of these additional complications, a lot of people find it difficult to talk about analysers. It is up to me to educate our sales staff and customers. Together we try to find that best possible solution for a device’s applications.”
And this brings up another plus in the job – problem solving. In some industries, problems are considered a necessary evil. Something that has to be solved and can causes stress and issues. To Houtman, it’s all in a day’s work.
“Problem solving is a big plus of the job because I love to be challenged,” he said. “Customers constantly throw things at you that you don’t see coming. Finding a solution requires me to draw on my knowledge and experience and liaise closely with our analytical suppliers – Michell Instruments, Optek, ECD, Hitech (Eaton) and ECOM – who, similar to AMS, have all been in the business for 30 to 40 years. If a customer comes to us to solve a problem, the limitation is trying to find a solution from our suppliers. If it falls within the capabilities of our suppliers, then we offer a solution. If we can’t do it, sometimes we say we can look around and see if we can find it somewhere else.”
As for advice to those who might want to get involved in the instrumentation and analytical side of the process industry? He has a generic opinion.
“It’s very important that when you look for a place to work that you find a company where the culture matches with who you are,” said Houtman. “If you like a role where there is a lot of variation, you might need to look at a smaller to mid-size company where the boundaries of the job description are less defined. So you don’t only get to do what you’re hired for but you also get exposure to other projects where you can jump in and help somebody else. That is where I was lucky enough to roll into with AMS where I have been given the freedom to draw on my skills and experience to grow the analytical side of the business.”