Alicia Kempf, Engineering Manager, Honeywell Process Solutions
BA in Computer Science, University of Delaware
What first drew you to engineering? / When did you first know you wanted to be an engineer?
I always excelled in subjects like Math and Science when I was younger and dreamed of becoming an inventor or an architect. I loved the idea of creating something brand new, that no one had done before that could help solve people’s day-to-day problems in a way they couldn’t envision themselves.
For example, I used to work in a T-Shirt store in the summers and we had an old timecard punch machine that was broken. It was old so the store owners wanted to throw it away and replace it. Since they were going to throw it away, I asked if I could try to fix it so I took it apart, looked at the insides, figured out how it was supposed to work and what was wrong, and fixed it pretty quickly. I found it hugely gratifying figuring out for myself how something worked, or how it was supposed to work, and finding a way to fix it. In college, I also developed a stronger interest in computers and emerging technologies which lead me to major in Computer Science. Becoming a Software Engineer who develops solutions for other Engineers like Chemical Engineers or Process Engineers, was a great way to combine my passion for Software with my interest in Engineering.
I also have a creative side – I love art of many mediums and come from a family of artists. Some people may not think creativity and Engineering are intertwined, but they are to such a huge extent. There are infinite ways to solve any given problem and it is our job to understand what the user’s basic needs are, what problem are we trying to solve, and then we use our creativity along with our understanding of technology to invent new solutions to their problems in a way they never dreamed of.
Were there any influential engineers (women or men) who helped shape your decision to become an engineer? If so, who and why?
I don’t think I had any engineers who influenced my decision to become one, but I do have someone who influenced my decision to stay in engineering, which is equally important as we see a disproportionate number of women leave the field. I was fortunate enough to be mentored by an incredibly talented female Senior Software Architect at Honeywell who not only mentored me but also acted as my advocate. She really helped me excel in my career and introduced me to new opportunities. She inspired me to become a mentor myself and it is something I always recommend to aspiring engineers – Identify a mentor who can help them grow and meet their career goals.
What barriers do women face in today’s engineering world, if any?
Culture can be a hard thing to change, although I think we are making great strides. At Honeywell we have a huge focus on Diversity and Inclusion to make sure we are making the changes required to, combat biases, build more diverse teams and a culture of inclusion. We have multiple diversity networks, including one for women, which host regular events and presentations of interest to the community. They also help women expand their network and facilitate Mentor and Mentee relationships. And while women do face challenges in a male-dominated industry, there are positive aspects that women can find and harness them as strengths. It can be an opportunity to stand out and differentiate yourself because you bring something new to the table.
Give us an example of your involvement in a design project, a product launch, the development of a new technology, or the adoption of a new technology or process. How did you better your team, if applicable?
I am an Engineering Manager with a team of developers who focus on our Batch Offerings. I have a team of developers who report to me as well as an extended team who we work with in Bangalore and Sydney. The developers on our team facilitate the heavy lifting and make things happen and I try to make sure the team stays focused on our future vision and ensure we are aligned with our business priorities and strategy.
We have had so many exciting developments going on that it’s hard to choose just one as an example! We recently released Experion R520.1 which has many exciting new Batch features including Formula Sets, Campaign Management, Electronic Work Instructions, a new Explorer for viewing and navigating recipes, a new Batch History and Reporting Solution and lastly, OPC UA Server on our UOC Controller. This last feature set the groundwork for some exciting work concerning solutions for MTP (Modular Type Packages).
The MTP standard describes the engineering of automation technology for modular plants which allows for Plug and Play functionality between a POL (Process Orchestration Layer) and PEAs (Process Equipment Assembly). This new standard is still maturing and being adopted so it is exciting to get early engagement with this industry trend as we can help provide feedback, improving the standard going forward. The MTP solutions we are developing provide huge benefits to our customers including shorter project times and provides a considerable gain in flexibility. This has allowed my team to grow by expanding into new technologies with multiple opportunities to engage directly with our end users, gaining critical feedback from customers that can improve our solution.
We are an active member of BioPhorum which is an organization striving to create an environment where members of the biopharmaceutical industry can collaborate to accelerate progress for the benefit of all. This has provided my team the opportunity to engage with customers and other vendors who have vast expertise in the domain. The initiative strongly aligns with Honeywell’s priorities to bring innovative solutions to our Life Science customers, but it also has applications beyond Batch to other industries which makes it a great opportunity for our team.
Describe your biggest engineering challenge. How did you conquer it or resolve it, or what was the outcome?
One of my greatest challenges is working on products that have been developed and continue to evolve over decades in various different technologies and being able to maintain and continue to expand them as the experienced developers who originally designed them move to new roles. We have taken the opportunity to modernize some of our solutions in newer technologies which allow us to deliver a superior user experience and valuable new features to our customers. In the process of modernizing existing solutions, we are able to facilitate valuable knowledge transfer and training between our senior experienced engineers and our new team members. However, we can’t modernize solutions just to rewrite existing code in a newer technology, we have to bring our customers new value in the process and that is the challenge – Finding the developments that fit that criteria. We have done this successfully many times in the past. For example, we had several different solutions for operators to visualize and execute recipes and procedures in our Batch HMI but none of the various solutions met all of the customers’ needs, so instead of picking one and working to address the gaps, we developed a completely new visualization, our Procedure Explorer. It provides the user with so much additional value because it provides a hierarchical view of their running batches with a simple UI that allows the operator to focus on what is currently active. However, they can easily get to additional relevant information when needed. It also can be invoked as a popup when invoked from our Unit Timeline and automatically drills down to the recipe element of interest. In the end, we were able to provide a superior user experience that can be easily expanded to deliver new capabilities, while still providing our developers with a better understanding of the predecessor products and how the system works.
Filed Under: Women in Engineering