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Chartered Engineer (CEng)

Leonids Polakovs BSc MSc CEng MIMechE

Published: 16/09/2020

Leonids PolakovsEducation and qualifications:
MSc in Advanced Mechanical Engineering, University of Sussex.
BSc (Hons) in Marine Engineering, Latvian Maritime Academy.
HND in Marine Engineering, Liepaja Maritime College.

Job title:
Portfolio Rotating Plant Lead Engineer

Employer:
Drax Generation Enterprise Ltd

What inspired you to become an engineer or pointed you towards an engineering career?

I have always been interested in how things are built, designed and how they work. Since early childhood I have been fascinated by large machines and by people who can operate, design, or repair them. My father owned a small shipping company that operated five medium-sized fishing trawlers sailing in the Baltic Sea. Most of my free time was spent on these ships while they were in port, because I enjoyed wandering around engine rooms and trying to figure out how the plant is operated and how the machines worked. At some point I realised that Mechanical Engineering is exactly what I wanted to do, and I decided to study Marine Engineering so that I would be able to operate ships’ plant and systems.

Please describe your role or position within your workplace.

I work on rotating plant (steam and gas turbines) within the Drax generation portfolio in the UK. I provide the engineering support to power stations by managing plant modifications, repair, and overhaul activities across the fleet. This involves engineering governance, asset compliance with current legislation and industry standards, project management, and contractual agreements with original equipment manufacturers (OEMs). My task is to ensure that assets run around-the-clock, ensuring safe and reliable operations.

There are generally two types of plant outages: emergency, or unplanned, which are caused by breakdowns or failures, and planned ones. The emergency outages are very reactive by their nature and you never know what you will need to do before you start. The planned outages are undertaken after a period of preparations and planning, and unless you get any additional findings, you have an action plan in place. During a turbine outage, I have to take the leading role for the whole project, starting from long-term preparations and finishing with an actual implementation - when contractors turn up on site and I have to coordinate their work and control the quality. Additionally, my job is to manage the technical and operational risks, which includes periodic inspections of machinery and survey of their condition. This allows the diagnosis of potential faults at an early stage so that corrective action can be taken.

Can you describe a typical working day?

There is no such thing as a “typical working day” because every day is very different. Depending on what is going on, I can spend weeks in my office reviewing engineering standards or writing technical specifications, or I can spend a lot of time on site inspecting machinery, or managing a major outage of a gas or steam turbine at one of our power stations. A lot of travelling is involved in my role as every station is located in a different place in the UK.

Are there any particular challenges or unusual aspects to your role?
The main challenge is the diversity of plant that I manage. Every site has its own OEM such as Siemens, Mitsubishi Hitachi or General Electric. I need to know every asset thoroughly enough to be able to diagnose faults or to manage spare part purchases, but they are all very different, so I am learning something new on a daily basis.

What do you find most enjoyable about your job?
Feeling that I make a difference is the most enjoyable thing about this job. I can actually see the difference in how things are, before and after I have been involved. Normally after a major inspection or modification outage, the machines are more efficient or reliable and seeing this is very satisfying! Another enjoyable moment is when I find a technical problem at a very early stage and help to rectify that before it grows and leads to a major failure.

Is there a great professional achievement or high-profile accomplishment that you would like to tell us about?
The last couple of years have been very busy for me and I have managed to finish several major projects across most of the power plants operated by the company I work for. The biggest achievements would be two planned major gas turbine outages that I led and completed on time and budget. Both these outages were planned a long time in advance, and I had to lead the preparations which started from agreement on the scope of required works, procurement of spare parts and consumables, resource planning and outage scheduling. Both these outages consisted of turbine parts inspection and overhaul as per manufacturer`s guidance as well as part modifications that improved plant performance and increased planned maintenance intervals.

What contributed to your decision to become professionally registered?
Professional registration is an important milestone in every engineer’s career as it reflects their commitment to the profession, professional accomplishments and, as a specialist, I feel it shows my value. I was inspired by my senior colleagues who are professionally registered, and I always wanted to reach the same level of professionalism that they have.

Another important factor is that in many cases there is no regulation on who can call themselves an engineer in the UK. This creates confusion when almost everyone can call themselves an engineer, which can diminish the efforts of some professionals who have invested a lot of time and energy into their education and professional development, but professional registration titles are legally protected. Professional registration is a good way to demonstrate that you have met the standards of competence and commitment, allowing you to say you are a professionally registered engineer.

In what ways has registration benefitted your career?

It has boosted my self-confidence in my work and provided me with real evidence that I have gone through the selection and approval process by a licensed professional body. Now I know that a recognised engineering institution confirms that my professional accomplishments have met certain standards.

Registration is not only a fancy title after your name, it also means that you have been independently assessed and are a member of a professional engineering institution, which provides you with a lot of opportunities for training, specialist conferences and other networking activities that help you to broaden your knowledge. These institutions also require you to have and maintain your Professional Development Plan, which ensures that you will always work to improve your skills and get more knowledge – this is good encouragement to keep working!

How does your employer benefit from your professional registration?
My employer is reassured by the recognition that my level of competence and professional commitment meets the criteria for registration. This helps my colleagues to understand what my abilities are as well as my level of knowledge and experience.

Is there any advice you would pass on to someone considering professional registration?
I would advise you to treat it very seriously and to get it done. It is hard work preparing everything for your registration, but it is worth it.

Where do you see yourself in your career in five years’ time or what are your future ambitions?
I plan to progress further either to Senior or Principal Engineer position or move into a management role and lead my own department within the organisation.

Do you participate in any other career-related activities, such as mentoring, volunteering or membership of other engineering groups?
I mentor young graduates in my organisation and help new starters to widen their understanding of plant and systems and good engineering practices. The Institution of Mechanical Engineers (IMechE) organises official training to be an engineering mentor, which I did, and this year I will have a mentee whose Monitored Professional Development Scheme (MPDS) progress I am going to guide and support.

Outside work, is there any activity you enjoy doing in your spare time that relates to engineering?
I am very interested in the history of mechanical engineering, so I travel a lot across the UK to see some important historical places and facilities such as Kempton Park Steam Museum or Brunel’s bridge in Bristol. This is usually very interesting and helps me to broaden my knowledge of the history of engineering.

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