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Pit Stop

Paul Saville, Vice President of Engineering, Stellar, shares his thoughts on engineering challenges in the region and talks with equal verve about his love for music, cars and the smell of lubricating oil in a machine shop …

| | Sep 15, 2007 | 1:54 pm
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Paul Saville, Vice President of Engineering, Stellar, shares his thoughts on engineering challenges in the region and talks with equal verve about his love for music, cars and the smell of lubricating oil in a machine shop …

MY BACKGROUND

I was born in Romford, east of London, in 1956. I went to the Church of England Comprehensive School, in Romford. After graduating from school, I attended The City University, London, where I earned a degree in mechanical engineering.

THE METAL WORKSHOP

There was no engineer in the family, but my parents knew from my toddler days that I would be doing some sort of engineering role. The joke in the family was that while other children were taking toys apart, I was taking them apart and putting them back together. I was good at it from a young age and, moreover, enjoyed doing it.

At 10, I started playing classical guitar and enjoyed it immensely. I liked it so much that I considered music as a career option. At 18, I had to make a decision – to go into engineering or into music. It was my high school experience that eventually prompted me to choose engineering.

The high school I attended was excellent from an academic perspective and rather unique. It focused heavily on the practical side of education. It was the only school I knew that had a metal workshop, with forge, lathes, milling machine and everything you could think of. Naturally, I was attracted to it.

For seven years, I worked with my hands in addition to studies. At 15, I was building go-karts with my mates. We even built a hovercraft. It wasn’t finished when I left, but it was a solid piece of engineering – two and a half metres in width and four metres in length.

The metal workshop helped me gain a practical knowledge of engineering before I got into a higher level of engineering.

At first, I found university to be too academic and too theoretical, but I soon managed to move on to a sandwich course set-up. It came about after I took a summer job in the engineering department of a chemical manufacturing company – Bush Boake Allen – in London. They must have liked my work, for they offered me the sandwich course, where I had to work six months with them and, then, attend six months of university. In this fashion, I alternated between the workplace and the campus till the time I graduated, in 1981.

After university, it was natural that I join Bush Boake Allen, which I did. I would have preferred to join the automobile industry, given a fondness for cars from childhood, but the fact of the matter was that the car industry in England was in decline, and many people were being made redundant. Obviously, they were not looking for new recruits. And so I went into the chemical processing industry.

FROM SOUPS TO NUTS

After three years at Bush Boake Allen, I transferred to a competitor, International Flavours and Fragrances. As the name suggests, the company made fine chemicals and fragrance chemicals.

My role at Flavours and Fragrances was that of a Project Engineer. I was responsible for finding out what production needed, produce preliminary designs and budgets, get approval for capital expenditure, do the detail design, contracts and supervision, construction, commissioning and training. It was what they call in the US as ‘from soups to nuts’.

FROM PERFUMES TO CHILLERS

I worked with Flavours and Fragrances for six years. I left the company, because I got bored. Also, there simply was not much of a career path for a mechanical engineer in a chemical factory.

I applied for and bagged a job with York International as Senior Projects Manager. This was at the company’s facility in Basildon.

A year later, I rose to the position of Contracts Manager, where I really grew from a career point of view. That was when I got involved in work in the Middle East, working on refrigeration equipment for the petrochemical industry for clients all over the world but mainly in the UAE, Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, India, Africa and Europe. That was also the period when I worked on water chilling plants for the British Navy.

In 1995, York transferred me to Texas to look after engineering and project management in the petrochemical refrigeration business. I worked on that assignment for four years, after which I got transferred back to the UK.

STELLAR TURN

I left York in 1999 and moved to work for FES Systems, again a petrochemical refrigeration equipment manufacturer, and a part of the GEA Group of Germany. I worked as Operations Manager and was responsible for engineering project management, quality assurance, purchasing and manufacturing. In 2001, I found Stellar, and it’s been a very exposed and high-profile position.

At the time of my joining – in June 2001 – Stellar were in turbine inlet air cooling (TIAC) in a fantastically fast-growing market in the US. And then September 11 happened, and the whole world economy took a bit of a hit. The power generation industry declined, and we decided to go into the district cooling market.

We did our first international job, which was a TIAC project in Saudi Arabia – the PP8 in Riyadh. In a way, it was like stepping into the past, for I had briefly worked on the PP3 in Riyadh in 1999. I was with York, then, and was transitioning back to the UK, just before quitting the company.

Stellar has meant a lot to me, because it is a family-oriented business. It still has got an entrepreneurial spirit about it, and so it is an exciting environment of constant opportunities and challenges. Somebody once said to me, “You’d never be bored here in Stellar,” and he was absolutely right.

THE UAE

With Stellar, I have had the opportunity of once again working in the Middle East. Personally, it’s been exciting breaking into the market in the UAE. There is so much happening out here.

I remember standing on the Palm Jumeirah two and a half years ago with my boss, Kurt Leibendorfer and watching the place take shape. We were on one of the fronds of the Palm. I couldn’t help thinking, “This is something exciting to tell the grandchildren.”

CHALLENGES, ISSUES

Naturally, there are challenges and issues in the UAE, considering the spurt of development. One of the challenges is the fast pace of construction. Everything is being done in a hurry. So there are frequent changes, frequent delays. Owing to the pace of construction, the infrastructure is having problems keeping up.

A lot of the problem has to do with concurrent engineering. If you work on a development, and somebody does conceptual design and size of the building and, then, they go with load requirements, we quote on the plant. But the problem is those load requirements change. It is something that is out of our control.

A possible solution to this would be to build a relationship with customers and be able to quickly respond to changes. So the stronger the relationship with clients and suppliers, the easier it becomes to face.

So yes, there is a human element to the solution. At the same time, we as a company have developed a modular approach to constructing these plants, so the building infrastructure can go in initially, but the major capital cost – the chilling equipment installation – can be phased to suit the rate at which the loads increase. At the same time, I do believe the client needs to understand how long it takes to add these pieces of equipment.

The other element we have achieved with the modular approach is to reduce the footprint of the unit and also the construction time by manufacturing the units in a fabrication facility while the building is being constructed. The skid-mounted equipment is manufactured in the US, but we want to set up a Stellar fabrication facility in the Gulf region.

Another challenge or issue in the region is again owing to the pace of construction. It is the lack of qualified and experienced people to do engineering work.

We have attempted to overcome the challenge by looking externally. We have scouted for and hired people that want to live and work in Dubai. We have, then, trained them at our base in Jacksonville, Florida, and brought them over here. Three such engineers started their assignment with Stellar in Dubai in August. The three personnel have not only received technical training and an understanding of our way of doing business but also have developed a relationship with engineers in Jacksonville. Thanks to the relationship they can call our engineers in Jacksonville at any time and get their questions answered. So this approach of hiring and in-house training has enabled us to establish core competency.

The three are, of course, mechanical engineers. In a similar fashion, we need to build up electrical engineers, civil structural engineers and CAD operators.

We have adopted this method with the knowledge that we have resources of head office while we are building core competency here. So that way, there is a back-up. For some tasks, we don’t feel the need to recruit people here. Water treatment is a case in point. We don’t have specialists for water treatment here, but we most certainly do in Jacksonville, where we have a water treatment business. So we don’t feel the need to hire people here, as Jacksonville supports us on this.

This kind of arrangement gives us breathing space, and we can build up size and competency of the engineering group here at a pace that we want to.

Yet another challenge we face, as an EPC company, has to do with energy efficiency.

We have the wherewithal to meet the challenge. If somebody can give us a load profile, we can design a system that has the balance between first cost and energy efficiency. We can design a system that has the best lifecycle costs – a balance of capital and operating costs. As an individual, I have a responsibility towards the environment.

While working on a project, I always have it on the back of my mind to further the cause of energy efficiency, water conservation, waste disposal and emissions.

TIAC is the other aspect of our business where we can improve operating efficiency of gas turbine generators. We can help utilities produce more power at a higher efficiency. Broadly speaking, the endeavour is to get more power out of the existing power plants.

We would also like to look at areas where we can use waste heat to produce chilled water for air conditioning or TIAC. The other area is to focus on plant design to improve plant efficiency. I am talking of more cooling capacity for less power. A combination of equipment selection and plant controls will do the trick.

MENTORS

My high school mentor was my metal work teacher. Though not an engineer, my father also played a role in shaping my career. My father was a very clever and handy practical person. I learnt a lot of hand skills by simply watching him at work.

My uncle was the engineer in the family. He was my godfather. If I ever needed career advice, I turned to him. From a work standpoint, I listened to older and experienced engineers. I let them talk and asked questions. That way, I did learn a lot. This approach is something that’s helped me in my managerial life – I realised the importance of sharing information with younger engineers.

MY FAMILY

I have been married for 24 years and have a 17-year-old daughter. I can say with certainty that she is not going to follow in my footsteps. She is arty, and in that way, she takes after her mother. She is in university earning a degree in International Business. My family is probably the most important aspect of my life. I say this, because it is only in the last two to three years at Stellar that I have spent travelling and being away from the family for a certain period of the year.

CARS

As far as I can remember, I have always been fascinated by cars. It was not mere fascination but an urge to work on them. I love the smell of lubricating oil in a machine shop. As a boy of 14, I used to work on cars, servicing and repairing them for family and friends. In a way, it was a sort of an exchange for use of my dad’s car!

My passion for cars helped in that it was the only way I could buy a car. That’s how I bought my first car. I picked it up as a wreck, repaired it and had it running. It was a 17- year-old Ford Cortina. I was 21, then, and in university.

My favourite cars were the Aston Martin and Jaguar. Today, I finally own a Jaguar.

FROM THE BEATLES TO CHRISTINA AGUILERA

I am very interested in music. At a young age, I learned to play the classical guitar. In my boyhood days, I was a massive fan of The Beatles. Today, I listen to classical, jazz and modern pop. My daughter says that I must be the only father that listens to Christina Aguilera. But I listen to any music if it is good music.

GENEALOGY

I am interested in genealogy and, in fact, have a family-tree maker on my computer. I collect photographs of family and of old places I have lived in. Speaking of which, I am interested in photography, as well.

I don’t remember the first camera, but my second was a Yashica SLR with which I would take black & white and colour photographs and slides. In addition to taking photographs, I also developed them, specifically the black & white ones. I got rid of the developing equipment while moving houses, but I still own the camera. It’s 30 years old but still works and takes good photographs.

PEOPLE

I like interacting with people and experiencing different cultures, which makes working in Dubai very interesting. I mean, wherever in the world would you see a 100- odd nationalities working together happily?


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