One of the new things I want to try here on the blog is a podcast series asking many of our experts five questions. The questions will revolve around how they got started into the field that they’re in, challenges faced, spare time activities, and guidance for younger folks in pursuing a similar career.
Emerson’s Lou Heavner, whom you may recall from numerous advanced process-control related posts, shared his thoughts with me. We hope you enjoy the series over time and if you have specific requests for experts or questions to ask them, leave a comment below!
Jim: Hello, everybody. I’m Jim Cahill, and today I’m here with Lou Heavner, who’s been a consultant for many, many, many years here at Emerson. And Lou helps optimize production processes across many industries, from oil upstream, midstream, downstream, to pharmaceutical, to chemicals, metals and mining. You name it, he’s done it, and helped improve their process. Welcome, Lou.
Lou: Thanks, Jim, nice to be here.
Jim: Well, I wanted to start out asking you, and just trying to find out everyone’s journey to getting here. So when you were growing up, what led you to study in the field, STEM? I think, specifically in your case, chemical engineering.
Lou: Yes, I’m a chemical engineer. I was always a pretty good student in school, and better in math and science than I was in English, although my favorite class was always P.E. and recess, but that’s another story. I had a lot of friends growing up whose fathers were in the oil business, and I sorta got drawn to that just by the awareness of what my friends’ parents were doing.
I actually thought I wanted to be first, a chemist and second, a plant manager in some process plant. And when I got into school, I realized that chemical engineers were more likely to be in the plants and at the time when I graduated, way back when, you could get out with a bachelor degree in chemical engineering, and be as well off as somebody who stuck around to earn a Ph.D. in chemistry. So that was a little added incentive.
Jim: That’s great, that’s great, so did you have your mind set as you were going into a career that would get into the process industries, or serving that, or did…
Lou: Yeah, I was thinking, like, refinery actually, which I never was employed to work in. Although with Emerson, I have been in refineries and done a lot of work in them, but that came later on.
Jim: All right, so tell me about any interesting recent challenges that you worked on to help customers optimize what they were doing.
Lou: Well, I’m actually working on one now in the mining industry and I’m not that familiar, or haven’t been that involved in the mining industry in the past. And they have grinding circuits, where they take the ore and grind it up so that they can extract the metal that they’re trying to extract, in this case, gold.
And the mining industry typically uses expert systems and sometimes fuzzy logic, and that’s what they call advanced control. And that’s good for decision support, but it doesn’t really support the dynamic requirements of control. And so, we went out there and put in model predictive control technology, and it’s working quite well. Stay tuned, there’ll be a presentation on it at Emerson Exchange.
Jim: All right.
Lou: Assuming we get accepted.
Jim: Well, I’m pretty confident you will be and if you are, I’m pretty confident I’ll try to crash that session, and report it out to the world. So, it sounds like you’re having a lot of fun on the job. What about outside the job, what do you like to do in your spare time?
Lou: I’ve always had a lot of kids, so I’ve been limited in some ways in what I would do. I was pretty much focused on all of the kids, but I do enjoy…perhaps not surprising for a chemical engineer, I enjoy cooking, I enjoy making beer and I also enjoy gardening, particularly for vegetables. I like going to the beach, I like going fishing, anything I can do outside is fun for me.
Jim: Well, that sounds great and some of it, like the beer brewing and other thing, does involve those chemical reactions.
Jim: So that…important stuff there. And I guess, just in closing, so this isn’t a big inquisition or anything, what advice would you have for, if you’re, say, someone in middle school right now, or others, just trying to figure out what you want to do?
Lou: I’ll tell you, there’s…it’s pretty hard at that age to know what you want to do and most people will not. So what I would say is, explore the possibilities and really try and find out what things you could do, and try and understand what your interests are. And as somebody smarter than me once said, “If you can work at what you like, you’ll never really work a day in your life.”
Jim: Hey, that sounds like brilliant advice there. Well, Lou, thank you so much for joining us today, this has been a heck of a lot of fun.
Lou: Sure, thanks, Jim.