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Tryst with the forgotten

Trainee Blog 10.10.2022

We have no clue what lies ahead of us. All we can do is be sensible, immerse ourselves in the river of unknown and take on whatever comes our way in the spirit with which it is intended.

Ever sat in a class or an exam wondering - "what is the purpose of learning all this?" Or "I cannot wait for this exam to be over so that I could be done with this forever." I clearly remember saying goodbye to Pi-bonds and chemical engineering after my first-year bachelor's exams, sure that I would never see them again. Ah, how wrong that was! Cut to seven years later, I am rummaging through books to learn more about chemical bonds and structure to understand Calcination, the process central to the work at Elkem Carbon in Fiskå, Kristiansand. Guess life always finds ways to surprise and prove you wrong.

The road always taken - path to my office

This was a recurrent theme during my time with Elkem Carbon. As a trainee, you will have at least one project that is in line with your studies and aligned with your goals. In my case, it was using mathematical models and machine learning to get information about the state of a machine. Sure enough, that one would be interesting, but what really surprised me and probably felt more challenging was the diverse portfolio of projects that we can work with on the side. These projects are all about using every tool in your arsenal to solve the task ahead. For instance, you may use programming to solve design issues, play around with magnetic fields, collect samples, perform statistical tests with them, etc. Sure, you will make rookie mistakes and look stupid when handling things outside your knowledge domain, but hey! Things like that are part of the steep learning curve as a trainee. You are not simply expected to work within your comfort zone but to actively challenge and broaden it.

New ways of working

Now, about the magnetic fields, that was an embarrassing experience! My task was to measure the current flowing in a bar that brings electricity to the furnaces using something called Rogowski coil. You should know that the area around a calciner is subjected to higher temperatures. So, to shield the device, I wound around it a protective cover. But what I failed to observe was that the material used as the cover had a layer of metal film on it. When I started getting weird readings, I asked someone with knowledge of the system to verify the setting and he simply pointed at the metal film and asked – "Did you seriously use something that conducts electricity as a protection around a coil that uses induction to measure the current?". At that moment, all the forgotten knowledge about faradays cage and electromagnetic induction popped back into my head and left me thinking – "yep, I am an idiot! How did I not see that? ". Like I said, rookie mistake but guess that brings me to another point. It is not like you are asked to learn swimming by yourself; there is always a support network around you that will help when you give a shout-out.

Adding to the development as an engineer, the interpersonal skills also get challenged reasonably. Coming from India, the difference is already huge when working in Norway. Add to that the collaboration with people working in China, Brazil, etc. it gets tricky at times. Imagine being in Norway and trying to get people from these two countries in the same meeting! You must find a slot that fits three time zones more than 12 hours apart. These interactions with people of different backgrounds, nationalities, belief systems, etc., were my first encounter with globalization on a professional level. It amazed me that, at times, I found myself speaking Hindi (due to necessity) and Tamil at work so far away from home – crazy times indeed!

There is a saying by Friedrich Nietzsche, "All truly great thoughts are conceived while walking" and that is something I found myself doing a lot during my time in Kristiansand. Whether it is simply roaming the streets and letting thoughts flow freely or hiking with fellow trainees and colleagues while sparring and developing these concepts, there is always an abundance of such opportunities. Adding to that is the summer and winter trainee gathering, where you get to see all the people in the trainee system from different Elkem locations, which is a truly remarkable experience where you get packed days and learn more about the other value streams of Elkem.

Interesting finds during my walks – Finally a snake in Norway! (Left) and little (fake) Preikestolen

Trainees in a boatyard

After 8 months as a trainee in Carbon Global, it was time for the next phase, and I went up North to the ferrosilicon furnaces of Mo I Rana, where I am currently. The reason for moving was to work up close with a silicon furnace and see the difference from a calciner, and oh boy, I was not disappointed. The sheer size of the furnaces and the extent of the machinery around these makes it extremely fascinating. They are absolute beasts - reminds me of battle tanks and would make the calciners look (emphasis on the look) like a Volkswagen beetle in comparison. But that is a story for another time!