College of Engineering professors experience practical application through Motiva externship

 Lamar University College of Engineering professors participated in an externship at Motiva Enterprises where their experiences allowed them to bridge the gap between theory and practice to bring real-world understanding to Lamar University classrooms. LU Professor at Motiva Externship

“It was an eye-opening experience that helped me understand the importance of reliability modeling in real-world applications,” Assistant Professor of Mechanical Engineering Dr. Sushil Doranga said. “My externship at Motiva taught me how to implement complex numerical models that represent system reliability in practical structures.”

Associate Professor or Chemical Engineering Dr. Clayton Jeffryes, one of the participating faculty members, worked closely with Motiva’s Utilities and Reforming Team.

"They handle incoming and outgoing water treatment, cooling towers, boilers, and the catalytic reformer,” Dr. Jeffryes said. "My first task was with the engineer who oversees the Activated Sludge Treatment Unit. This unit, covering the size of several football fields, is where the wastewater produced at Motiva is processed by physical, chemical, and biological means to remove the carbon and other components that would have detrimental effects on living organisms if directly released into the environment. It transforms some awful-looking stuff into clean water that passes EPA guidelines."

Jeffryes also got a close look at the water purification process that takes place at Motiva. 

"I visited the water intake site where Motiva brings its water into the facility and treats it so that it won't be harmful to the equipment,” Jeffryes said. "Some of the treated water is used directly, and some must be ultra-purified so that it can be used in the power plant's boiler. The unit to purify the water is like the water filter on your kitchen sink, except about one million times as big and requiring a lot more maintenance.”

One of the standout moments of the externship was Jeffryes' visit to the catalytic reformer, a unit that has a significant impact on the petroleum refining process.

"The catalytic reformer is a giant unit -- from the top we could easily see from Lamar to the Gulf of Mexico -- that reforms the molecular structure of low-value hydrocarbons into hydrocarbons having better properties for blending into gasoline,” Jeffryes said. 

Other participating faculty members, Associate Professor of Mechanical Engineering Dr. Chun-Wei Yao and Dr. Ping, worked with the Pressure Equipment Integrity (PEI) team. PEI is a specialized group within the company responsible for ensuring the safety and reliability of pressure equipment used in their industrial operations.

"During my time with the Pressure Equipment Integrity team, I had the opportunity to gain invaluable insight and knowledge,” Dr. Yao said. “This included gaining in-field experience with various types of heat exchangers and piping systems, as well as a comprehensive understanding of the design processes associated with pressure vessels. Additionally, I reviewed industry standards and codes and evaluated corrosion requirements for applications."

Dr. He also highlighted the use of field experience from the Motiva externship and how it can be applied in a classroom setting. 

“I found it incredibly valuable to learn from Motiva engineers and gain a deep understanding of their daily responsibilities. This knowledge has enabled me to integrate practical field experience into engineering education,” Dr. He said.

Department of Industrial and Systems Engineering professor Dr. Xinyu Liu, who worked closely with the Department of Control Systems, also offered his insights in how this opportunity helps developing industry-relevant course work.

"I got the opportunity to learn the distributed control systems that run the manufacturing facility firsthand, including both hardware and software, which are extremely useful for developing more industrial-related course materials for the Automated Engineering course I teach,” Dr. Liu said. “The externship also proved very beneficial to my research project. I got to meet with experts in different disciplines such as advanced process control and optimization, digital transformation, and vibration signal analysis to discuss research projects and got very insightful feedback."

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