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Natalia Palma Piñeira: Following a path in mining

Published 22.6.2022

Natalia is a civil engineer and currently heads up the Techint E&C Technical Office in Chile. Her life radically changed direction when she moved from designing residential buildings to the mining industry. One of the biggest professional challenges that she had to tackle was running the hydraulic tests for the Los Bronces III project.

As she recounts her experience, Natalia Palma Piñeira seems amazed at what she’s achieved. She tells us with fascination and enthusiasm in equal measure just how this iconic work came into being, her passion for what she does audible in every word. The Los Bronces project was her first opportunity to run a hydraulic test, with all the responsibility entailed in verifying that the construction of a pipeline has been carried out correctly.

In general, for hydraulic testing, the pipe is filled with water to reach a pressure that’s at least 25% over the stipulated level required by daily use. "This is incredibly important, as it’s a milestone that proves that everyone, from designing the structure to welding the last joint, has done everything right. This means the customer can be confident that the work is ready to begin operation," she explains.

This stage in particular requires every aspect to be performed in perfect compliance with rigorous safety and control procedures so as not to cause any material or human damage. “I was so excited to have completed this test! Everyone looked at me strangely, because actually, this is a fairly standard procedure at Techint E&C. In general, as a company, these tests have always turned out well for us, so for many people, it’s a routine event, but when you’re in charge of it for the first time…. well, then it's quite different!” she recounts happily, as everything went according to plan.

Natalia has three daughters, and her husband is a man who supports her unconditionally, encouraging her to pursue her path of professional growth at all times. She joined Techint nine years ago, after working as a structural engineer designing residential buildings. When she graduated, she never suspected that her future would be like in mining. But she spotted the signs and realized that this line of work would guarantee quality and continuity for her career in Chile, where the sector is one of the key industries powering the country. "I realized that my engineering studies had provided me with really versatile skills, and I was perfectly equipped to work and contribute to this new area," she recalls.

Her roles at Techint E&C have changed a lot over the last decade. Gone are the structural design and engineering tasks for new projects she used to do. Without realizing it, she began providing technical assistance, going onsite to seek out information to carry out assembly support engineering, getting into the area of materials, as well as technical, commercial and budget analysis. She began performing administrative tasks, taking charge of project design staff and more junior engineers, and adopting more responsibilities. And things began to change.

“I was kind of like a wild card really, as I went wherever I was best able to contribute. I was the only civil engineer on the team, which meant I had a lot of opportunities to contribute in all kinds of areas,” she highlights. It was then that she was promoted to Head of the Technical Office, where she does part of what she did before as well as a range of new tasks such as coordination, topography execution, and process management with the operations area, as well as assembly engineering design.

Traditionally, the profession that Natalia chose tends to be dominated by men. Although she admits that, to begin with, it was hard for her to find her rightful place as a professional, everything is much easier these days due to all the experience she has accumulated. “Although most of the hierarchical positions at Techint E&C are held by men, I feel that they offer us women the same opportunities and the same support to enable us to progress, just like any other professional, and that means I am on the right path,” she reflects.

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