In our Pauwels People series, we talk to our consultants about their experience as a consultant, working for Pauwels Consulting and their projects. Today, we're talking to Paul Vander Schelden, who worked as a Project Engineer at several companies and was a Commissioning E&I Engineer for Fluxys to help build a tank in the LNG Terminal. Now, Paul is retired and is making the most of his free time!
Can you introduce yourself briefly?
Hi, I’m Paul Vander Schelden, I graduated in 1979 as an industrial engineer electricity option control technology. Married and proud father of two beautiful sons. Throughout my career, I have always been interested in technical installations in terms of maintenance and supervising projects.
What do you like to do in your spare time?
In addition to being a master in repairing (patching up) most things, I like walking, cycling, gardening, skiing, traveling, dancing, filming snorkeling, diving and recently, I’ve picked up reading as well!
Can you tell us a bit more about your studies & professional background?
Sure, the interest in electricity and electromechanics was ‘taught’ to me by my brother-in-law who took the time to explain to me how things work, accurately but simple. Add to that the fact that during high school my two favourite subjects were mathematics & physics and that I was fascinated by the ‘invisible’. So, the choice for Industrial Engineer Electromechanics was easy!
After my military service (yes, that still existed then! :)), I started working as an automation engineer at Honeywell in the Process Automation Center Europe in Evere. After this first experience, I began my job at Shell as Maintenance Manager Electricity. This meant that I was responsible for the instrumentation & automation of the entire site with a refinery, chemical & oil plants, power production, high-voltage cabins, fuel storage,… In addition, they also counted on me for the start-up of new installations. At Shell, I gained a lot of knowledge and was able to follow many training courses: Atex, AREI, preventive maintenance, steam techniques, flow measurements and mass flow meters, flame detection, ISO 9001,… This made me into the Engineer that I am now.
At Shell, I climbed the corporate ladder and was promoted to Project, Maintenance & Purchase manager under the joint venture Shell / Exxon; Here, I was project owner of stand-alone realisations such as the maintenance warehouse, steam generators, compressed air compressors, altering the tank park in accordance with Vlarem regulations, engineering and building a crums mill, etc. Unfortunately, the site was closed after three years due to overcapacity within the group. After that, I worked at EOC, Sicpa and Veurne Snack Foods (part of PepsiCo). At the latter, I had to switch assignments, and I had to go abroad a lot. This was too hard for me and not in line with what I really wanted to do.
How did you come into contact with Pauwels Consulting?
After my adventures at Sicpa, EOC and PepsiCo, I wanted to return to the world of engineering and construction in the (petro)chemical & energy sector where my roots lay. I was then contacted for the construction of a Fluxys natural gas compression station. They were urgently looking for a Supervisor Electricity, Instrumentation & Automation to oversee the construction of the compressor station.
The application went very smoothly. I had an instant connection with Jan Fyens, Business Unit Director Engineering and the Fluxys Project Manager. Spontaneous, open and with mutual respect. I knew right away that it wouldn’t be an easy assignment, as the project was already well advanced, but the team spirit was vibrant so I took the plunge!
Can you tell us more about your projects at Pauwels Consulting?
I would like to tell you a bit more about my favourite and most difficult project that I carried out, and the lessons I learned from them. My favourite project is the first project I carried out, mentioned above, Supervisor for the natural gas compression station. From greenfield to startup. The nice thing was that I was able to go through all facets of the project: evaluation of the engineering documents, reviewing the scope, mechanical completion, commissioning, the punch list, checking the manufacturing record book, drawing up and following up the readiness for start-up issues, completing the Vlarem declaration, and so on.
I got to know the full functionality of the station and helped solve issues that went wrong. There was an excellent team spirit between the client and the contractors that was clearly perceptible. I felt that my presence truly had added value and I received a lot of appreciation for my work. That gave me an enormous boost!
The most difficult project I ever did, was engineering a 400kV DC connection between England and Zeebrugge. There was a tangled project structure that made it difficult to communicate in general and to inform the stakeholders. As a logical consequence, the team spirit was less good and it was more difficult to get things done.
Both projects who stand opposite to one another, have as a common thread the communication that played a decisive role. From this I learned that transparent communication and collaboration are crucial for the proper execution of the project: who is responsible for what, how can I contribute, where can I find the right documents, who can I address about certain topics… It brings unnecessary stress which sometimes leads to mistakes and it influences the will to finish a project.
What did an average day look like for you?
Oh, let’s see. I always started the day by greeting my nearest colleagues. After that, I reviewed my priorities for the day by looking at what needed to be addressed urgently and if there were any questions from my supervisors. I then opened my mailbox to answer the emails that I could be answered directly. A quick clean-up.
This was followed by a check for scheduled meetings: what is my to-do list and do I still need to prepare for tasks/questions? After the meetings, I would finish what I started that morning. If there was any time left, I performed other routine tasks. A busy day as you can see but I did take the time to socialize, shortly before work, during a coffee break or lunch. It is very important to do this, sometimes you can detect issues early on or resolve disagreements but above all, you can quickly integrate yourself as a consultant into an existing team!
What good advice can you give to starters?
Do what you promise, don’t be afraid to say if you can’t do something and ask for an explanation or help when you’re stuck! There is no shame in that! Everyone experiences it and learning is a continuous process. In addition, it is important to understand the project structure as soon as possible and to establish contacts with your team. Don’t be the solo player! Clear communication with your manager is important, give as correct and honest answers as possible to his/her questions.
Solid advice Paul! We wish you a super and well-deserved retirement! Do you already know how you are going to fill your time?
Thanks! Actually, I don’t (laughs), it will be a bit of a slow start because of the coronavirus but I hope I can fill my time usefully!