Marta Lafuente, Vallourec: Industry acceptance of innovation is priceless

Posted on 21 January 2014

By Lauren Wolfson, editorial assistant

LafuenteWorking in the oil and gas industry was not in Marta Lafuente’s plans when she began her engineering career in France, focusing primarily on steel manufacturing. However, after an encounter with oil and gas through a drill pipe design project while working for an engineering consulting company, she realized this was a business that would embrace her passion for innovation and product design. “I was impressed by the technology, the level of the engineers that were involved, the technical challenges and the engineering approach,” recalled Ms Lafuente, now application engineer for Vallourec.

After completing an industrial engineering degree at the School of Industrial Engineering of Barcelona in 2004, she finished her education in ESSTIN, a French engineering school, and then joined ERIEM, where she was in charge of industrial product design in steel manufacturing projects.

It was after she moved to engineering firm Altran in 2006 that she got the opportunity to work on the Vallourec joint development project on new drill pipe design. By 2008, Ms Lafuente had joined VAM Drilling (now Vallourec Drilling Products), a division of Vallourec Group, wanting to “learn about the market itself and learn about what’s important for customers,” she explained.

As R&D product support manager, she worked with multidisciplinary teams to design products, such as new types of drill pipes, to fit specific project needs. “It was about supporting all the sales regions and manufacturing plants… building fit-for-purpose products for Vallourec customers and learning how to design a product that would fit with a customer’s need,” Ms Lafuente said.

Although she had a background in mechanical and metallurgical engineering that provided a solid technical foundation, Ms Lafuente realized she had much to learn after moving to the oil and gas industry. Top among these were how to be reliable, the importance of communication, as well as gaining the respect and trust of others in the workplace. Besides research and development, she has also managed a team of engineers and technicians and explained that open communication was essential even for an engineer who may focus on technical subjects.

“The same message can be given in two different ways. One will have a high impact, and the other one will be ignored,” she said. “Whether it’s technical or commercial… it’s always very important to give the right message.”

Since accepting a new position in 2012 as application engineer at the Client Support Center, a Vallourec organization in charge of product life cycle and key account management, Ms Lafuente has been able to balance her engineering background with her passion for product design specific to market needs.

She still works on the technical aspects of product development but also has the chance to address the commercial side of product launching. “I’m still an engineer so I still enjoy a lot of the technical parts,” Ms Lafuente said. “But right now, getting to know the market is keeping me very interested.”

Last year, Ms Lafuente joined the IADC Technical Publications Committee, contributing to the overhaul of the IADC Drilling Manual. She noted the privilege to work on the industry project with other experienced professionals from a range of companies.

“What we are trying to achieve is to provide final users with a reference document that gives them the information that they need to work efficiently and safely.”

For Ms Lafuente, the transition from a metallurgical background to designing for the oilfield has highlighted the oil and gas industry’s acceptance of innovation, something she doesn’t always see in other industries.

“The freedom that engineers have in oil and gas is something that is priceless,” she said. “It’s a great chance that you have in oil and gas. There’s still room for new initiative, for innovation… for being imaginative and trying new solutions.”

Click here to learn more about the IADC Technical Publications Committee.

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