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Advise on How to become a "good" Process Engineer

Advise on How to become a "good" Process Engineer

Advise on How to become a "good" Process Engineer

I graduated from Chemical Eng back in 1986 but ended up doing Instrumentation Sales specializing in Control valves/PSV's with the Fisher/Emerson organization for 15 years then moved on to become a Instrument Engineer with an Engineering company for 5 years. The opportunity came & I decided to take up the offer to become a Process Engineer after 20 years from graduation. I figured this will be something I want to do before the sun sets. It has been a struggle espcially on Hysys but other than that it is fun!
I would greatly appreciate some guidance from my peers here in this forum what steps should I take to help turn me into a Jedi of Process Engineering or at least a good student....thks

RE: Advise on How to become a "good" Process Engineer


BIG question; here are some general pointers, no particular order:

- Bone up on the processes you're responsible for; learn as much as you can re process chemistry, op conditions, etc.
- Study the PFD's and P&ID's.  Walk the plant/area and notate the difference between design/as-built/existing.  You've got to know how your area is laid out.
- Get tight with production engineers and operators; they know the process like the back of their hands.  Ask questions; why do they do what they do?
- Crawl around/inspect equipment during turnarounds.
- Spend time in the control room/bone up on the DCS.  Learn what's monitored and where.  Get proficient at extracting process data.
- Get tight with maintenance/instrument tech folks; you'll need sensors calibrated at some point.
- Get proficient doing mass and energy balances for every unit op in the area; you've got to be able to quantify operations and changes/options, etc.
- Locate/extract performance data/equipment specs for all equipment; you'll need them for the M&E bals.
- Pay close attention to physical property data and models; without good/applicable data your sim runs are fantasy.
- Don't neglect the little things; impurities/byproducts can cause headaches even in small amounts.
- Keep as current as you can with the technical literature.    A good start is Chem Eng Progress, Hydrocarbon Processing and AIChE Journal. And of course whatever applies to your specific units.
- A zillion other things (or seems like it), safety,hazard analyses, environmental regs/permits; you'll know it when it hits you in the face.

Hope this helps, at least it's a start.  Good luck.

John Boyd, PE

RE: Advise on How to become a "good" Process Engineer

JohnBoyd has provided an excellent list. I would just add one thing. Learn some quick methods like those described in Chemical Engineering Magazine "Rules of Thumb" March 16, 1987. That way when some of the people you are going to be spending time with ask you a question, you can provide an answer without them having to write an engineering work order and wait 6 months.

HAZOP at www.curryhydrocarbons.ca

RE: Advise on How to become a "good" Process Engineer

star for John Boyd.

My 2 cts:

Theory is theory. Practice is practice. The truth is somewhere in the middle.

Being a good process engineer is like being a good photographer. Don't stand too far from the object, don't stand too close, or you won't get a good picture in either case.

This means that, after spending a few hours in your office studying something, you HAVE to go out in the plant and the control room and compare against practice. Also, and operators hate it when I say it, after having spent an hour chatting with the operator behind the console or at some platform outside in the sun, you HAVE to go back to your office and see if their story is in line with the theory.

Theory, operating manuals, operators, mechanics, follow process engineers, instruments, lab analyses all tell you a part of what is really going on in the plant.

Lastly don't be afraid to swim against the stream, it's the only way to improve.

RE: Advise on How to become a "good" Process Engineer

Thanks John, owg & epoisses. For a moment I thought my message was forgotten. Your comments are valuable to me and I hope others in future who are in similar situation will also find these comments useful.
If anyone has an excerpt of this "Rule of Thumb" from Chemical Prcoeesing issue Mar 1987 that would be great otherwise I will try contacting CP library to see hiw I can get hold of a copy.

RE: Advise on How to become a "good" Process Engineer

There is a collection in book form titled: Rules of Thumb for Chemical Engineers edited by Carl R. Branan, Gulf Publishing Co., 1994

RE: Advise on How to become a "good" Process Engineer

All very good pointers.  Something touched on that I believe needs emphasis is time with the operators.  It is important to earn their respect.  Talk to them address their concerns help them with problems (don't be afraid to get your hands dirty).  Don't do things that you hope will make them "like" you instead focus on the work and doing the right thing.

RE: Advise on How to become a "good" Process Engineer

Keep your tools clean and sharp.  Add a new tool to your toolbox when you need or want it.  Keep an open mind to everyone.  Pursue the optimum solution that is acceptable to operations, safety, and environmental.  Communicate, communicate, and communicate.

Good luck,

RE: Advise on How to become a "good" Process Engineer

A couple other minor points
1.  It is not a 40 hour/week job
2.  Volunteer for night shift in a turn around or other major project.  You will gain a lot of valuable experience being the only authority figure around.  Just be wary of 3am control room stories.

RE: Advise on How to become a "good" Process Engineer

You have very enviable position in that your experience can be tremendous benefit once you get orientated. You will find that the majority of the people at the new job will be suffering from inside the fence syndrome. The majority of their knowledge would have been developed at on site and most of it by evolutionary steps.

There will also be a lot of the NIH people, believing that our way is the best way. This is hard to overcome but with the proper timing and actions it can create great opportunities for you.

As stated above keeps your eyes and ears open.

RE: Advise on How to become a "good" Process Engineer

i think it will be useful to learn pipesim plus Hysys

also it will be very useful to read this book
 Surface Production Operations Volume 1 & 2

RE: Advise on How to become a "good" Process Engineer

Know your objective
1. get a proven P&ID
2. from the proven P&ID, design your own P&ID
3. assume all components of the P&ID will fail
4. know the weakness of each item
5. re-design P&ID
6. review & improve

RE: Advise on How to become a "good" Process Engineer

Try to get a feel for the standards, recommended practices, etc. for the industry you work in. For the petroleum industry, mainly the APIs, ASMEs etc. This took me a very long time, mainly because there never was time to look into them.

RE: Advise on How to become a "good" Process Engineer

Ah, you just mentioned one of my favorites.

When you take a few hours or days to do "what we never have time for", that's when great improvements are born.

In the category excellent things to do for a greenie "for which we never have time": read all your predecessors' files.

RE: Advise on How to become a "good" Process Engineer

As a pump manufacturer, we love opportunities to talk to ALL people concerned from design guys, control room guys, operators etc etc.  

We once had a warrantly claim going on for months and months, double mechanical seals kept burning out, and we went through absolutely everything for many months, spent many thousands of pounds trying to solve the problem, then one afternoon, having just rebuilt the pump, the shift change siren went, and as we stood talking to Project Engineers, two guys went over to the pump, took off the external flush pipe and washed their hands, when finished, returning the pipe back on to the pump - that action was the cause of the problems, and being on the floor, talking to the right people, and seeing things happen is OFTEN required to solve a problem.

Also, the lower down the management chain you get, the closer to the truth you get too - no need to cover each others backs at operator level.

Good luck, enjoy !!  

Ash Fenn


RE: Advise on How to become a "good" Process Engineer

some other items to consider:
--review the way conmpetitors configure their process and note that there is more than one way to solve a process problem. Often  one can find such information in conference papers.

--Times are changing- there is an increased emphasis on energy efficienty and "green" issues. So , you should view potential changes in the process as they impact these newly emphasized issues. Perhaps becoming familiar with exergy analyses or other optimization methods is the way, but one can be sure that the competition will eventually publish or patent improved methods based on these optimization methods.

--new technology is becoming available every day- what you learned in college in 1986 is almost but not quite irrelevant.  

RE: Advise on How to become a "good" Process Engineer

Hmm.  Dual seals are very useful in lethal/hazardous service to keep the lethal/hazardous stuff in the pump instead of in you.  Dare I ask what was in that pump when the workers disconnected the barrier fluid feed, pumpking?

RE: Advise on How to become a "good" Process Engineer

Hi Valene: I am so glad to hear that you have worked for Fisher. I was wondering if you can help me to figure out how can I calculate or determine if there will be chattering when PSV orifice size is oversized from process and valve data?  According to API 520 sec 2, 3 % of set pressure as the max. limit for the pressure loss in the inlet piping of a PRV.

RE: Advise on How to become a "good" Process Engineer

All good advice but I cant quite agree with Dave Fitz. The stuff I learned in the 1960s is still very relevant today. I still use the old textbooks every day. Tried and proven standard methods are still very valuable. As a friend of mine used to say- The 2nd law has not  changed in 5 billion years and it aint gonna change now.

RE: Advise on How to become a "good" Process Engineer

Study PDF & pid´s

After that go to the site to visualize what is in the drawings

Spend time with the skill operators to see how they work

Verify the unit operating windows and alarms

Question the control room operators when they are out of operating windows.

Be curious on heat transference

And fouling matters

Study the equipment you are dealing with

When something fails and needs to be repaired try to have feedback from maintenance

During turnarounds go inside the equipment to understand it

Read books of process and control

Later on for sure you will a good process enginee


Luis marques

RE: Advise on How to become a "good" Process Engineer

hello all
        i am an new enginner and have three years working experance. in this years ,i found more and more things that i can't know. so i hope some one can tell me which books & codes can make me muture speedly!!

RE: Advise on How to become a "good" Process Engineer

My background is Process Plant Piping Engineering and Design.  I will offer the following advice to help you become "a Jedi of Process Engineering or at least a good student".
As a process engineer you will be or are the start of a very complex process that ends with the successful startup and operation of a process plant.  Two of the tools you create and use are the PFD and the P&ID.  These are tools of communication.  You are communicating with the other major players (piping and others) what needs to be done.  
The next major player is the piping engineering and design group who are (in most companies) responsible for converting the schematic (PFD and P&ID) into a real physical plant.  If they get it right then everybody is happy and the Project Manager gets a bonus.  If they get it wrong then nobody is happy.  Some of the peons get fired and the process engineer spends the next six months under the gun at the job site trying to correct the mistakes.
The best process engineers I ever worked with knew and understood this.  They all took a proactive approach to prevent problems before they happened.
Their approach was to hold a P&ID Review conference when they had the P&ID's about 85% to 90% complete.  The attendees at this meeting were the leaders and workers who would be doing the actual detailed design and engineering.  Paramount in this group was the piping designers who would be routing all the piping and locating the key instruments and controls.
The meeting was conducted by the process engineer who was responsible for the unit or set of P&ID's.  The process engineer would discuss each piece of equipment as we proceeded and would "talk" each line, what was in the line, what it was supposed to do and what to avoid if applicable.  There was ample time to ask questions and there was no lack of time or interest in giving answers.  The P&ID was "yellowed" off and everyone took notes.  These sessions served a valuable purpose and I am sure avoided costly delays later in the job.  
I strongly recommend that you (and others) consider using this method to improve communications and the effectiveness your effort alone with that of the rest of the team.  

RE: Advise on How to become a "good" Process Engineer

Consult eng-tips as often as possible!

"We don't believe things because they are true, things are true because we believe them."
"Small people talk about others, average people talk about things, smart people talk about ideas and legends never talk."

RE: Advise on How to become a "good" Process Engineer

Hello everybody!
I'm also a new process engineer, completly novice and doing a lot of mistakes everyday...But I love this job and want to improve myself...clown
I would like to thank you all for these advices that I have put on my archives.
I'm also going to buy the book: "Rules of thumb for chemical engineer" that looks very very interesting, I think it will be useful for me everyday...
If anyone has this book, could you tell me more about it?
Thanks a lot!
Méli clown

RE: Advise on How to become a "good" Process Engineer

Thank you very much goldnwhite!
Méli clown

RE: Advise on How to become a "good" Process Engineer

0707 (Luis) - I did exactly the way you described.
It is unbelievable how much you can learn (being fresh from school) from operators.
I would just add:
Find 1 or 2 guys close to retirement, those are willing to transfer their knowledge, discuss the things and ideas with them - you might hear: "Ooo, young man, we did exactly that what you are proposing, it was back in 198x... and it didn't work because..."

And get Lieberman's books.  

RE: Advise on How to become a "good" Process Engineer

coming up through a quality into engineering role, I am suprised that there is not more of focus on quality anaysis. understanding all of the tests from quality and R&D towards product assurance is critical in understanding and controlling the process.
i am a huge fan of talking with operators and maintenance. people are not respected enough just because of a lack of theoretical education, but have seen more changes and failures in their years than any of us ever learned in class.

RE: Advise on How to become a "good" Process Engineer

Hello everybody and especially nbog,

You spoke about Lieberman's books...They look very interesting but what do you think about these other books
(I'm asking for clear and simple books for a very novice process engineer like me, they were advised to me by another engineer):

GPSA and Crane Technical Paper 410 are both essentials.

Maxwell's "Data Book on Hydrocarbons" has a lot of good info in it.  Kind of like a mini API for way less money.

Lieberman's "Working Guide to Process Equipment" and "Troubleshooting Process Operations" are both pretty good.

Cameron Hydraulic Data is another handy reference.

Thanks a lot,
Méli :)

RE: Advise on How to become a "good" Process Engineer

Good advice here, thanks all.

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