From the drawing board to 3D modelling, things have certainly changed dramatically in 32 years of engineering for Australia’s Professional Engineer of the Year, Stuart Payne. But one thing that remains has remained constant is his passion and excitement for the industry.

Payne’s fascination with electrical engineering began at the tender age of eight, growing up in rural WA during an era where appliance repairmen and technicians were regular visitors to his home to fix the washing machine, TV or phone line.

“Fascinated by their every action, I knew I wanted to something involving electricity and wires,” he says.

After graduating from UWA as an electrical engineer, Payne first started working with Alcoa on the construction of the then-new  Wagerup Alumina Refinery.

Bayu Undan Facility

Bayu Undan Facility

Since then, Payne has worked on major engineering sites all over the world. He relocated his family to Paris to work in the oil and gas industry, and has worked on major projects for installations in Belgium, France, Turkey, Portugal, Vietnam and Qatar before moving on to the UAE to lead projects in Abu Dhabi.

He moved back to Perth to work for WorleyParsons on the award-winning Bayu Undan project as the lead instrumentation engineer, and his portfolio has gone on to include managing 250 engineers and designers executing Brownfield’s engineering for Woodside’s offshore assets, and the Karratha LNG Plant.

After that, Payne was in charge of a major restructuring of WorleyParsons’ Perth engineering organisation, leading a team of over 1,000 engineers and designers delivering projects in the energy and resources sector. He was also the proposal manager responsible for the successful award of the Pluto 2 FEED. Pluto is the world’s first onshore modular LNG plant.

Now as WorleyParsons’ Engineering Manager for Australia & NZ, Payne is a member of their Global Engineering Management Team and is influential in keeping the company’s processes and systems optimised to drive innovation.

High on the agenda is innovative collaboration, something Payne admits the engineering profession could not have imagined 32 years ago.

Dr Stephen Langford

RFDS’ Dr Stephen Langford and Stuart Payne in an RFDS
PC-12 aircraft at Jandakot airport

“My career has spanned the introduction of personal computers into engineering – which was the catalyst for massive, and still ongoing, change,” he said. “Drawing production was the domain of  design draftsmen seated on stools in front of large drawing boards. These drawing boards disappeared 15-20 years ago, and now everything is produced on networked PC based CAD workstations.”

“Enabled by that, is 3D modelling – where now we can assemble large teams of designers in different cities, countries and timezones; all working collaboratively in the same 3D model space. Such collaboration would not have been imaginable in the days of drawing boards.”

He has also seen massive changes in the size of offshore oil and gas projects.

“A big topside used to be eight to 10,000 tonne – then 15,000 tonne – now we’re doing a 45,000 tonne deck,” he said. “The complexity and effort to do something so huge seems to be non-linear – not enough have been designed to be certain of that – but the activity level in such projects is frenetic and exciting.”

A self-confessed “aviation tragic” and with a passionate, community-minded approach, he has taken his passion for engineering into a very different realm. Payne has been fundraising for the Royal Flying Doctors Service for many years and led a WorleyParsons team outside of their comfort zone and into the world of aeronautics and medical services to develop a new aeromedical stretcher and  loading system to cope with heavier patients.

Some 32 years into his career, Payne still has his sights on achieving much more and is keen to provide a legacy that ensures Australian engineering flourishes and supports the projects of the future.

Mooney Aircraft

Stuart Payne flying a Mooney aircraft just offshore Perth

“We are, in some areas of Australia, under stress, having seen a lot of hourly cost escalation in the last decade, and some projects being engineered entirely overseas.  This in turn has made international competition quite challenging,” he said.

To help protect the profession in Australia, Payne believes more effective use of technology and intelligent outsourcing will help.

“It is about using technology to keep productivity high, to ensure that there is sound value in our high hourly cost,” he said. “It’s about working smarter, not harder. There is a bewildering array of technology available – the challenge is to select and best utilise the right technology. The technology must not be self-serving – it must deliver real world, measurable results.”

When it comes to outsourcing, Payne says there must be the right amount and type of engineering to low cost centres.

“This is about accepting that an appropriate amount of low value tasks are best sent offshore – to keep our blended labour cost rate low, and to allow us time to focus on the more challenging and important engineering issues of the day,” he said.

Stuart Payne

Stuart Payne

Payne is certain that Australian engineering has a bright future for the next generation and beyond.

“I know first-hand from working internationally that Australian engineers are respected as being well-trained, capable and innovative.  We need to use that strong and proud history of Australian engineering in new ways to create an even stronger and more enduring engineering industry,” he said.