Global opportunities with Elkem Carbon

As a trainee in Elkem you get a unique opportunity not only to be part of exciting and interesting projects, but also to combine it with seeing many interesting places around the world. Even though it’s hard to compete with the beauty of the Norwegian fjords, there are quite a few other interesting places around the globe. During the past eight months I have been fortunate enough to go see a few of them. 

This blog post was written by our trainee Svein Gjermund Tveide 

Map showing Elkem Carbon plants.

The Elkem Carbon Global support group consists of a group of metallurgists and experts providing support to all the plants around the world. Elkem Carbon has quite the global presence, with six plants on four different continents. One in Norway, two in Brazil, one in China, one in Malaysia and one in South-Africa. Even though the support group is located in Kristiansand, Norway, it’s very rare to see all the people working there at the same time. They are constantly travelling around the world solving problems and doing improvement work. For my second trainee period I was lucky enough to be a part of this busy and very exciting division.

Elkem Carbon produces Søderberg electrode paste and other carbon-based products used in the pyro metallurgical industry, such as cathode blocks for aluminium production. Most of the other Elkem divisions use products from Elkem Carbon in their furnaces in the process of making silicon. The furnaces at Elkem Carbon are not traditional smelting furnaces, but rather cylindrical calcining furnaces used for heat-treatment of anthracite coal to change its electrical properties (without melting it). The temperatures in the centre of the furnaces are some of the highest in all of Elkem, reaching up to 2500-3000°C.

Elkem Carbon China (ECC) in Shizuishan, China.

During my trainee period with the support group my focus areas were within automation and digitalisation. The use of new methods and technologies can improve the safety, efficiency and precision of processes in any industry, and I was working with several projects related to this. The work included collection of data, both using existing measurement equipment and testing of new sensors. It also included analysis of data through machine learning, utilising computing power not available only a few years ago.

Another important part of these projects was to compare the different Elkem Carbon plants and to test out the solutions at different locations to see if the results would match. I was therefore able to travel to Brazil, China and South-Africa as part of my trainee period. One thing that really surprised me was how the plants could be so similar, but at the same time so different. Even though the equipment was roughly the same, and the plants looked very similar, there were variations such as the climate, the local infrastructure, and the culture and customs of the different countries. An example is how they in Brazil have rain seasons, which can cause lots of different issues due to the extreme rainfall. It’s comparable with the cold temperatures and snow during the winter season in Norway, however it requires a completely different approach while facing the challenges.

It then became clear to me that things we take for granted in some parts of the world can be quite challenging in other. This is something you cannot learn through a computer screen or through a Skype-meeting, but rather something learned from hands-on experience. To face these types of challenges, the process engineers at the different Elkem Carbon plants around the world meet in person twice a year to share experiences and new ideas. I was able to participate in such a meeting in China, and it was great to see how people from all over the world cooperate to find clever and innovative solutions to all types of challenges. Even though the temperature in the discussions sometimes came close to the 3000°C in the calcining furnaces.

Elkem Ferroveld (EFV) in Witbank, South-Africa.

My two first trainee periods have then been very different, giving me experience both with local plant-based day-to-day work (in the maintenance department of REC Solar), and then with a more global and project-based type of work. The possibility to gain knowledge from such different types of experiences is a trademark of the Technical Trainee programme in Elkem, and it gives the trainees a great stepping stone from student life, and a head-start to future careers.

I’m now about a month into my third and final trainee period, with Elkem Silicon Materials’ raw materials group in Trondheim. I’m still working with digitalisation, but with different equipment and a completely different viewpoint. It is crazy how fast time has passed during the past two years, and weird to think that in only half a year I will no longer be a trainee. As this will be my final trainee blog post I want to say that I feel very privileged to have been given the opportunity to take part in the programme, and I look very much forward to my future in Elkem!