Tuesday, 29 December 2015

One Last Thing...

When I discuss the quality of graduate chemical engineers with other experienced engineers, they all bemoan their lack of engineering knowledge, their lack of feel for numbers, process systems and equipment. They tell me universities are turning out “engineers” with no idea of what chemical engineers do, who can’t read a P+ID, have never seen a layout drawing, and think scientific research is the foundation of engineering practice.

These graduates in chemical engineering may have been given a sound scientific and mathematical education, and have been trained in all of the skills necessary to follow in the footsteps of their teachers, but their teachers were not chemical engineers. They have been taught to be scientific researchers like the people who now staff our Chemical Engineering departments.

As practising engineers, we have failed in our duty of oversight of chemical engineering education so comprehensively that this wrong-headed approach is now the entrenched norm in academia.
There is now profound confusion in academia between science, engineering science and engineering; practice and research; engineers and scientists. This is both the cause of and the consequence of a circular self-reinforcing problem: In order to enhance their research profile, university departments have employed people carrying out the scientific research published in high impact journals.
Universities specify a PhD and publications as a requirement for the most junior lectureship. The overwhelming majority of such candidates have first degrees in science, not engineering.

There is however no mechanism to employ a proportion of staff who have significant experience as engineering practitioners and even if there were, a lack of understanding of and respect for professional knowledge, and a large difference in pay make recruitment of practitioners more or less impossible.

What is the confusion? Firstly, let’s differentiate between pure and applied maths, science, engineering science and engineering:

Mathematics is a human construction, with no empirical foundation. It is made of ideas, and has nothing to do with reality. It is only “true” within its own conventions. There is no such thing in nature as a true circle, and even arithmetic (despite its great utility) is not empirically based.

Applied mathematics uses maths to address some real problem. This is the way engineers use mathematics, but many engineers use English too. Engineering is no more applied mathematics than it is applied English.

Natural science tries to understand natural phenomena. The activity is rather less rigid than philosophers of science would have us believe, but it is about explaining and perhaps predicting natural phenomena.

Applied science applies natural scientific principles to solve some real world problem. Engineers might do this, (though mostly they don’t) but that doesn’t make it engineering, more related to technology.

Engineering science is the application of scientific principles to the study of engineering artefacts. The classic example of this is thermodynamics, invented to explain the steam engine, which was developed empirically without supporting theory.

This is the kind of science which engineers tend to apply. It is the product of the application of science to the things engineers work with, artificial constructions rather than nature.
Engineering is completely different from all preceding categories. It is the profession of imagining and bringing into being a completely new artefact which safely, cost effectively and robustly achieves a specified aim.

The role of an academic “engineer” tends to include all but this last crucial category. As one of the few people who has full professional competence in both fields, I am clear that Engineering Practitioner and University Professor are very different professions, requiring different skills, training and experience.

We may hold university lecturers in high esteem, but we have been foolish to give them our highest grades of institutional membership without the relevant qualifications and experience, as this has removed a number of checks and balances on engineering education.

The scientists who make up the majority of UK chemical engineering department staff offer pure scientific research PhDs whose recipients are often considered to have “a degree in chemical engineering” as it was awarded by a school of chemical engineering.  These PhDs themselves become university lecturers, despite their having no training or experience in chemical engineering, and so it goes.

Many of our academic “engineers” are therefore really research scientists. That they are not professional engineers does not, however, prevent them nowadays from becoming Chartered Engineers.

The Masters year which is now more or less required to become chartered is largely about engagement with research. The phrase “advanced chemical engineering” used throughout the IChemE accreditation guidelines is usually taken by academics to mean scientific research.
I am not aware of anywhere interpreting this as meaning advancing towards a greater understanding of chemical engineering practice. Engineering is a practical profession, which is advanced almost entirely through practice rather than the laboratory research or computer modelling which "chemical engineering" academics engage in.

Chartered engineers are supposed to be completely aligned under the Washington accord with the requirements for professional engineers in countries where the use of the word “engineer” is regulated by law. This means for chemical engineers that they are supposed to have a level of education and experience which makes them competent plant designers, or supervisors of plant operation. No amount of research and teaching will make you a PE in the US.

When I was first chartered, there was little point in submitting an application for CEng unless you had an accredited degree in chemical engineering, and could demonstrate application of safety principles on full scale plant, and design or operation of full scale plant. (I still have my 1995 version of the requirements for anyone who doubts this)

All other experience (including any amount of teaching or research) fell into the optional and non-equivalent “other” category. We understood then that the job of a university lecturer, (whilst estimable) was not the job of an engineer. This is no longer the case. There is no longer any differentiation between the categories, and you can become chartered with no experience of the formerly mandatory categories of practical application of safety, and plant design or operational experience.

The “Chartered engineers” IChemE are counting in University departments are mostly people who would not have been allowed to carry the title twenty years ago. In addition, since the introduction of a little-known senior route to institution fellowship for academics (skipping MIChemE but incorporating CEng) an academic scientist could now easily hold a higher grade of membership than a Principal Engineer. In fact, it has arguably become easier to reach FIChemE status with an academic background than one as a practitioner.

Such “Chartered Engineers” are consequently no defence against loss of focus on core chemical engineering, and they can in fact work to counter the input of any engineers present as if they were equals. This measure, which was presumably taken to acknowledge our esteem for educators, has instead made them lose esteem for our professional knowledge and experience, making it even harder for practitioners to enter academia.

Accreditation teams have some difficulty finding what they call industrialists (often in practice retired researchers or managers as opposed to current engineering practitioners) to serve on their visit teams and committees, and any who are present will be greatly outnumbered by academics. Our university accreditation guidelines are consequently policed largely by non-practitioners, and we have lost much of our ability to correct misinterpretations by non-engineers of the guidelines.This is important, because misinterpretation is rife.

What many outside academia do not realise is that, in a modularised degree, "academic freedom" means that individual module conveners can interpret the guidelines any way they please. A green PhD graduate in a completely unrelated field has the right to decide what they want to teach, and no real obligation to understand its context either within the overall course, let alone as part of the academic formation of a chartered chemical engineer. It is therefore possible for a degree course to meet the accreditation guidelines only at module level without any systematic coherent vision.

Universities often have an industrial panel of some kind to advise on curriculum changes etc. It is however in my experience usually the case that the people on this panel are selected from companies with which the staff have research links. Rather than being designers or operators of process plants, they are frequently researchers who happen to work in a privately funded lab instead of a university one. They are exactly the same kind of people as the academics, and they are working in collaboration with them in other spheres. This is not a proper oversight mechanism.

I am grateful that non-engineers have stepped in to fill the leadership positions within the IChemE which it seems professional engineers are too busy to take up, and I wish to cast no slur on their abilities, education and contribution to academia, but this state of affairs has consequences.
Without engineering practitioners in leadership roles, how can IChemE maintain credibility and alignment with what is internationally understood to be the proper role of a chemical engineer?

So what have been the consequences of allowing research scientists to take over the education of engineers? Many of the academics I talk to (and I have talked to a lot) think that engineering just is an unintelligent application of natural science and pure mathematics, and that they are as scientists in possession of a better understanding of the fundamentals of our profession than we practitioners. To quote “The Big Bang Theory”, they think that engineers are just “the oompa-loompas of science”.

They interpret the IChemE’s requirement to teach "underpinning science" as a requirement to teach their “purer” subjects, and consider visiting engineers as a source of an amusing anecdotal sideshow by someone who doesn’t really understand the basics of their own subject.

To quote a UK academic on this subject
“Industrial input is a valued optional extra. Most practitioners are great at telling tales, but can’t be relied on providing the, yes, scientific backbone that differentiates a good graduate from a plant operator, technician or draughtsman.”
I regularly see lab and academic research skills being represented as transferable skills, as if engineers ever donned a white coat again after leaving university. I have even seen a situation in a leading UK university where the capstone design project has substituted lab experiment design for process plant design.

A focus on research is the foundation of the MEng year, but much of the research done in university departments by non-engineers has nothing at all to do with engineering practice. Which practitioner ever said “this problem is too hard for us, let’s go ask our old university professor how to do it”?

We have changed IChemE rules to favour the academics who largely staff our committees and secretariat. Academic scientists are overrepresented in our committees as practitioners do not have the paid time to serve on committees which academics do. (Neither are we generally as keen on committees as they are.) We have removed the checks and balances which prevented university curricula from drifting too far from the needs of the profession, and we have replaced those who should be guarding the guardians with those who should be overseen.

The ultimate consequence of the IChemE rules being changed unwisely is that scientists and researchers now hold many key IChemE leadership positions, and are inclined to support changes which favour people like themselves. They are only human, and this is how humans are.
All of these effects combine, such that the overwhelming majority of UK university chemical engineering department staff have no idea what chemical engineering is about, (though being academics they may well hold strong opinions on what it is/should be) and there is no longer any effective mechanism to correct their misunderstandings.

This effect is so strong that the article which this text is drawn from was pulled on the day of publication as a result of a campaign by academics on IChemE committees who did not want the issue even to be raised. Please could I ask you to share this post so that their wishes might be frustrated, and we might have an open debate on the issues.

What do academics think of this viewpoint? If backed into a corner, a few stock arguments come out. These are all what philosophers call straw men, and engineers call something less polite.

Argument 1:
“The need to teach underpinning science”
We do indeed need to do this, but natural science and pure maths do not directly underpin engineering. We may need to teach some of these subjects early in the course in order to get students ready to learn engineering science and professional practice, but this is the equivalent of pre-clinical medical education.

Argument 2:
“We are educating engineers, not providing industrial training for technicians”
This argument reliably comes out as soon as I propose to academics putting practice at the heart of the curriculum. They don’t mind a visiting “industrialist” amusing the students with a few anecdotes, but the idea that an engineer might know more about engineering than a non-engineer with an academic title is a mortal insult.

There is in academia the commonly held but infrequently voiced idea that the natural sciences and pure maths are cleverer than engineering practice. It is as if, having jumped through the hoops which clever academics held out to us, the rest of our careers as practitioners were a long slow intellectual decline.

Of course such an idea is only tenable by people with no significant experience of practice - chemical engineering is quite a challenging profession. Experts might make it look easy in a way which might confuse people with no relevant qualifications or experience, but if it really was easy, it wouldn’t be the second best paid profession in the UK, would it?

This is my call to arms: we need to look at redefining what constitutes Chartership – and indeed Fellowship with the emphasis on realigning CEng with PE. We need in my opinion to go back to the old definition of what makes a Chartered Engineer.

The practicing engineers among us also need to get more active in the institution. More of us must volunteer to help IChemE turn around the future education and careers of the next generation of chemical engineers.Leaving it to academics turns out to have been a grave error.
Academics in their turn need to start taking their responsibility to provide the academic formation of chartered chemical engineers more seriously. They might start by reading my last book.

Monday, 14 December 2015

Last Working Week of 2016, Barring Emergencies

Unless there is an emergency, we are planning to spend this week clearing our desks of the final deliverables for the year and making arrangements for the new year.

The Ullmanns Encyclopaedia entry on Plant Design and Construction is ready to submit, and we have picked up another one to do for them in the New Year.

My Process Plant Layout book is well advanced, and there is now a team of 175 reviewers looking at the rough draft.

I am hoping to get the draft put to bed before year end, because some real engineering work came in last week, and there is another order pending for some process troubleshooting. Both are industrial effluent treatment jobs, one based on chemical and one on biological processes.

Friday, 4 December 2015

Speciation in Chemical Plant Design and Layout Methods

I am integrating reviewer comments into my radical rewrite of Mecklenburgh's Process Plant Layout, and soliciting new comments via social media.

It is very apparent from this conversation that layout aspects of plant design have undergone what biologists call speciation. There are now a number of species of plant design, with very limited interaction, or even awareness of each other (and don't even get me started on the pointless, fruitless attempts by mathematicians in academia to treat plant layout as if it were a mathematical problem)
Those responsible for plant layout are usually process engineers, piping engineers or process architects. We might view the approaches of these disciplines as the parents of the various species of plant layout methodologies, but they have cross-bred and evolved into a number of hybrid approaches / designers in the environment of various industries. Older designers can still be following one of the pure-bred parent approaches, which still exist alongside the newer ones, as they still work (unlike those academic approaches I mentioned).

For example, how layout is done in the Oil and Gas industry, (where piping engineers are key to plant layout) now differs radically from how they are done in the pharmaceutical industry, where process architects are taking a lead far more often. How it is done (and who does it)  on small plant designs differs radically from how it is done on larger ones.
Even the language used to describe key documents and parts of the plant differs in complex ways.  The meaning of "plot", "site", "plot plan" and "general arrangement drawing" not only differs between designers, but they differ in ways which are not simple substitutions of terminology.
What's the difference between a pipe rack, pipe bridge, pipe track and pipe bent? To me, pipe -rack and -track are synonyms, pipe bridges are -racks which go at height over roads, and pipe bents are the steelwork which holds up a pipe rack. People however use these terms to mean all kinds of things.

This seems to be why when I ask people to critique the draft of the book, I often get quite strong responses (such as "NO!!!!!!!") to the approach and terminology followed by other species of layout designer (the term I am using in the book to encompass the process engineers, piping engineers and process architects who lay out plant).

To avoid becoming hopelessly confused, it is necessary that I read these responses in the context of the age, industry experience and original discipline of the reviewer, and I have laid out many plants.

How I cut through the confusion to offer readers a number of easy to follow approaches, whilst capturing the speciation which has taken place is my key writing challenge at present.

Friday, 27 November 2015

Chemical Process Plant Design and Construction

I finished my entry for Ullmanns Encyclopaedia today on "Chemical Plant Design and Construction", which has taken quite a while to write.

The dry style of encyclopaedia entries does not come naturally to me. I'd much rather let it show that I am motivated by a passion for the subject I an writing about.Process plant design is something I am passionate about, but encyclopaedias are not a collection of personal opinions.

You can however hear my personal opinions on the subject on  the 4th of February 2016 at Loughborough University Chemical Engineering Department (Building S Room S.2.32)

The talk will include previews of my new book "An Applied Guide to Process and Plant Design". Please arrive for 18:30 pm for a 19:00 pm start. Refreshments will be provided.

Saturday, 21 November 2015

Training Course : Operation and Maintenance of Industrial Effluent Treatment Plants

Water Pollution: The Klang River in KL

I'm just back from Kuala Lumpur, where I delivered my training course on the operation and maintenance of water and effluent treatment plants to a keen audience.

Just down the road from the venue was the Klang river, which flows through the centre of KL. Whilst it has never been a pure mountain stream ("Kuala Lumpur" means "muddy estuary"), it is clear to both the eye and the nose that it is highly polluted.

There are all kinds of pollution in there. Commercial effluent, industrial effluent, municipal sewage, and simple household and commercial solid waste, some of which you can see floating downstream in my picture.

Clearly Malaysia has a way to go when it comes to cleaning up the environment, but it may not be as far as you might imagine. The smell of the Klang was the same as that of rivers I used to swim in as a boy, which are now so clean that they are trout fisheries.

It does not take long to remedy problems like these, with sufficient money, political will and engineering knowhow.

Thursday, 12 November 2015

Operation and Maintenance of Water and Effluent Treatment Plant Expert : Training Course

I'm making final preparations for a four-day course on Operation and Maintenance of Water and Effluent Treatment Plants in Kuala Lumpur. I've delivered it a few times now, and as usual the audience comes more or less 100% from the oil and gas industry.

The company I am working for on this occasion are unusually scrupulous and trustworthy, but training is an ugly business, and there is an incredibly wide range of qualities of course presenters and training providers to choose from.

There are many trainers who will work anywhere in the world for $250-$500 per delivery day. In some cases this adds up to less than UK minimum wage when prep time and travel time is factored in. Let's say you are asked to deliver a three day course in Saudi. Travel from the UK will add 2-3 days to this, and a new course will require 2-3 days of prep per day of delivery time if you are to deliver a quality outcome.

So the people who work for $250/d day of delivery would get $750 (about £500) for 15 days of their time or around £4.20 per hour allowing average eight-hour working days. In an international market, you compete with the whole world, and there are places where £4.20 per hour is a great deal. Not many though...

I'll comment on sharp practice by training companies another time....

Wednesday, 4 November 2015

A Successful Reboot

Expertise Limited was really just ticking over alongside my old university teaching role, and I was a little concerned that it might take a little time to get it back up and running full-time, but it looks as though there was nothing to worry about.

We have three or four live training enquiries, two for proper process engineering jobs, and one new invitation to serve as an expert witness in a really interesting case.

Whilst we wait for one of those to land, I'm going to make progress with my Ullmanns article, and plan the final assembly, integration and proofing of my Plant Layout book.

I am also talking to some US magazines about a series of articles for new graduates, filling the gaps in the now-standard inappropriate chemical engineering education.

There will definitely be an article by me on process plant costing in Chemical Engineering magazine before the year end, and one on plant layout early in the new year.

Wednesday, 28 October 2015

Settlement: Single Joint Expert : Wastewater Treatment Plant Process Design and Construction Dispute

I didn't get to go to court this week as expected in the commercial dispute about construction of an effluent treatment plant at a plating works, as the parties reached an out of court settlement.

It was unusual to be called for cross examination as a single joint expert witness, and it would have been all the more unusual to be in court for the cross-examination of a Single Joint Expert (though I was not the SJE in the case I did attend) twice in a month.

In the case I did attend, I was disputing certain aspects of the SJE's evidence, which was not a role I was aware of until I ended up occupying it. I would be comfortable to occupy it again.

I am relatively unusual amongst expert witnesses in being willing to accept SJE instructions, which can be problematic. I can see why some experts might be concerned about the great care needed in communications when accepting instructions from two parties who may disagree with each other at the level of disputing the interpretation of the court's instructions they wish you to take! 

Friday, 16 October 2015

Single Joint Expert Witness : Cross Examination

I have now confirmed that I will be making an appearance in court as a Single Joint Expert in the case of a commercial dispute between parties designing and constructing an industrial effluent treatment plant in a couple of weeks.

I was only in court challenging another SJE's report to do with water issues a few weeks ago. As 98% of cases which expert witnesses are involved in do not proceed to court, this is quite an unusual position for an expert witness to be in, even those experts I come across occasionally who are now so far away in time from practising their profession that they are now experts in being an expert witness, rather than in their original professional field.

It's good to get my money's worth out of the training courses I attended on conducting meetings of experts and preparing for cross examination.

I'm considering attending a new course on preparation of expert reports in light of some recent guidance from the courts, as well as still more recent comments from the bar.

Sunday, 11 October 2015

Busy Again

I have lots of work on. There is a potential court appearance as a single joint expert witness in the case of a commercial dispute to do with an effluent treatment plant towards the end of the month.

We will possibly be giving a training course in Malaysia next month, and I have a report on pollution from antibiotic manufacture in Asia to finish off before then.

I'm also writing an encyclopaedia entry on Plant Design for ULLMANN'S Encyclopedia of Industrial Chemistry, then it's back to working on the Plant Layout book.

Just as well I'm not working the the university any more, it's hard to see how I would fit it it.

Monday, 5 October 2015

Mr. Moran, that’s who I am…

It's my last day at Nottingham University today. I'm going back to working full-time as an engineering consultant through Expertise Limited, back to being called "Sean", rather than "Professor".

It was an interesting four years at Nottingham, and I learned a lot about teaching, which has improved my training courses.

I even learned some things about engineering. It was an opportunity to look at what I knew and how I knew it, so that I could teach it.

I wrote a book about that, and I'm presently working on my second one, on Plant Layout, as well as an entry in Ullmanns Encyclopaedia.

I also have a few articles in press in various Chemical Engineering magazines in the UK and US.

I certainly seem to have picked up a lot more writing work during my time as an academic. It's interesting and enjoyable, if not always that well paid...

Wednesday, 9 September 2015

Expert Witness: Water Engineering: Standards of Professional Practice

The newsletter from Lynden Alexander, who trained me to write clear, concise and reliable expert evidence says:

"It seems that the judiciary is now becoming more vocal in demanding that experts develop and maintain high-standards of professional practice. 

In the High Court, Turner J, Harman v East Kent Hospitals NHS Trust, while addressing issues relating to the care and rehabilitation of a seriously injured child, made the following remarks about the care reports before the court: “…too many expert reports…, are simply too long, largely because they contain too much history and too much factual narrative… I want to send out a clear message: expert reports can in many cases be much shorter than hitherto, and they should be more focused on analysis and opinion than on history and narrative. In short, expert reports must be succinct, focused and analytical.” 

The criticism in the judgement focussed both on the written reports and on the Joint Statement produced by the experts in the case. In the post-Jackson Reforms environment, the conduct of expert witnesses and the quality of the services they provide will require a much higher standard of professionalism from expert witnesses."

I can see why the courts are concerned about these and other issues in view of the quality of most of the expert reports I see produced by other supposed experts in my field.

One of the factors contributing to lengthy reports is however the all too common situation in which expert witnesses who do not understand the need for impartiality want to have not just their own opinion, but their own version of the facts.

Sunday, 30 August 2015

Seen on the Wall of an EPC Contractor's office:

A sign commonly seen on the Wall of an EPC Contractor's office:

Architect- Some one who designs a combined monument to himself and tombstone for the contractor.

Architect's estimate - The cost of construction in heaven.

Contractor - A gambler who never gets to shuffle, cut, or deal.

Subcontractor- Someone who is expected to correct all mistakes made by others and to provide financing for contractors and owners.

Pre-Construction Conference - A meeting held by the client, contractor, and subcontractors while they are still on speaking terms.

Bid - A wild guess carried out to two decimal points.

Bid opening - A poker game in which the losing hand wins.

Completion date - A predetermined period during which, under ideal conditions, about 70% of the project can be completed, and the point at which liquidated damages begin.

Critical path method - A management technique for losing your shirt under perfect control.

Liquidated damages - A penalty for failing to achieve the impossible.

Low bidder - A contractor who is wondering what he left out of his bid.

Profit -A small amount of money remaining after the completion of a project, sometimes large enough to pay taxes.

Project manager - The conductor of an orchestra in which every musician is in a different union.

Quantity Surveyor - People who go in after the battle is lost and bayonet the wounded.

Lawyer - People who go in after the quantity surveyors and strip the bodies.

Of course, I don't feel like that about lawyers, I'm an expert witness, not an EPC contractor nowadays.

Friday, 21 August 2015

The August Lull

Nothing much to do for the remainder of the month on the real engineering front, everyone seems to be on holiday.

We have offers under consideration for various overseas training courses, but August is a quiet time for business all around the world. 

Though I still have the work of publicising "An Applied Guide", and writing "Plant Layout", I'm ahead of schedule on both projects.

I'm planning on taking it easy for a few weeks.

Sunday, 5 July 2015

Sewage Treatment Package Plant Problems

I have written before about the many examples of failure of packaged sewage treatment plants I have been called on to troubleshoot. I have also had students carry out investigations based in scientific literature. The outline of one such investigation follows:

Failures in Packaged Plants result in homeowners or developers spending considerable sums for their repair, upgrade or change; these failures mostly result in an effluent that does not conform to the Environment Agency’s consents, though there can also be odour problems. I have investigated the causes of these failures and the practices, methods and policies which can be adopted to reduce or eradicate these problems.

A list of Package Plants have been approved by the Environment Agency which indicates they should achieve the consent levels to attain an effluent quality fit for disposal in the environment. Unfortunately, a significant minority of these plants fail to meet the Environment Agency’s consents. In some instances minor repairs are required, but in other cases the plant installed is later found to be unsuitable and a replacement is required.

Homeowners are most often the ones who incur additional unnecessary expense for a plant that should be functioning and in some instances they may have the additional expense of paying fines. Are the owners at fault for poor maintenance or is their limited or lack of knowledge about Package Plants the root cause to these problems? Is the retailer’s team poorly skilled regarding design or installation? Can the Environmental Agency set more stringent rules to reduce package plant problems? Are there any other causes and what can be done?

In the United Kingdom centralized large-scale sewage treatment works service urban areas where the community is connected via mains. Outside these densely populated areas, decentralized non-mains treatment methods are used. These include cesspools, septic tanks, constructed wetlands, and package treatment plants.

Cesspools are watertight enclosures that store, but do no treat, domestic wastewater. They do not have an effluent discharge into the environment but require frequent emptying by approved companies using suction tankers.

Septic tanks, unlike cesspools, are primary treatment tanks that offer some degree of wastewater treatment with anaerobic bacterial action in a closed sedimentation tank. The treatment however is limited and as such the effluent discharged requires further treatment in a drainage field. Even with the addition of the drainage field, the effluent treatment is not satisfactory if a watercourse is in the vicinity. Other limitations include the availability of enough land to accommodate a drainage field, and additionally the characteristics of the soil should be sufficiently permeable to allow proper filtration and prevent clogging, while the water table should be sufficiently deep to prevent its contamination.

Constructed wetlands are a natural means of treating settled wastewater or septic tank effluent which is introduced to reed beds either via vertical or horizontal flow. It is an alternative to conventional secondary treatment. Such systems are area-extensive, needing sufficient space to support reed beds that will adequately treat the wastewater.

A Packaged Plant is an improved option for wastewater management in rural areas compared to cesspools, septic tanks, and constructed wetlands as it offers a high effluent quality with use of limited land area although most packaged plants require electricity to function. The various types of wastewater treatment packages vary in their capabilities to discharge directly into a watercourse, whether it is necessary to obtain consent for effluent disposal into controlled waters from the regulatory agency, the frequency of desludging, proximity to dwelling and wells or boreholes, and the need for a power supply.

Package plants are prefabricated units, which may in some cases be installed and ready for commissioning within a day. It is the preferred option by the regulating agencies in the UK, especially where conditions are unfavourable, requiring high effluent quality, and in some cases where restrictions are applicable it is the only option. Package treatment plants can produce effluent qualities of either secondary or tertiary quality depending on the type of plant, which may use mechanical/biological processes as well as chemical precipitation.

The types of Package Plants include rotating biological contactors (RBCs), sequencing batch reactors (SBRs), biological aerated filters (BAFs), submerged aerated filters (SAFs) and membrane bioreactors (MBR’s).

MBR’s produce very high removal efficiencies of tertiary quality. However, the elevated cost of the system as well as high maintenance costs limits its use since it is mostly uneconomical . For these reasons it is not one of the package plants recommended by the Environmental Agency and is not part of this study.

RBC package plants use aerobic action to treat wastewater. They consist of rotating plastic medium, which has about 40% of its depth submerged in wastewater and the other 60% exposed to the air. As the medium rotates it alternatively makes contact with the wastewater and the air, which supply organic pollutants and nutrients from the former, and oxygen from the latter, both of which are needed for the growth of the biomass on the medium. The wastewater becomes treated through the processes of biological oxidation and biological flocculation.

The BAF or SAF package plants provide secondary wastewater treatment using a full-scale treatment process contained in one unit. Wastewater directly enters the system from the dwelling into a primary settlement tank. The settled wastewater progresses to the submerged plastic medium aeration basin used for biomass growth. Air is supplied at the bottom of the basin to supply oxygen to the biomass. The secondary treated effluent from the aeration basin continues to a secondary settlement chamber to allow sludge to settle and the final effluent to be discharged.

In the UK, British Water is the trade organization which represents the stakeholders of the water industry, including government, regulating bodies, institutions, consumers and the media. One of this organization’s responsibilities is to disseminate the codes of practise to be adopted for small wastewater treatment plants including package plants.

These guidelines, if followed should avoid failures in package plants. The codes of practise therefore play a key role in defining, identifying, and solving failures of package treatment plants.

The codes of practise include:

“Code of Practice - Flows & Loads 4 - Sizing Criteria, Treatment Capacity for Small Wastewater Treatment Systems” 

This guideline focuses on the design and sizing of a package plant. It provides the sewerage loadings and daily flow rates, the nature and source of the sewerage to be treated for various types of dwellings. This information allows the contractor to select the correct sizing of the plant (Water, 2009)

“Code of Practice - Guide to the Installation of Small Wastewater Treatment Systems” 

This code of practise, useful to both the contractor and the owner, serves as a checklist to outline the installation requirements and the stages necessary to install package plants.

“Code of Practice – Guide to the Desludging of Small Wastewater Treatment Systems” 

These guidelines enable the owner to understand how package plants work, why sludge is formed and the importance of sludge removal.

“Code of Practice – A Guide for Users of Small Wastewater Treatment Systems” 

This code of practise will educate owners and users about how package plants operate and the conditions the plants must meet to satisfy regulators consents (Water).

“Code of Practice – Maintenance and servicing of Small Wastewater Treatment Systems (Package Plants) up to 50 Population Equivalents (PE) and Larger Systems up to 1000” 

In these guidelines the practices to be adopted for maintaining and servicing the Package Plants are listed. As previously seen, British Water provides guidelines throughout the lifecycle of the package plants, from their design to their operation and maintenance.

Dee and Sivil identified potential problems in package plants which include the following:
  • poor design due to insufficient plant capacity to support organic and nitrogen loads or the wastewater flow. 
  • Fluctuations of wastewater resulting in hydraulic shock loads 
  • A wide and sudden variance in wastewater temperature affects the oxidation of ammonia, particularly with drops in temperature. 
  • Build-up of grease and fat in the plant 
  • Build up of solids in pump wells
  • A very high volume of commercial wastewater which may be highly toxic and produce a final effluent which does not meet the Environmental Agency’s consents.

Friday, 19 June 2015

Process Plant Design: Layout and the Role of the Process Engineer

Work on Mecklenburgh's Process Plant Layout 2nd Ed continues, and the picture of how the process of process plant layout works nowadays is firming up.

I have interviewed almost thirty people with extensive experience of process plant layout, and it is very clear that there are three or four approaches led by three or four different disciplines.

Different sectors place different disciplines in leading and supporting roles. Pharmaceutical plant layout is for example often led by process architects nowadays, but the oil and gas sector places piping engineers at the centre of the design process. Other sectors make no use of process architects or piping engineers at all.

The common factor in everyone's approach is the role of the process engineer. Very few people try to lay out a process plant without continuing input from a process engineer.

I'd have said "No-one tries to..." if I hadn't done an expert witness job recently overseas for someone who tried to dispense with the process engineer in the design process. It didn't go well for them.

None of the three or four disciplines usually involved are aligned with what passes for research into plant layout in academia, and no-one in academia (other than me) is teaching plant layout to process engineers nowadays.

Plant layout is the most obvious casualty of the disconnect between academia and practice in Chemical Engineering. Perhaps an up to date textbook might help to bring it back.

Saturday, 13 June 2015

Process Plant Design Training

I am presently planning a couple of training courses in the autumn. As well as the well-established industrial effluent treatment course, we are planning a new course based on my book on process plant design.

The venue for the new course is likely to be Dubai, a place I haven't been for a few years. It'll be interesting to see how it has changed since the boom years. The last time I was there, the pace of building was such that it  had the majority of the world's tower cranes.

Saturday, 6 June 2015

Single Joint Expert Witness: Commercial Dispute

I have just started an engagement as a Single Joint Expert in a commercial dispute. As with all expert witness work, my duty is to the court, rather than those paying me:

"The SJE’s duty is to help the court on matters within their expertise and this overrides any obligation to the person from whom the expert has received instructions or by whom he is paid. SJEs should maintain independence, impartiality and transparency at all times."

It is interesting stuff, but as ever, strictly confidential. I act as an expert witness in the field of chemical, environmental and water engineering, based in my twenty four years of experience as a chartered engineer designing, operating and troubleshooting water and effluent treatment plants.

I provide expert witness services, advice and support to legal practices with respect to water and sewage treatment issues, including the production of reports compliant with Part 35 of civil procedure rules.

I have been accepted by the UK courts as an expert in all aspects of water and waste-water treatment.

I have been trained in report writing, cross-examination, and conducting meetings with other experts by prosols. Examples of Expert Witness work I have undertaken include:

Single Joint Expert Report in resolution of a dispute about the cause of problems with an effluent treatment plant at a plating works (Production of Part 35 Compliant Report)

Expert Report in resolution of a dispute about the cause of problems with an effluent treatment plant at a hospital in Bermuda (Production of Part 35 Compliant Report, Technical Solution)

Expert Witness to a UK Government Agency in a confidential case to do with sewage sludge (Production of Part 35 Reports, Meeting of Experts, Preparation for Court Appearance).

Expert Witness for the defence in the case of a prosecution under the Water Industry Act (Production of Report, Court Appearance)

Expert Witness for major food manufacturer in support of opposition to proposed development by sewerage undertaker (Production of Report, Planning Committee Appearance, Meeting of Experts)

Expert Witness in the case of a dispute between a business neighbouring a sewage treatment works responsible for odour, noise and fly nuisances and the water plc (Production of Part 35 Report, Meeting of Experts)

Expert Witness in the case of a contractual dispute over suitability / viability of a package sewage treatment plant and reed bed, and their quality of installation in an application with high levels of fats, oils and greases (Production of Part 35 Report)

Expert Report in support of a contractual dispute over suitability of design and installation of a packaged effluent treatment plant and grease trap at an Indian restaurant with high levels of fats, oils and greases in effluent.(Production of Report, Technical Solution)

Expert Report in support of a planning objection on the grounds of insufficiency of design of a proposed packaged effluent treatment plant (Production of Report, Meeting of Experts)

Expert Report in support of a claim under NHBC warranty of a housing development on the grounds of unsuitability of design and construction of a proposed packaged effluent treatment plant (Production of Report, Technical Solution)

Expert Report in support of a claim under NHBC warranty of a group of houses on the grounds of unsuitability of design of a proposed packaged effluent treatment plant (Production of Report, Technical Solution)

Expert Report in support of a claim under NHBC warranty of a house on the grounds of undersizing of a proposed packaged effluent treatment plant (Production of Report, Technical Solution)

Expert Report in support of defence against legal action on the grounds of odour nuisance from a packaged effluent treatment plant installed at a hotel (Production of Report, Technical Solution)

As a senior academic as well as a highly experienced practitioner, I can offer a unique insight into problems with both theoretical rigour and practical know-how. I am unusually skilled in getting to the root cause of problems, and explaining my findings to a lay audience both in writing and in person.

Friday, 15 May 2015

"Getting" Process Engineering

I have just marked the final courseworks in a two-year programme of learning process design. It is the sixth or seventh complete process design I have students do, depending on whether they are doing the two-year undergraduate or one year crash MSc versions of the course.

As far as I know, these are the best process plant designers anyone is producing in HE, and this is the most intensive, most realistic course in plant design anywhere, but even after all of the teaching and all of the practice, a significant minority of them don't really "get it".

Some of this work reminds me of when I attended music classes at school. I attended all of the classes, did all of the homework, and then at the end of the course, the teacher asked us to compose a piece of music.

There hadn't been any lessons on composing music. I had no idea where to start. I ended up stringing almost random bits of the bits of music he had given us to look at together. It had the right kinds of clefs, and so on, but it wasn't music. I didn't know what music was. Still don't, which I why I used to play the drums when I knocked about with musicians, just like the old joke.

The work in question has evidence of hard work, and often all of the elements I have showed students, including things from the work of the best students I have used as exemplars. The hard work and large size of the submissions just makes clear that they don't understand what they have been shown.

I am always on the lookout for what we educators call threshold concepts, and when I spot one, I make sure to find ways to get the majority of students over the hurdle, but some of these submissions seem to show a more radical inability.The threshold concept in some cases seems to be "Engineering" - they just don't get engineering.

Of course, modern chemical engineering courses often fail to get students to understand anything other than how to pass the exam. Exams in fluid mechanics often set questions requiring you to derive Bernoulli's equation from first principles, but do not require you to really get what pressure is.

When I ask students to design something in which initial system pressure is provided by a head of fluid under gravity, and a variable flow of water passes downhill through various sizes of pipes and fittings to sand filters whose head increases over time and proportional to flowrate, then discharges to a closed vessel under pressure, they are lost. They don't know that water flows downhill, or why.

When you multiply this effect by all of the strands which go into process design, it is a miracle that any of them get it at all. But mostly they do, though it is very hard indeed for all but the 5% of natural engineers.

This is why we chemical engineers get the big bucks. All of my students have three As at A-level, and they work very hard, but not everyone can get it. Guess they'll have to be managers:

A man in a hot air balloon realised he was lost. He reduced altitude and spotted a man below. He descended a bit more and shouted, "Excuse me can you help me? I promised a friend I would meet him half an hour ago, but I don't know where I am."

The man below replied, "you are in a hot air balloon hovering approximately 30 feet about the ground. You are at approximately 53° north latitude, and at 1° in 13 minutes west longitude from the Greenwich meridian."

"You must be an engineer," said the balloonist." I am," replied the man "but how did you know?"

"Well," answered the balloonist, "everything you tell me is technically correct, but I have no idea what to make of your information, and the fact is I am still lost."

The man below responded, "you must be a manager." "I am," replied the balloonist, "how did you know?"

" Well," said the man, "you don't know where you are or where you are going. you made a promise which you have no idea how to keep, and you expect me to solve your problem. The fact is you are exactly in the same position you were in before we met, but now, somehow, it's my fault."

Sunday, 26 April 2015

Totally Total Process Plant Design

I was reading a PhD thesis by one of Mecklenburgh's students (on a computer program to lay out plant) as part of my research for updating Mecklenburgh's Process Plant Layout earlier in the week.

The student starts his explanation by splitting process plant design into process design and plant design, and I was reminded again of Pugh's Total Design.

It is hard to use the word "holistic" without feeling a little bit like an alternative medicine salesman, who also tend to describe science as "reductionist". Unfortunately, the primary criticisms I would make of how process plant design is taught require the use of these concepts, but we should bear in mind that there is no alternative engineering.

So we might split process plant design into process design and plant design. We might split these further and further until we have produced versions of process and plant design which are mathematical problems. Even when we do this, the final problems are very complex indeed, even as straight maths problems.

To take the example of getting computers to lay out process equipment in space, these has essentially been no progress since the 1980s. That PhD thesis claimed to describe a fully functional computer programme for plant layout in the 1990s, but the most recent reviews of the literature make clear that no-one has come up with an algorithm as good as a professional engineer even to the simplified problem they are trying to solve.

This intractable problem is not how to best lay out plant at all. It is how to allocate the arrangement in planar space of objects with simplified characteristics in order to minimize the cost of materials transport between them.

Safety, operability, process robustness, and most cost considerations are removed in order to simplify to the point where engineering has become maths. The space in which this exercise happens is perfectly flat, and adding a second floor seems to make the intractable impossible.

Whilst this has kept academics who think they are working on layout issues busy for thirty years or so, it has not been of the slightest use to professional engineers as far as I know. There were few takers for that PhD students program, despite his claims of utility.

Alternatively we might consider what has happened to process design over the same period. Academics now think that process design is done in simulation programs and optimised with pinch analysis for maximum energy recovery, ignoring cost, safety and robustness entirely.

So the stage that we are at now is that academics think that they have solved "process plant design" by splitting it in two, and then removing all of the uncertainties, ambiguities, and complexities from these two aspects.

Unfortunately the bits they removed were the important ones, and the problems they have solved were not problems at all. Optimising for any single variable whether that be approximated materials transport cost or maximum energy recovery is not smart, it is stupid. It wasn't even smart to try this, computers can only solve stupid problems.

We may nominally split the intrinsically holistic process plant design into parts, either for convenience when teaching, or for the practicalities of task allocation in professional life.

There is nothing wrong with this, but if we mistake these artificial divisions for real ones, we will be terrible process plant designers. If we do not teach students that these are artificial boundaries, they will not understand that process engineering always crosses them at every scale of consideration.

Process and hydraulic design, unit operation design and selection, plant layout, process control, instrumentation, costing, hazard analysis are all considered together and balanced against each other by professional process plant designers. They never optimize for less than three variable simultaneously. Those variables are broadly cost, safety and robustness, but these are themselves complex.

Humans however evolved to see and manage patterns in complexity. We don't need to dumb design down to the point where a computer can grind out an answer. We can intuit an answer and then apply maths and science to testing its plausibility.

Engineering is a creative, intuitive, imaginative activity. Maths and science are just two of its many tools. Computer programs are at best not quite as smart  as the people who wrote them, and long before the point where they are smart as people, become too complex for people to really understand.

The oversimplifed modelling based approach to chemical engineering espoused by many academics is a dead end, missing the point of the exercise entirely.

Sunday, 19 April 2015

Expert Witness: You Pay Peanuts, You Get Monkeys

Cartoon: the judge didn't disqualify the expert..... 

We have had a bit of a rash recently of "expert witness" enquiries which sound promising at first, and them we find out that the enquirer wants me to basically sign off someone else's plant design for £1,500.

The enquirer has usually sent this out to eight other people, none of whom has an engineering degree. We never win at this kind of thing, so we decline to quote nowadays. Chemical Engineers are expensive, and monkeys are cheap. We can't hope to compete on price if quality isn't considered.

The reason I am being asked to sign off the design is often because the original "designer" doesn't have a relevant engineering degree, and some regulatory body or insurer is feeling a little nervous.
Speaking of feeling a little nervous, it often turns out that the plant in question has actually been built, and doesn't work.

Only a fool would guarantee the validity of a design which has been built, and has failed to meet performance specification, but you will find people willing to do exactly that. You will find people who say they are willing to go to court and swear to that.

In fairness to lawyers, it can be confusing that the people in question seem to have some kind of qualification, some kind of PI insurance, and some kind of experience. It can also be confusing that engineers work to a different standard of proof than that used in court.

Let's take the last of these first. Many prospective clients, both for expert witness and troubleshooting assignments apply the kind of logic to the issue of whether a plant works or not which is applied to everyday life. When I ask if the plant works, they tell me it mostly works, or most of it works, or it works except for those few occasions when it doesn't. Alternatively they tell me they never tested it, so they assume it does.

This is however not what an engineer means when he asks if something works. What he means is has it been proven to meet the specification. This usually means has it been shown to produce the specified product 24/7, without fail.

If you haven't tested it enough to offer a statistically significant answer, the correct answer to the question "does it work" is "I don't know " if you haven't tested, (or if you have tested and every sample passed, but you didn't have a proper sampling protocol), or "No" if you tested, and a single sample failed.

If you have tested at random intervals and enough times to obtain a statistically significant answer (based on analysis by a NAMAS or similar accredited lab), the correct answer to the question "does it work" is "Possibly/Probably" if every sample passed, depending on strength of statistical significance. (Which probably in my view matches the UK court standard of proof for a yes)), "No" if a single sample failed. (The picture is slightly more complex if there is an allowable percentage of failures as with water PLCs).

Whatever the basis of the specification, every single client I have ever had an enquiry from is actually in a "No" situation, though the majority are to some extent "in denial" about this. What some of these clients want is someone who looks good on paper to write a short letter offering a justification for the client's misguided view. As such a letter is worthless, £1,500 is a pretty good price for it, as long as you have no professional ethics, professional indemnity insurance, or professional reputation to consider.

Taking these in turn - I am a Chartered Engineer, and a Fellow of the Institution of Chemical Engineers, a "Chemical Engineer of Distinction" as is says in the IChemE's description of the grade. I adhere to the IChemE's code of conduct and professional ethics.

In the UK, anyone can call themselves an engineer. British Water run a two-day course which allows people with no other qualifications or experience to officially describe themselves a "Qualified Service Engineer". I know that some of those invited to bid for the kind of work described here have this as their sole "engineering qualification".

There is nothing wrong with the qualification when used as intended to control the quality of those who maintain basic domestic package plants, but getting FIChemE required four years at university, and twenty years of post graduate experience designing and troubleshooting full scale plants.

I could buy general "Environmental Consultant" PI insurance with a nominal claim value of millions of pounds for less than £100 per year from companies on the internet I have never heard of. Instead I buy policies with a maximum claim value of a few hundred of thousands which cost me thirty times as much (as we continue to cover all previous possible liabilities, as well as all potential future ones) with companies which are still likely to be in business at the point where potential claims might arise.

The thing which really costs me money is the historical cover, and insurance against the possibility of pollution incidents arising as a result of my advice (a thing which has incidentally never happened). To compare like with like, I would advise lawyers to check for these provisions. Not having them keeps costs down.

As I have a professional reputation to consider, I cannot afford to play the numbers game that the monkeys do, assuming that as 98% of cases never actually involve expert testimony, they will not be humiliated in court by a barrister supported by a real expert. They can afford to write partisan reports which would be laughed out of court, and take a small chance of a public dressing down from a judge. They can also take a chance that someone will attempt to claim on their mickey-mouse internet PI policy.

I am very interested in real expert witness work, being asked to do the proper work of an expert witness, offering impartial and genuinely expert advice to the court. I understand the difference between fact and opinion, and consensus and fringe professional opinion. I understand the various standards of proof of the Courts of England and Wales.

I understand all of this because I have spent more time and money on courses in how to be an expert witness that the monkeys have spent on their "engineering qualifications" and PI insurance combined. I have taken courses in Part 35 compliant report writing, conducting meeting of experts, and appearing in court. I have also successfully practiced all of these things.

You can find someone to agree with your favoured interpretation for pennies, but when the wheels fall off your case in court, and you find that their PI insurance is as worthless as their engineering qualifications, you might wish you spent a little more and got expert advice from a real engineer.

Friday, 17 April 2015

What's New in Chemical Engineering?

I have finished my first couple of passes at Mecklenburgh's Process Plant Layout, and I have had to be strict with myself with respect to my inclination to leave in original text and offer comment on it in certain areas where there has been extensive change over the last thirty years, and others where there has been none. People will however not be buying the book for a history lesson, they just want to know how to lay plant out, so I will get this off my chest here.

I noted in my last post how much more significant HSE legislation had been as a driver of change in professional design practice that advances in computing, but now that I have the whole book straight in my head, I can see a bigger picture.

The most notable thing is the lack of change. Mecklenburgh was a bit of a futurist, and I have had to cut out a lot of his speculation about how things were going to change, mostly because his expected changes have not taken place. I still however commonly hear my academic colleagues telling me that these very same changes are just on the horizon, as they were in 1985.

Mecklenburgh's focus on plant layout seems to have been instrumental in him not imagining the largest change which did happen, which might be thought catastrophic from his point of view. He taught an entire module on Plant Layout at Nottingham, and this was common practice for years afterwards. I am not however aware of any UK university which now teaches a plant layout module. Research into and teaching of Plant Layout has not just changed over the last thirty years. It has more or less entirely disappeared, even though it is just as essential to practising engineers as ever.

Technology other that microelectronics has changed relatively little. Vacuum drum filters with filter aid don't see a lot of new installations nowadays, and the membrane filters which he does not mention at all are a lot more common, but almost all of the kit in the book is still the bread and butter of process plant design. We still design and lay it out in the same way.

It is amazing to me that the desktop computers of Mecklenburgh's time which must have had 6 Bit Intel 80286 processors could do all of the things which the latest 64 Bit 80663 processor can. The modern chip is just faster and has a larger memory - it's no smarter. None of the things which Mecklenburgh forecast computers would be able to do in future in the field of layout have happened, and the things they can do are are constrained by data entry requirements as ever.

Microelectronics have however done two things which Mecklenburgh did not see coming- broadly networking and PLC control, and the implications of these things.

There is no mention in the book of a software engineering discipline in 1985. Starters and controllers were field mounted, and the instrumentation and electrical "departments" were responsible for designing and programming control loops. Control panels were dumb monitoring stations.

A number of things have changed in the professional world since then (though many of these are not reflected in academic syllabuses) Motor control centres now contain smart starters and instruments, each having far more computing power than Mecklenburgh's desktop 286 PC, or even his room-filling "mainframe". These smart starters are controlled by even smarter industrial computers called PLCs.

There are very few design offices in client companies any more, for the reasons I will cover in the next section, let alone sub-departments with process, electrical and instrument design capability.

Far more profound has been the impact of networking in general, and the internet in particular. The most immediate impact has been that we can have a design office in India if we like, which we can contact as readily as one on the other side of the site, and pay staff Indian wages. Drawings can be sent back and forth, shared in multiple copies, edited and marked up in electronic format.

The second order effect of this networking has been a reduction of the cost of entering markets  which has meant that the only monolithic vertically and horizontally integrated companies nowadays are those trading in network goods. Ford doesn't make its own steel any more, and BP does not design its own plants, but Google and Facebook are huge. There are no departments any more, as there were in Mecklenburgh's day. Engineering companies specialize in their core business nowadays.

So structural changes in where engineering happens which originate in technology away from the discipline itself have been far more significant to professional design practice than any new technology within the discipline.

Though they love to try, academics are generally terrible at forecasting the future, as they are specialists. They can be relied upon to forecast that their narrow specialism will become the basis of the future of the discipline, if not the whole of human society. They never seem to imagine that their specialism will become irrelevant to practice or extinct in academia.

Academia is a sideline for me, so I'm not going to forecast how things will change. I have however noticed that engineering has changed far less than expected, and where it has, in ways which were not envisaged in Mecklenburgh's book.

The changes which have happened were driven by wider social forces, and this is how it should be. Engineers serve society - we don't tell society what to want as much as we make its dreams come true.

Similarly, it is the job of an engineering education to teach students how engineering is done. Academics will need to get a lot better at forecasting the future before they are in a position to teach what engineering is to become. As it has changed so little for the last thirty years, (and for many decades before that) our first approximation must be that the practice of the future will be in essence very like today's.

What is particularly sad is that so many in Chemical Engineering education are still claiming that the near future will match the predictions of Mecklenburgh's time, with computers doing engineers' jobs rather than just helping.

It is also commonplace in academia to ignore the changes which have happened since then, (as they do when they pretend that there is still no such thing as a software engineer, so chemical engineers will need to write their own control algorithms).

Saturday, 11 April 2015

The Next Book: Mecklenburgh's Process Plant Layout Second Edition

My next book will be a update of Mecklenburgh's Process Plant Layout, and I'm more than halfway through my first pass at this now.

Even though the book was written by a committee, in a hard to read style, and based on 1970s technology, legislation and professional practice, 95% of it is basically solid.

Fixing the writing style was trivial, so on one level the book is more than 50% written before I even have my advance.The remaining 5% is however going to take up 95% of my effort. It's just like the plant design process-the first pass discloses the genuine problems.

It is surprising just how much more significant changes driven by health, safety and environmental legislation have been to professional practice over the last thirty years than the use of computers in general and computer modelling in particular.

Mecklenburgh's book was expecting exactly the same changes to professional practice as a result of computer modelling as people are now. He was claiming exactly the same functionality as offered by the latest modelling programmes was available back in 1985. (It just took a week to run the programme back then)

Modelling and simulation have however not transformed professional plant design practice as he expected. This idea appears to be just as much the future of the past as The Jetsons.

What has transformed practice since 1985 is legislation driven by society's wish for a safer, greener world. Turns out we didn't as a society want flying cars half as much as we wanted our kids to be safe.

Thursday, 19 March 2015

An Applied Guide to Process and Plant Design : Available 20th April

"An Applied Guide to Process and Plant Design" went to press last Friday, and will be available from 20th April. I'm quite excited, it's my first book.

As far as proper engineering is concerned, we are presently considering whether a troubleshooting trip to Bermuda will be required, and awaiting details to bid a design verification job on a Mediterranean island.

We are having an initial look at arranging training courses in KL and elsewhere for Summer 2015.

Thursday, 12 March 2015

Sorting Out Engineering

Kel Fidler has noticed many of the same problems with engineering and engineering education in the UK as I have, and has written an interesting document about it, which you can download from the link. It's worth a read.

I'm also quite enthused by what is going on at Olin in the US, which looks to be the US version of the CDIO initiative. I've ordered the book.

Friday, 6 March 2015

Design Review Enquiries

Having just completed a design review for a hospital effluent treatment plant, we now have enquiries for review of the design of a pharmaceutical effluent treatment system, a package domestic sewage treatment plant and a system in an agricultural setting.

We have also been invited to tender to supply water engineering services to CERN. There will be lots of tenders going out today.

My first book is in its final proofing stage, and my second (on plant layout) has been started.

Always a busy time of year...

Tuesday, 24 February 2015

Expert Witness: Package Sewage Treatment Plant Problems

I have sent out our latest expert witness report today, about problems with package effluent treatment plant supply.

The plant is a little larger and more complex than usual, and its location a little more exotic, but the same old problems are there.

Thursday, 29 January 2015

An Applied Guide to Process and Plant Design

An Applied Guide to Process and Plant Design Cover

So the book is finished, cover art selected, and it's coming out on 20th April. I'm three chapters into the next book, (an update of Mecklenburgh' Process Plant Layout)

We are planning out training timetable for the year, and I'm getting into a couple of troubleshooting /expert witness jobs.

Teaching started on Monday, so we're really busy at the moment...

Sunday, 11 January 2015

Hospital Effluent Treatment Plant Troubleshooting

Doha Qatar Arabian Gulf Water

I'm off to Doha in a week to deliver our "Effective Wastewater Treatment" course, and after that it's back to teaching three or four days a week.

I've just been engaged to troubleshoot problems with a new effluent treatment plant in an overseas hospital. It's in a lovely place, but I'm not sure I'll have time for a site visit in the first instance.

My first book is with the printers, and I'm making a start on my second this month, an updated and revised edition of Mecklenbergh's classic Process Plant Layout.