Hafida El Alami leads the investigation

11/10/2018 - Careers, France
Hafida El Alami is a real Sherlock Holmes of metallurgy who analyzes malfunctions at the R&D center in Aulnoye-Aymeries.

Tell us about your background.

I followed the classic path, beginning with an intensive preparatory course in Lyon which allowed me to gain a place at a prestigious engineering university in Toulouse (INP) to study the physical chemistry of materials. I then did a specialization year in Poitiers before completing my thesis in La Rochelle. So, basically, a bit of a round trip of France!

I joined Vallourec at the end of 2007, after meeting a staff member who told me about the Group. I began as an R&D engineer in the corrosion department. I worked there for one year, and then I formed and led a team to work on Corrosion-Resistant-Alloys (CRA), products that are more resistant to corrosion than usual products, for use in more extreme environments.

Then I changed to a job that was more focused on expertise, in which I developed and recommended materials to oil companies.

Since mid-2015, I work as project manager in metallurgy as part of the Materials Investigation team.


What exactly does your job entail?

Given the multitude of complex operations that our products go through, before obtaining a premium tube with all the properties required, unexpected deviations may appear linked to the raw material or the manufacturing process. My team is responsible for identifying these deviations to correct them and maintain the high degree of quality that we set ourselves.

The Materials Investigation team works with the Group's plants to determine the origin of unexpected anomalies or defects in our products.  Our job is to make an expert analysis of the defects that appear during the production of the tubes or during their use. Identifying their nature, origin, and extent helps in the decision as to whether to release the order concerned, implement corrective actions in the manufacturing process, or verify the quality of the tubes delivered to clients in the event of a complaint.

The precision of our analysis is one of the first steps in guaranteeing the premium quality of our products and protecting the Group's interests. It is crucial to satisfy the high standards demanded by our clients, to safeguard the people using our products, the environment, and Vallourec's reputation.


What are the main challenges of your job?

Above all the imperative of efficiency and respect for deadlines! We have very strict deadlines because we are analyzing tubes from orders in progress or sometimes already delivered. We have to be precise, because the financial consequences of an error can be huge.

There are also challenges in terms of communication. When you give your analysis of a defect, you need to be clear and convincing. The aim is not to cast blame on anyone, but to show that an analysis allows the detection of a deviation in order to quickly implement corrective actions that are part of the continued improvement of our manufacturing processes. In other words we are all pulling in the same direction!


And what about the fact that you are a woman working in what tends to be considered as a male environment?

And what's more I am quite small and slight, which is even less in keeping with the image that most people have of a specialist in metallurgy!

But I do have a strong character, and I say so when I agree or disagree, and the differences melt away. Nobody makes the distinction between men and women any more. What counts is the pertinence of your expertise.


What do you like most about your job?

I enjoy the technical aspect most of all. But the job also calls upon a wide range of skills, and brings me into contact with lots of experts in other spheres.

Each expert analysis is different. We learn new things every day, the work is never boring!

What's more, at Vallourec, I work with really talented experts who I can rely on and who challenge me. I don't like staying at the same level and not evolving!


What gets you out of bed in the morning?

My alarm!

More seriously, my partner is my main source of motivation. I wouldn't be where I am today without his support.


What are your hobbies outside of work?

I love discovering other countries and cultures, and my partner is the same. When we first met, we agreed that we wanted to go on at least two interesting trips each year. And, sure enough, we have visited over twenty-five countries and practically all the continents.

Today, I have two boys, aged 4 and 18 months, so travelling is more complicated. For now they are my priority. But we will start up again when they are a bit older to share our love of travelling with them.


What is the best piece of advice that you have been given?

A colleague at Vallourec once said to me: "Don't be so hard on yourself. Allow yourself to be wrong. What's important is to be capable of correcting yourself."