Interview with Sedat Kilic, Leading Engineering Innovation in the Global Energy Industry

Sedat Kilic is a Senior Mechanical Engineer and Project Manager specializing in computer-aided design (CAD), planning, manufacture, testing, training, and the implementation of cutting-edge drilling and measurement tools for the global energy industry.  As a leader in new product development for one of the world’s largest oilfield services companies, he uses agile methodologies to deliver multimillion-dollar technology and engineering projects worldwide. Over the course of more than 25 years of professional and academic experience, Kilic has been responsible for numerous patented innovations in next generation drilling tools that improve efficiencies for the oil and gas industry.

In this interview with TechBullion, Kilic discusses how he has leveraged his skills as an engineer and project manager with his academic background and  DfM (Design for Manufacturing) expertise to drive technological transformations and lead successful teams, why he is continually inspired to innovate, how technology has changed over his quarter-century career, and what he sees for the future. 

Let’s start by introducing yourself. Tell us about your background and current role.

My name is Sedat Kilic. I was raised in Ankara, Turkey, have worked in locations worldwide, and am presently overseeing highly complex global oil and gas projects from my current base in the United Kingdom. In the early and mid-1990s, I earned both Bachelor and Master of Science degrees in Mechanical Engineering, with a focus on Computer-Aided Design of Hydrodynamic Bearings and Computer-Aided Selection of Rolling Bearings, from Middle East Technical University in Turkey. I was also a teaching and research assistant in the Mechanical Engineering department, teaching classes such as Machine Elements and Quality Control, and mentoring undergraduate students. Besides my technical training, I think this is where I first developed the leadership skills and interest in people management that has made me a successful team leader. 

After four years working as a design engineer in a manufacturing plant in Ankara, I came to the U.S. to earn a second Master of Science degree and conducted research in semiconductor materials in the School of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering at Oklahoma State University. I then served as a graduate research assistant at the University of Oklahoma School of Industrial Engineering while pursuing my PhD, which I received in 2006. 

This strong academic and technical foundation led to a position as a DfM engineer with a leading international oilfield services (OFS) company, where for nearly 20 years I rose through positions of increasing responsibility to my current role as Project Manager for Next Generation Drilling Tools, New Product Development. Throughout my career I have had the opportunity to design and develop a wide array of tools and systems to improve oil and gas (O&G) reservoir characterization, production, and drilling, including coring tools, wireline, resistivity, logging while drilling, gas-lift systems, land rigs and more. I’ve also been responsible for leading highly challenging, multi-disciplinary projects in the U.S.A., Singapore, and the U.K.

Your position requires a unique blend of technical and business management expertise. Given your engineering background, which of these areas do you find most rewarding? 

Engineering is at its core about problem-solving, and this is in part what drew me to the field. I have always been fascinated and inspired by figuring out how things work and envisioning ways to do anything better. So whether I am inventing a new tool to address a technical problem, or architecting a new system to create process improvement, or building and managing tailored teams to meet high reliability project targets, or utilizing new technologies, or finding new vendors to better expedite project delivery and profitability, I am excited by the challenge to solve for whatever the situation requires. As a project manager, I use my very deep experience in DfM and mechanical engineering, as well as my strong ability to lead and motivate teams, to analyze, design, and implement the best solution for every scenario. 

For example, one of my multiple roles as an engineering leader is to manage tasks in a defined way. On one project, it quickly became apparent that there was a need for a Quality Systems Manager on the team, and based on my background, I was assigned to this role, in addition to my role as Project Manager. When I realized that there was no established Quality system in place, I took the initiative to create a Quality Systems scheme to guide the engineering team. Using my expertise, I developed an Integrated Management System (IMS) document that enabled the consistent and reliable design and manufacture of land rigs. The so called  ‘Engineering Directives’ document provided requirements aimed primarily at enhancing customer satisfaction, by preventing nonconformance at all stages of new rig development projects.

In this example, as in all of my projects, I strive to develop a “best in class” system that will greatly reduce cost and lead times for future builds, which further advances the competitive advantage that our company has in the marketplace. This often involves preparing and leading project lifecycle management plans; establishing business systems and CAD tools across engineering teams; developing new ways to streamline processes; facilitating collaboration among diverse technical and non-technical teams such as Operations, Project Management, Engineering, Manufacturing, and Testing; auditing programs, processes, teams, and vendors to ensure their optimal performance; and communicating with all internal and external stakeholders. Because of my company’s stature in the O&G industry, it’s important to recognize that what we do impacts the energy industry on a global scale. 

Is there any one project that you would consider the most challenging or significant during your career?  

My career has included at least a dozen inventions that have led to patented technologies, and overseeing many challenging projects that have added value to my company and its clients, so I am proud to have many significant achievements that have positively impacted the global energy industry. One current project that stands out is a well construction measurement program in which under my leadership, our team developed a tool to facilitate real-time, high-speed telemetry and communication between downhole Logging While Drilling and Measurement While Drilling tools, and Wired Drill Pipe network and surface systems. These technical tools allow drilling operators to get better data faster, and therefore save time and money on O&G projects on continents worldwide.

I was assigned as Project Manager for this deliverable on day one and have since been managing this project. Under my technical leadership, the project team did a fantastic job in defining, developing, and procuring parts to build the tools, deliver the first prototypes, and initiate the first field jobs in less than 18 months. This was an engineering and business record in our company’s history. 

As a dedicated mechanical engineer and experienced Project Manager, I collaboratively worked with the stakeholders, my team members and third-party vendors to accelerate the design, solve the problems along the way, and deliver the hardware and software in the planned timeline. This is only possible by seamless communication and teamwork. I defined the goals and timelines clearly, held regular team meetings, motivated the team members by presenting the case as a “challenge” rather than an “impossible situation,” and recognized all team members, including staff.

Besides my project management role, I utilized my mechanical engineering skills in downhole development, and acted as a mechanical system architect in designing and developing state-of-the-art tool hardware. I contributed heavily by evaluating the design alternatives from the perspectives of manufacturability, procureability, and cost. Combining my DfM expertise with my know-how in manufacturing processes helped me in identifying and selecting the viable mechanical architecture. This was one of the major factors to optimizing the tool design in the first iteration, as the timeline did not allow for multiple iterations (as is generally the case in any design and development process). 

My expertise also proved crucial in early sourcing prior to and during the design phase, with calculated risks. Working closely with our Supply Chain team, I was able to introduce new tactical sourcing methodologies that were pivotal in ensuring success. In addition to the overwhelming internal acclaim that these new tools earned for our team, we were honored to be recognized with a prestigious award from one of the company’s international clients. 

As a senior leader, how are you involved in training the next generation of professionals in your field? 

As part of my managerial responsibility, I regularly conduct performance appraisals of the many people who have and currently report to me, and participate as a technical expert in evaluating the work of others. These direct reports have included personnel at levels ranging from Administrators to Senior Engineers, in diverse fields including mechanical, manufacturing, electrical, embedded software, and modeling and simulation engineering, fluids systems, Health, Safety, and Environment (HSE), Quality Assurance/Quality Control, and document control, among other areas of expertise.  In these reviews, I not only evaluate their performance based on job results, but I also assess strengths and potential areas of development, and prepare their training and development plans to align with the company’s continuous improvement strategy. 

My role also requires me to conduct audits on various operations at field locations, machine shops, and vendor facilities. While assessing the technical parameters and efficiencies at these sites, I take the time to help the technicians and engineers solve some of their technical problems. I am also a trained and certified internal auditor, and in this role I have been able to identify missing requirements from suppliers and report major findings. In all of these cases, my guidance is always constructive and designed to further an individual’s professional success. 

I am additionally very active in coaching and onboarding new hires and junior engineers, mentoring engineering interns and young professionals, and participating in student recruiting events at universities both in the U.S. and abroad. I enjoy these opportunities to introduce talented students to the opportunities for mechanical engineers in the O&G industry, share the real-world lessons I have learned over 25+ years, and teach them strategies for selecting and building rewarding careers. 

Furthermore, I have taken the initiative to organize lunch and learn sessions, internal knowledge-sharing events, and engineering community leadership-building sessions in which I am an active leader and presenter. The goal for all of these sessions is to build knowledge and technical skills both within and across teams, offer personalized mentoring, and help every member of our organization grow and operate at the highest level of proficiency.  

What advice do you give to young professionals and engineers who are considering a career in the energy industry?

Even though fossil fuels continue to be the significant source of the world’s energy needs, the energy industry is rapidly transforming towards clean and renewable energy. The accelerating demand towards sustainability requires innovative solutions learned throughout decades in the O&G industry. Young engineers have a big responsibility concerning the environmental impact of their work, and they must strive to develop sustainable solutions, such as waste reduction, resource utilization, and optimization. 

Engineers will still be needed to make this transition happen. Young professionals should focus on the fundamentals of engineering and establish their careers based on their technical knowledge and expertise. They must deeply understand the latest technologies in their discipline, watch energy industry trends closely, and be flexible and adaptable. For example, in the last decade, the energy industry has focused on digitalization to boost efficiency and enhance profits in the long run. That has forced many engineers to extend their talent and expertise beyond their core discipline, by attending training sessions and conferences and pursuing additional certifications in special areas, such as data mining, machine learning, cloud computing, etc. Professional development opportunities are limitless and easily achievable. Continuous learning is essential for a successful career. 

I want to emphasize one important soft skill that many engineers lack – emotional intelligence. Engineers with high emotional intelligence are better equipped to handle professional relationships, interpersonal communications, and self-motivation. Engineers should learn to manage emotions, develop empathy, and practice effective communication techniques in order to improve their professional outlook.   

You are an expert in CAD and have been using this system in mechanical engineering throughout your career. How have design technologies changed over the last two decades, and are there any new tools that you are now deploying in your work?  

Computer-aided design (and even manufacturing) evolved rapidly throughout my career. I remember my excitement when I was drafting my first design in 2D using AutoCAD, 25 years ago, and can see the rapid advances in CAD’s capabilities—from 2D drafting to 3D modeling, which made it possible for me to build complex designs with unparalleled precision and in shorter timeframes. I have used many different CAD software programs throughout my career. The increased computing power, and simple, user-friendly CAD interfaces increased my engineering efficiency and enabled me to deliver complex designs quickly. 

Despite the fact I have not been a direct user, the advent of technologies like Virtual Reality (VR), Artificial Intelligence (AI), 3D printing, cloud deployment, and engineering automation, have revolutionized the CAD design process. Because it allows designers and engineers to see and interact with their creations in a virtual setting, VR is now commonly used in the CAD design process. VR technology has allowed designers to detect design flaws before the product is built, saving time and money in the development process. 

The evolution of CAD software has also brought about a more efficient collaboration among teams. In the past, me and my design team worked in silos, with each member responsible for their specific task. However, with the recent integration of cloud-based solutions, my designers, regardless of their location, can now work on a design simultaneously. This has led to significant time savings and improved the overall quality of the final product, for example, in one my projects while I was working in Singapore.

Digital Twin technologies, which are virtual models of integrated digital solutions, are getting more attention in new product development cycles by providing a real-time representation of physical assets, such as parts, systems, tools, and processes. I see Digital Twins as enablers to transform project engineering design, operations, and manufacturing. 

In your long career, you have witnessed great technological change, as well as the cyclical nature of the O&G industry. What changes do you foresee in your field and industry over the next decade? And what will be the greatest challenges? 

The cyclical nature of the O&G industry is driven by supply and demand, which depends on many factors, such as changes in production levels, geopolitical events, and natural disasters. In recent years, I witnessed the lesser impact of the cycles. This can be attributed to the enhanced resilience and adaptability of the O&G industry to the struggles, and new technologies. Digitalization in all aspects and across the industry is the key factor that is increasing operational efficiency and enhancing O&G company profits. 

Digital transformation of an existing process using technologies such as big data, advanced data analytics, machine learning, automation, and cloud computing, will enable continuous performance improvement within the operational sphere. Thus, digitalization will become the topmost priority for O&G companies to stay alive.  

I do foresee more investment in the energy transition over the next decade, which has been driven by growing incentives, policies, and environmental commitments. Renewable energy resources, such as geothermal power, wind power, or the decarbonization enabler low-carbon hydrogen, will be where companies have been and will be invested.  

The challenges lie in how to leverage the decades of domain knowledge and O&G expertise in diversifying the energy resources, and the ability to engineer, manufacture, and operate in unprecedented conditions and deploy complex technologies at scale. This requires disruptive new solutions, out-of-the-box thinking, and effective and cost-efficient execution. The main driver behind this challenge is cost.  

You have led and executed O&G projects on multiple continents. How has this international experience shaped your professional outlook?

Living and working in different countries has been a very valuable life experience. I call this a borderless career, and I feel very happy and privileged to experience such a wonderful career. Besides learning about new cultures, values, and people, I became more adaptable, and developed good relationships that elevated my professional visibility and global networking.

When you move to a new workplace in a new country, without knowing the people, language, laws, or culture, you encounter many challenges. I used my problem-solving skills to overcome each challenge and find ways to adapt. Over time, my ability to solve problems grew my confidence in decision-making. Living in a new country makes you self-sufficient and self-aware; learning to manage myself translated to increasing my leadership skills. 

Being in a different country allows you to work with people of all backgrounds. I developed advanced social skills and learned to collaborate with individuals who have different perspectives from my own, and these experiences helped me become a good team member and leader in my career.

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