Leader Under 40: Stephen Thomas
Automation Projects Team Lead, ExxonMobil Research and Engineering - B.S. Chemical Engineering, Auburn University
Mr. Stephen Thomas, 37
Automation Projects Team Lead, ExxonMobil Research and Engineering
B.S. Chemical Engineering, Auburn University
Thomas began his career with Olin Corp., where he contributed to the development of Olin’s groundbreaking OMNX PC-based DCS. He helped deploy such cutting edge technologies as a web-based HMI, email alarms, and fault-tolerant Ethernet networks. Upon joining ExxonMobil Research and Engineering (EMRE) in 2005, Thomas’ initial assignment was a major control system replacement project, replacing obsolete mainframe systems at three European refineries. As the OM+S Execution Lead, he was responsible for the development of all the Oil Movements and Storage (OM+S) functionality in the new systems. This major development effort involved leading a “virtual team” spread over 7 countries. Recently, Thomas completed the startup of a major refinery revamp project in Thailand. He was responsible for all of the I+CS scope. The project included the design and implementation of a High Integrity Pressure Protection System (HIPPS), a SIL3 SIS that is typically the most critical SIS in the refinery. Today, Thomas has returned to the U.S. and has taken on the role of Automation Projects Team Lead in ExxonMobil’s downstream engineering office.
Thomas enjoys travel and experiencing new cultures. His recent assignment in Thailand gave him the opportunity to do both. He visited several locations in Thailand, from the streets of Bangkok, to the beautiful islands in the South, to the poorer farming region in the Northeast. As an engineer, it was particularly fascinating to see the impact of new technology on these poorer rural areas, where he witnessed people without air conditioning or TVs updating their Facebook status on their Smartphones!
Thomas is currently in training to achieve certification as a Certified Functional Safety Expert (CFSE). Beyond the personal career benefits of certification, it is important that the I+CS engineering profession as a whole continues to work on improving recognition as a distinct engineering discipline. Participation in professional societies and certification programs supports these valuable efforts.
Thomas is technically a high school dropout. When his parents moved the family after his Junior year in high school, rather than changing high schools, he obtained early admission to the local university. Although he holds a bachelor’s degree in engineering, he has no high school diploma or GED.
Thomas’ interest in control systems did not start until relatively late, specifically during his first process control lab in college. Beyond all of the complex mathematics of process control (pardon the pun), he was hooked by the “magic” of making the computer actually do real stuff in the real world. Fifteen years and many projects later, the magic is still there. Between the specifications, calculations, and reviews, it is important to remember that what we do is fun!
Annual Salary Survey
After almost a decade of uncertainty, the confidence of plant floor managers is soaring. Even with a number of challenges and while implementing new technologies, there is a renewed sense of optimism among plant managers about their business and their future.
The respondents to the 2014 Plant Engineering Salary Survey come from throughout the U.S. and serve a variety of industries, but they are uniform in their optimism about manufacturing. This year’s survey found 79% consider manufacturing a secure career. That’s up from 75% in 2013 and significantly higher than the 63% figure when Plant Engineering first started asking that question a decade ago.