‘Do not let being a woman stop you from pursuing your dreams’

Based in Bangkok, Thailand, Pakakaew Suranakapan is currently involved in the construction of a power plant in the Mae Moh district of Lampang province.

As engineering manager and warranty manager on the project, she is responsible for planning to ensure that the facility is completed as per schedule and within budget.

“Watching the project evolve from the beginning through to the end is the part I like best about my role,” she reveals. “I have always been interested to see how things are built.”

Working for Black & Veatch, Pakakaew joined the Mae Moh power plant project in September 2014. “There has been a lot of collaboration within our own Black & Veatch teams and with our suppliers, client and the project owner to solve any issues during design, construction and warranty periods.

“I started off as a civil project design engineer (PDE) on the project, then became engineering manager and finally warranty manager. The warranty period has now ended, and we are helping our client to complete the last item on the list.”

Witnessing an empty site slowly turn into a power plant “has been a tough, long yet rewarding journey,” Pakakaew says proudly. 

With years of industry experience, Pakakaew has previously taken part in a number of power plant projects in the US. She was also in the commodity design team for Lungmen, the nuclear power plant in Taiwan.

“As a design team, we must keep in mind two important points when working on a project: constructability and safety by design. Our challenges usually include unforeseen conditions on site; for example, existing underground utilities that we were unaware of. Managing such issues requires a lot of coordination and cooperation from various parties. I feel encouraged when we can act quickly, resolve issues and continue with the construction without major impact to the schedule.”

‘Autonomous machines can speed up work process’

Among new innovations in the construction industry that Pakakaew finds interesting is autonomous technology.

“The potential of upgrading heavy equipment with artificial intelligence guidance systems to enable the machines to operate fully autonomously is huge.”

She explains that grid reliability is one megatrend that is setting the stage for utility transformation over the next decade, according to Black & Veatch’s 2021 Strategic Directions: Megatrends Report. “Reliable service is core to every utility’s mandate, but achieving it is becoming more complex in the face of ageing infrastructure and climate events.

“Completing power projects on time and on budget is one of the factors that can improve grid reliability. Using autonomous excavators, for example, to dig trenches for buried infrastructure has the potential to cut costs and shorten construction timelines, which in turn can speed up the overall work process.”

“I have also been reading up about hydrogen’s role in decarbonising the world’s energy systems,” she adds. “It is exciting that green hydrogen can be produced from excess renewable energy and stored for future use, including electricity generation. To deploy hydrogen at scale, infrastructure will be required to ensure it can be purified, stored and used in a safe and economic manner.”

When asked about her experience working in a male-dominated industry, Pakakaew says, “At Black & Veatch, I don’t feel any different being a woman. The company offers the same opportunities for everyone, regardless of gender.

“If you want to advance in your career and work hard towards it, you will get there. Just prepare yourself to be ready for the next opportunity and raise your hand when it comes.”

She further mentions that joining the construction industry gives professionals the option to work in the office to support the site team or be in the field. “Women also bring different perspectives and ability to tackle the challenges in the industry.”

Pakakaew’s final advice? “No matter what you want to do, do not let being a woman stop you from pursuing your dreams.” 

Photos courtesy of Pakakaew Suranakapan