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Create an Impact Through a Career Path of Endless Opportunities

Trainee Blog 04.04.2024

Transitioning from being a student to becoming an employee involves many major life changes that provide great opportunities for personal and professional development. In this new phase of life, you might relocate to a new place, restructure routines, gain more responsibility, and learn new methods and procedures while forming new connections with people. When choosing jobs, it can be challenging to know what to expect, and more importantly if the tasks at hand will contribute to meaningful impacts aligned with your values. Through contemplating what this would entail for me, I found that it means creating a positive impact through applying innovative approaches to the development of sustainable processes and products across their life cycles. Embracing these life changes through Elkem’s technical trainee program has provided novel perspectives on multiple stages of Elkem’s integrated value chain.

Combining hands-on laboratory experience with analysis allowed for a deeper understanding of how theory translates into real life, which I found to be one of the most engaging aspects of studying materials chemistry and energy technology. During my studies, I was curious to learn more about production methods of materials from an industry perspective, which led me to apply for a summer intern position at Elkem Bjølvefossen. Here, I worked as a process operator monitoring and optimizing the production process of ferrosilicon (FeSi) in a submerged-arc furnace. Ferrosilicon finds applications in steel making and can be further alloyed to produce magnesium-ferrosilicon (FSM). FSM can be used in the production of cast irons as a foundry alloy. Foundry alloys contribute to reduced waste in the production of cast irons and increased lifetime by enhancing the material properties. Finally, these products end up in electrical engines, brake systems, and high voltage power lines infrastructures. When I started working as a process operator, I was astounded by the share scale and the chemical and physical intricacies of the process. At first, it was a bit daunting to be entrusted with the responsibility of a massive furnace with temperatures up to more than 2000 °C, large electric currents and facilitating the tapping process of liquid FeSi for the tapping team. However, one quickly adopted a holistic view of the process through hands-on training, openness to questions and close collaboration with the tapping, lab, and raw materials teams. After such a positive experience with a team of knowledgeable and inclusive colleagues, I’m very grateful that I had the opportunity to join Elkem as a technical trainee.

Journaling surrounded by the tranquil natural surroundings of Ålvik

This year, the trainees got together for an onboarding program in Trondheim to learn more about the company history, business system and culture shaped by Elkem’s values: respect, involvement, precision, and continuous improvement. Elkem is structured in three divisions silicones, silicon products and carbon solutions, which deliver a variety of products with applications in many industrial and consumer markets. Through learning more about Elkem’s sustainability initiatives within social governance and efforts for reducing direct and indirect emissions, it became evident that being a trainee offers a unique opportunity to join a team dedicated to making positive impacts across all parts of the silicon value chain.

Trainees at Bårdshaug Herregård (left) and innovation workshop at Elkem Fossegrenda (right)

After an engaging onboarding program filled with teambuilding activities, an innovation workshop, and a visit to the Thamshavn smelting plant, I felt well prepared to take on new challenges at my first placement back at Bjølvefossen. During the first week, my local mentor introduced me to my new colleagues and their areas of responsibility in the technical department. Here, I would mainly be working on projects related to energy management, preventative maintenance, and camera technology.

Bjølvefossen was established in 1905, in the small town of Ålvik, due to the proximity to hydropower which continues to supply the production process with renewable power to this day. Nevertheless, the people in Elkem are continuously working towards more efficient material and energy utilization. One of these initiatives is reducing environmental impacts associated with using carbon to reduce iron oxide and silica (SiO2) to liquid FeSi in the smelting process, by increasing the share of biocarbon. Energy management is essential both for sustainable production by lowering the environmental impacts and the cost of operation. Through investigating opportunities for reduction of thermal energy losses and reuse of energy from waste heat, I gained a better understanding of the overall energy inputs and outputs of the smelting plant. Gathering foundations for the energy calculations by inspecting actual industry equipment with complex geometries and varying operating conditions, allowed a deeper understanding of how to relate these to piping and instrumentation diagrams (P&IDs).

During the time at Bjølvefossen, I also worked on improving and creating new routine preventative maintenance inspections. Early detection of wear and malfunctioning equipment is essential for ensuring optimal occupational safety and avoiding unnecessary downtime. During my first week, I had the opportunity to accompany the mechanic responsible for the FSM alloying and casting area and the electricians in the crushing and screening area. This gave me a better understanding of the equipment and how to improve maintenance routines according to their needs.

Lately, I’ve been more involved in projects related to installation of camera technologies for process monitoring and programming for interpretation of data. Learning more about how the physiochemical properties of ferrosilicon production relate to the technical disciplines within optics and instrumentation, through interdisciplinary collaboration across departments and plants, has provided many valuable experiences.

As an Elkem employee, I have also been able to learn both theory and useful tools within HSE and process control through various courses. I recently attended EBS University, a week-long course where you get to meet colleagues from across all departments and locations working with interactive training in communications, project planning, and other core principles of Elkem’s business structure.  

“Graduation” from EBS University together with EBS coaches 

Being a trainee is a great opportunity to take part in the local community and try new activities. Bjølvefossen is located in the Hardanger region, which offers great hiking and skiing opportunities in the mountains and glaciers surrounding the breathtaking fjord landscapes. Travelling by public transport is quite easy, but it requires some planning. However, there are also plenty of indoor activities to try out. In my leisure time, I decided to try out indoor swimming and learn more about my newfound interest in computer-aided design. In the neighbouring town of Øystese, one can be inspired by temporary art exhibitions at the Kabuso Art Centre and by the permanent sculpture collection of Ingebrigt Vik. It also features the optical art installation Hardanger Skyspace by James Turrell, in which light from the sunrise and sunset is reflected as vibrant colours across the ceiling dome.

Hardanger Skyspace by James Turrell

It’s with a heavy heart I see my time at Bjølvefossen is coming towards an end for now. Working in the metallurgical industry as a trainee has been a great way to practice practical problem-solving together with a team dedicated to continuous improvement and sustainability. I’m looking forward to applying what I’ve learned so far and developing further together with the Silicones team in Lyon for the second outplacement, where I’ll be working with silicones for 3D printing and additive manufacturing. Finally, I would like to express my gratitude to all my colleagues who have taken the time to welcome and include me while I’ve been at Bjølvefossen.