Life as a Service Engineer at Alfa Laval

Arturo González is a Ballast water Treatment Service Engineer at Alfa Laval. Arturo is from Panama and is now based in Spain. He studied Mechanical Engineering at The Universidad Tecnológica de Panamá.

Arturo González from Panama working as a Ballast Water Treatment Service Engineer in Spain for Alfa Laval

Arturo Gonzalez Alfa Laval Service Engineer by ship on quay in ppe

Background

What led you to study mechanical engineering? Were there any childhood interests which were a factor?

I studied mechanical engineering due to my deep interest in understanding how things work. When I was younger, I used to take apart my toys to understand how they worked but usually I was unable to put them back into one piece.
As I was finishing school, I realised that mechanical engineering was closely related to my interest in finding out how things work.

After graduation you worked for Ricardo Perez S.A. Could you describe your work there and the difference between your two roles?

This was my first job and I remember I was very happy when I received their acceptance email.
Ricardo Perez S.A. is the leading automotive distributor company in Panama. Being able to start my professional career in this big company which had years of experience in the market made me so happy.
In my first position I was responsible for ensuring the compliance of the workshop with the manufacturer’s standard related to processes at the workshop. For the manufacturer it was a strict requirement to comply with their standards all around the world.
In the second position I was more related to the technical side. I was responsible for providing technical support to all the workshops nationwide and also responsible for providing technical reports to the manufacturer.

Changing industries

What were your reasons for moving into the marine industry and ballast water treatment?

My main reason for moving to Alfa Laval was related to my interest in working more on the engineering side and more on-site.
I already knew that the company was involved in different fields like heat transfer, separation, and fluid handling. When I applied to Alfa Laval, I only knew that the position was for the marine area and that they were looking for an electrical or electromechanical engineer (mechanical engineer was not in their requirements).
After three interviews and one technical test, they gave me the opportunity to work as an international service engineer for the ballast water treatment system.

How did your skills and experience transfer into your new role and company?

Even though it seems like there is no relationship between working for a car dealer and as service engineer, I was able to learn from my first job.
I had learned how to produce a proper technical report, improved my knowledge of electricity, and most importantly how to provide good customer service.

You can be the top engineer in the world but if you do not work on your soft skills, you will be going nowhere.

Typical day as a Service Engineer at Alfa Laval

What’s your typical day like?

A typical day for me will be traveling to a different city and getting onboard the vessel. Then, I’ll have a meeting with the customer, proceed with the service, create a service report, finalize with another meeting and travel back home.

Can you describe what you do technically?

I am responsible for executing commissioning (first time start-up of the system), maintenance, repairs, troubleshooting, upgrades, and overhaul of the system.

How much of your time is spent ‘hands on’ and how much with other activities?

The time will depend on the type of service and will be around 1-14 days. In my office activities could be around 1-2 days.

How much travel do you do? What is the geographical area you cover?

I am based in Valencia and usually I travel around 4 times per month. My main geographical area is Spain and Portugal, but I am also responsible for covering the west side of Europe, the UK, and Africa.

Which other departments within the company give you support?

There is a 24/7 technical specialist department that gives support to our customers and also to the engineers.

Arturo Gonzalez Alfa Laval Service Engineer on deck of ship at sea

Most challenging part of the job as a Service Engineer at Alfa Laval

What is the most challenging part of your job – technical side, people management or customers?

The most challenging part of my job is the constant changing of the schedule due to the customers. It often happens that customers are not able to arrive as per their schedule due to weather, port issues, and other reasons.

What has been your most challenging job to date?

My most challenging job was my first commissioning job. It was the first time I went onboard a vessel without the support of an experienced engineer. I was able to complete it and finalize it on time, but I considered it the most challenging.

How do you explain technical issues to non-technical people?

I change the wording and also use simpler examples to explain the issue. If possible, I show them the problem and carefully explain using other real-life examples or situations.

How physical is your job and how do you stay fit?

My job is very physical. I need to go up and down stairs a lot. Depending on the type of job, there could be services where you need to use a little bit of help from your arms.
I try to stay fit by eating healthily and playing football in Valencia.

Relocating to Spain to work as a Service Engineer at Alfa Laval

You moved from Panama to Spain. How did you manage the adjustment period?

The adjustment period was very friendly. For my family and me it was very easy because the company was very helpful during this period. They were always checking on how we were doing and giving us support. The only real adjustment challenge was the weather. Panama is a tropical country so usually the lowest temperature we get there is 25° Celsius, when we arrived in Valencia the weather was around 12°.

Do you find the type of Spanish spoken different in any way?

The Spanish they speak in Spain is different to the Spanish that we speak in Panama. I even had very confusing and funny situations with locals because of the different meaning words have here in Spain. Now after one year I have learned a lot about Castellano (Spanish in Spain) and it has helped me to communicate better.

What are the advantages of living in another country?

For me it was a great opportunity to keep on working in the field, whilst gaining experience in a different country and also being able to learn about a new culture.

Arturo Gonzalez ships on quay

Future engineers

Why would you recommend this type of field service engineer role to someone who has studied mechanical engineering?

I would recommend this role 100%. This is because in the field is the only place you will be in direct contact with the systems and learn about them.

Apart from a strong technical background, what are the three most important skills to have?

The three skills I suggest are:

Ability to work under pressure;
Good communication skills;
Excellent people skills.

What sort of personality traits are ideal for a service engineer?

A service engineer needs to be extroverted, outgoing, honest, helpful, approachable, original, meticulous, goal oriented and fearless.

Environment

Do you think that The International Convention for the Control and Management of Ships’ Ballast Water and Sediments is sufficient?

In my opinion, it is always possible to improve but this convention is a big step forward in protecting our oceans. According to the Marine Environment Protection Committee, there are possibilities to have amendments and improvements in the future. I really hope that the countries who have not signed yet, understand the importance of protecting our oceans.

How do you think things will change over the next ten years in terms of conservation in the oceans?

In ten years, I expect more regulations but also more people understanding the importance of conserving the oceans. People are opening their eyes and noticing the importance of conserving our seas.

Is global warming affecting your company and the work you do?

Global warming is affecting all of us. My company has always been committed to sustainability as a central part of the business. That means improving energy efficiency, keeping our oceans clean and effectively managing natural resources. I am not only proud of having my dream job but also about being part of a great company which cares about people and the planet.

Arturo Gonzalez Alfa Laval Service Engineer profile

What is a ballast water treatment system?

The Alfa Laval PureBallast 3.1 ballast water treatment system – in 5 minutes

Further reading

Keeping our rivers clean – Robin Deal leads a team of Wastewater Treatment Specialists

Simon Fernandez de la Mata, Marine Field Service Manager in Spain.

Diversity in field engineering – Allyship – a practical and positive compass.

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