Interview/ Civil engineering/architectural design

Learning by Adjusting Valve after Valve in an Icy Cold Land

Shumpei Kurata

Shumpei Kurata (joined the company in 2013)

Civil engineering / Chemical plants

Spatial Engineering Department

Graduate in civil engineering with a major in infrastructure and urban society


Why I decided to join the Mitsubishi Heavy Industries Group

Shumpei Kurata

I majored in civil engineering at university, so I wanted to be involved in building things and particularly things large in scale. Moreover, I wanted a job that made a significant contribution to society, and a job where I could work overseas would be even better. Those were my parameters when I started looking for a job after university.
There were two reasons why I decided to join the Mitsubishi Heavy Industries Group: I felt it was an honest company and had a sense of scale and stability as a group, and the wide variation in businesses was compelling to me. What also appealed to me about civil engineering at Mitsubishi Heavy Industries Engineering (MHIENG) was being involved in all aspects, from design through to onsite construction.
Since joining the company, I’ve been responsible for the civil engineering of chemical plants. My work is an extension of what I studied at university, but I’ve done little else but learn since starting here.

The ability to look at a drawing and immediately spot problem areas

In my second summer with the company, I was assigned to Russia for 15 months. The initial plan was to go for three months for training, but I asked for an extension and ultimately stayed for 15 months. It was a valuable experience that I greatly appreciate. I’m very grateful to the onsite project leader and supervisors who approved my extension.

In Russia, we were in charge of a fertilizer plant that produces ammonia, methanol and urea from natural gas. Because Russia is extremely cold, most of the equipment is housed in a building to prevent the equipment from freezing up. The heating system installed in the building circulated hot water, and used fans to put out warm air. This was MHIENG’s first attempt to construct such a large-scale heating system in a cold region.

Our biggest headache was that the pipes circulating the hot water would freeze and rupture due to the extreme cold. Once a pipe froze, not enough hot water would circulate causing the heating system to fail. Having the heating go out in temperatures below minus 20 degrees Celsius would be catastrophic for the plant. Whenever I had the time each day, I went around the building and checked pipe temperatures, adjusted the hot water circulation where it was poor, and thawed and repaired sections that had frozen. This work was always arduous and it seemed to never end. The cause of these problems was that the original design parameters did not match the actual site conditions. We had a heating expert come in on the project, and we resolved the problem without incident by adjusting every single valve controlling hot water flow rates and pressures while monitoring the overall balance for the whole plant. I got a real understanding of how difficult it is to carry out construction work smoothly while not disrupting plant operations.

I felt that my communication skills in particular grew through my experiences in Russia. Linguistic ability wasn’t a problem, as most of the people I worked with — Russians, Chinese, Indians, and Filipinos — were not native English speakers. Rather, the challenge was working overseas with people from different cultural backgrounds to move things forward. What I learned watching experienced MHIENG employees with excellent communication skills, especially the onsite project leader and my direct supervisor, was how important it is to be proactive and detailed in your communications to ensure each person takes responsibility for their own job.

After Russia, I was sent to China in my fourth year at the company. The project used modular construction,* and I was sent as the person in charge of steel frame design and construction at the module yard in China. Being in a position of responsibility is enjoyable and meaningful, because the project advances under my decisions and judgements. But at the same time, the sense of responsibility is enormous. It was quite an emotional experience when I successfully completed my mission with the cooperation of my senior colleagues in Japan and other Group colleagues. Once again, the onsite project leader arranged a very fun team. We shared a lot of laughs, even after work, making it an exceedingly good memory.

I’m currently in charge of designing the steel-frame construction and foundation of a new polyethylene plant. If everything goes to plan, I may be sent to the overseas site again after the design is finished.

Civil engineering and construction design demands a high order of technical ability, and I’m reminded every day of the skill gap between my more experienced colleagues and me. Not only are these colleagues great at doing their own design calculations, they also have the uncanny ability to just glance at a drawing and immediately recognize that: “This section is no good. If we build it to this plan, there will be problems down the line.” They just look once at one of my drawings and point out “What’s going on here?” After I go over that section in detail and discover that, indeed, there is a problem with it, I’m always blown away by the intuitive “sense” they have from their knowledge and experience. Through my work, I hope to learn bit by bit and slowly approach their level.

*In modular construction, instead of transporting all the materials to the plant’s construction site and erecting the plant from the ground up, steel frames, piping, equipment, machines, and other components are preassembled offsite (at a module yard) and then transported and installed at the site.

Master civil engineering and construction design, or aim to be a project manager?

Master civil engineering and construction design, or aim to be a project manager?

My goal at the moment is to successfully execute a project, from design to onsite construction, as the key person (KP) who puts together the civil engineering and construction design of the project. Over the longer term, while I work I want to explore what career to design — either continue down the path of civil engineering and construction design and design management or acquire a broad range of knowledge outside of civil engineering and aim to put together entire projects.
I’m involved in chemical plants now, but someday I would like to work on transportation projects too. I’m interested in space, which started with my love for Gundam. If ever a conversation happens in Mitsubishi Heavy Industries group about a colony or a lunar base, I’ll be the first to raise my hand [laugh]. Mitsubishi Heavy Industries group is involved with rockets, so I see in my dreams a chance of maybe becoming a project manager if it does become a reality. To be handed such a job though, I’ll need the corresponding skills. That’s why I’m fully devoted to doing my best at the job in front of me.