Friday, 16 December 2016

Winding Down

I've had an easy time in this last full week of work for 2016, catching up on all of those little jobs. Finished my paper on plant layout for the IET's "Engineering & Technology Reference" journal.

Did some publicity for my plant layout book, and arranged some teaching at Chester and Manchester, as well as a short overseas course early in the New Year.

I'm doing a couple of days next week, then it's the Xmas break. If I get bored, I can always do a bit on the new book.

I've got a few ongoing contracts (a mix of troubleshooting and expert witness work), so I'm sure it will all take off again in January. For now, I'm making the best of the lull.

Friday, 9 December 2016

Troubleshooting and Expert Witnessing: Small Sewage Treatment Plants

I've sent out two new reports this week, both on problems with small sewage treatment plants. One was to do with an odour issue, and one a performance issue.

It's good to keep current with practical engineering in the form of troubleshooting, and the design and pricing of needed modifications. As ever, some of them cost more than you would have expected before all factors are considered. Thankfully, they still cost less than the client's budget.

I've also been arranging an overseas trip for course delivery early in the New Year, and firming up plans for delivery of our IChemE approved course early in 2017.

Next week will be our last week of work this year. At least, that's the plan.....

Friday, 2 December 2016

Expert Witness Engineer Package Sewage Treatment Plant Odour Problems

I picked up a new expert witness job this week, to do with odour complaints associated with a package sewage treatment plant in a housing development. I have done a fair number of these as troubleshooting jobs in the past, but this is my first as an expert witness.

Odour is a tricky business. There is possibly nothing more subjective than odour, or more subject to variability between subjects, and there is no getting around the fact that sewage is smelly, even when fresh. There are also psychological effects which can make even very low level of odour seem intolerable. Robust sampling and measurement of odorous air is expensive and time consuming. What constitutes a nuisance is therefore hard to pin down.

I tend not to bother too much with the psychology. As an engineer, I am interested in whether there are any problems with the specification, design, installation, operation or maintenance of the plant which would be expected to produce abnormal types or levels of odour.

I have also been designing and pricing debottlenecking modifications to a commercial effluent treatment plant this week, and bidding for a couple of interesting overseas contracts.

My plant layout book is now available in the UK at least via Amazon and Elsevier sites.

Friday, 25 November 2016

Troubleshooting and Expert Witness Work Water and Effluent Treatment Plant Design

Last week's troubleshooting job continued this week, and I had a new troubleshooting enquiry which turned into expert witness work.

In other news, Process Plant Layout was published yesterday, a few weeks ahead of time. I will be giving presentations to promote the book in the New Year under the title "The Lost Art of Plant Layout".

I also had a new enquiry this week about a new venue for of university teaching which will give me a chance to develop material for my next book, "An Applied Guide to Water and Effluent Treatment Plant Design" 

Friday, 18 November 2016

Troubleshooting Commercial / Industrial Effluent Treatment Plant

I had a trip out to site this week to look at how a commercial client had got on with changes to the way they operate their effluent treatment plant after a previous troubleshooting visit. The suggested changes had brought the plant back into compliance, but only just.

It looks like a few extra bits of equipment will be needed to keep things comfortably in consent. I'm going to analyse the last year's worth of operational data to see how things have gone.  Once I have done that' I'll design the necessary plant modifications to enhance plant safety and operability.

Other than that, it's been a quiet week. I made a start on my third book, which the IChemE have now confirmed they want to be produced under their brand, like the first two. I got the PDF of the second book today, just as it will be printed. It's a quality item. Every chemical engineer should put it on their Christmas wish-list. 

Sunday, 13 November 2016

Chemical Engineering Practice, Teaching and Troubleshooting

I spent a lot of last week in universities: Newcastle for my IChemE assessor training, Aston for my final Missing Piece of Design presentation, and Chester teaching design to their first years.

I also spent a fair amount of time writing, proofreading articles for Chemical Engineering and Chemical Engineering Practice magazines on plant layout and pump sizing respectively. Elsevier confirmed that my new plant layout book will be out by 7th December at the latest. An ideal stocking- filler for chemical engineers everywhere...

In the coming week, I'm due back in the real world, starting a reasonably substantial troubleshooting exercise on an industrial effluent treatment plant.   

Friday, 4 November 2016

Process Plant Layout and Process Plant Design Expertise

My webinar on process plant layout earlier this week was really popular, with 1001 attendees. I'm awaiting the transcript of all of the questions I didn't get time to answer. Once I get that and the link to the recording, I'll post the answers up on here.

The very last bit of final proofreading should be complete today. The published version will be revision 13 by my count. It takes a lot of effort to get a book just how you want it, and pick up all of the little errors. It's a project I'm really proud of.

My expert witness jobs centring on problems with process plant design are with the lawyers at present, so for once I don't have a big deadline I'm working to. I just have an article for "Chemical Engineering Practice" magazine to finalise, and some marking of design drawings for Chester University to do today. 

I'm hoping to get a weekend. That'd be nice...

Saturday, 29 October 2016

Tuesday, 25 October 2016

Process Plant Layout and Design

Process Plant Layout Book Sean Moran

This is the last week of detailed proofreading on the Plant Layout book, which is already No 1 new release in its category ( Chemical Plant Design) on based on pre-orders.

I get it back for 48 hours just before publication in December, but that's only enough time for a glance at the style of the thing. I have been very hard in the past on poorly proofed books, but it's as much work to proof a book as it it to write it. I can see why people, (especially first time authors) get caught by surprise.

This is the dog end of a really busy month or so, with two expert witness jobs, nitpicking proofreading, and collection of data for a report on social mobility I'm heading up for the IChemE.

I'm not winding down for Xmas yet, but I hope to make some progress on the next book, presently stalled at 40,000 words of a planned 110,000.

Sunday, 9 October 2016

Arrogance Unlimited? What's In A Name?

I was having a heated debate with another professor this week, and having run out of rational arguments, he referred to me at one point as "the sole proprietor of Arrogance Unlimited". I thought this was pretty funny, but as I explained to him, there is a crucial difference between arrogance (which he thinks I have) and confidence (which I think I have). It is competence.

Back in 1999 when I first started this company, its name was already selected, it was just that of the top one in the pile at the company formation outfit I bought the shell from. My friend who has an MBA (and therefore knows about branding and such) told me that it was a terrible name, as people would understand it to mean "Limited Expertise".

There was also a point in the past where a poor quality phone line caused me to receive paperwork for "Extra Cheese Limited", which is not so far off the mark, as anyone who has been for a pizza with me will testify.

Getting the kind of work I do is however all to do with my name, rather than the company's. If you do a good job, people come back and they recommend you to others. "Extra Cheese Limited" has been in business for seventeen years now, and has a full order book. Call us what you like. 

Friday, 30 September 2016

There's No Place Like Home

I'm back in Wirksworth after a busy couple of weeks backwards and forwards between Chester University and various places in London.

I have managed to get a bit of real work done, but it's mostly been teaching and working on IChemE business. Even when I've been back in the office, there have been a lot of articles to get out, and the layout book to proofread one more time. After all of my criticism of other's poor proof-reading in past book reviews, I'm now finding out just how hard you have to work to eliminate errors, especially in a big book.

After a bit of time back in Chester, October is going to be proper engineering work, mostly investigations to do with expert witness engagements. It's presently not as crowded as September's schedule has been, but we are often at our busiest at year end, so we will see.

Saturday, 24 September 2016

Aaand relax...

I'm glad it's the weekend! The last week's two days in Chester, and two in London(fitting other work in between) make next week's one day in Chester and one in London seem easy. 

I have a couple of magazine articles to send out next week, and a second reading of the docs for an expert report I'm writing, but there's going to be a lot less time in the car and on the train.

The good news about all of that time on the train is that I made good progress on a closer reading of "The Making of an Expert Engineer". Well worth the time. Highly recommended.

Friday, 16 September 2016

Another Busy Week at Expertise Limited

It's been another busy week, with a couple of expert witness jobs running alongside each other, a day in London for the IChemE yesterday, and a hands-on troubleshooting job to do today. Next week is due to be even busier, with more IChemE work, and an advanced expert report writing training course to fit in alongside the engineering and expert witness investigations.

I'm getting lots of new enquiries, including one from Iran, where I haven't worked yet. (Love the food, and their air safety record is getting better all the time) Also firmed up on a visit to Pakistan next year.

Final proofreading of the plant layout book is more than 50% complete, I may even get it to press early. I've made a sound start on the new book, (An Applied Guide to Water and Effluent Treatment Plant Design) maybe 40,000 words of a rough first draft produced. My writing style involves polishing through multiple revisions, so I aim to get a rough draft knocked out very quickly.

I'd have had it done by now if there weren't so much paying work on. You might be under the impression that textbook writing was paying work, but I'm aiming to write five or so, and if I am moderately successful, the income from them will still be a side-line. You have to do it for love of writing and the subject, (and also in my case a chance to interact with fellow engineers)

Friday, 9 September 2016

Water Expert Witness : Expert Notes and Advisory Reports : Cheap and Cheerful?

There isn't always time to write a full Part 35 compliant report in time for the deadlines set by court or legal rules, and recently I have been asked quite a few times to write shorter, less formal advisory reports and notes to inform the judgement of counsel.

It is a way to get the most salient points which stand out from the evidence down in a readily digestible form, though one which is not as defended against cross-examination as the full formal report. It can be good value for instructing solicitors, and as long as well all understand that you get what you pay for, it can be a good place to start.

What you do not get from these kinds of notes and advisory reports is something you can submit to the court, and you also lose nuance. Nuance can be important, but if you case is a slam-dunk for either side, it's best to know that as soon as possible.

I had a new enquiry this week for a new expert witness case in the high court, but most of the new enquiries at the moment are for proper engineering, troubleshooting SAF plants and designing an aeration system, amongst other things.

There isn't that much new in sewage treatment, as I was telling some lawyers yesterday. The activated sludge process was developed over 100 years ago, by Lockett and Ardern in Davyhulme, Manchester (UK), and the first large scale trickling filter was installed in the US around the same time, (at least according to Americans) based on the development of designs by British engineers.

There may not be much novelty, but we are still working on fully understanding the technologies we have. Sewage treatment is very complicated. You might be wise to save money by reducing the scope of your instructions to an expert, but you should never compromise on the quality of your expert. There's no such thing as a cheap engineer!


Thursday, 1 September 2016

Busy: Booked Solid for September

I'm all booked up for September now. Two expert witness jobs, two troubleshooting jobs, three magazine articles to write, five days of university teaching, and I'm making a start on my third book whilst proof-reading the second. I've also got a couple of IChemE meetings in London, and an expert witness CPD course. I have had to ask for an extension on my PhD submission to fit it all in. 

The third book is called "An Applied Guide to Water and Effluent Treatment Plant Design", and it is going to be written in the informal style of the first one. Once the spike of work is out of the way, I'm looking forward to enjoying writing is as much as I did the first one.

I'm really proud of the book I'm presently proof-reading, "Plant Layout". The more formal style and sheer size (1000 pages +) of the book have meant that there has been far more QA, rewriting and revising than there has been free-flowing writing, but the finished product is gorgeous, if I do say so myself. I have high hopes for it.

Friday, 26 August 2016

Expert Witness: Plant Design: European Engineer

Demel Sachertorte

I spend the early part of the week in Austria, talking to a company and their lawyers about an expert witness job I am doing over there. Brought back a Sachertorte for Annemarie.

Later in the week, conducted interviews with the engineers involved in the design, construction and commissioning of the plant. All very interesting (and very secret). As ever I wish it were less secret, as there are always lessons to be learned from expert witness jobs on how not to do things.

I'm due to write an article for Chemical Engineering Magazine next year on lessons learned from some other jobs, (all anonymised though not covered by official NDAs) which will cover the most common mistakes which I see time and again.

I'm going to attend another training course on advanced expert witness report preparation in the next few weeks. You have to keep up to date with what the courts want from reports.

Unlike other experts I could name, I also keep current with respect to engineering. I have pulled in a couple of troubleshooting contracts recently, one new, and one repeat business. It's nice to get out of the office occasionally.

Friday, 19 August 2016

Effluent Treatment Plant Layout : Expert Witness : Water Process Engineer : Design Review

Process Plant Layout : Mecklenburgh : CoverProcess Plant Layout : Sean Moran : Cover
It's almost all about plant layout at the moment. Spent the last week (amongst other things) comparing a 3D CAD model with earlier 2D versions of the same design.

Proofs for the plant layout book are really starting to come in now. The publishers have done a nice job of scanning in the illustrations from the original Mecklenburgh book, and they are going to allow me full colour on all of my new ones. Should make for a good-looking book.

Compare the two covers above for an idea of how much better-looking it will be.

Monday, 15 August 2016

Plant Design and Layout Expert Witness Design Review

Springfield Nuclear Plant Problems

I was given a 3D model of a problematic plant design to review in Navisworks recently as part of an expert witness engagement. This is the second time this has happened in recent months, and I must admit, I still prefer good old-fashioned general arrangement and isometric drawings.

As I discuss in my latest book, the main advantage of 3D models is to allow those unfamiliar with 2D drawings and 2D CAD software to review a design. This advantage comes at the cost of disadvantage for those who are familiar with the 2D CAD drawings which will actually be used to build the plant.

My experience of 3D models is mostly limited to their application to designs bad enough to require viewing by an expert witness, so I may be a bit jaundiced, but my experience of them so far makes clear that they do not seem to prevent poor plant layout.

Friday, 5 August 2016

Expert Witness Reports: Checking Calculations

Water Hydraulic Design Spreadsheet

I've been checking a great many documents and calculations this week as part of ensuring quality and accuracy in my latest expert witness report.

This kind of checking is an important part of engineering practice, which many engineers, (especially beginners) do not see the value of, and consequently try to avoid. However, if you do enough checking of this type, you realise that the best of us make mistakes.

The point is not to avoid mistakes in calculations or arguments, but to eliminate them to the maximum extent possible by checking and correction before they are acted on.

I do not however find that a large percentage of my expert witness work hinges on poor mathematics. Even a green engineering graduate can do a sum. The problem is very often failing to choose the person who knows which sum to do to design something.

It seems that all too often, design is carried out by people who lack the proper professional judgement, and those who are supposed to be checking their work do not take enough care in checking before appending their signature.  

If that is you, try to remember that someone like me might be reading those documents you put in your outbox signed off but fundamentally unchecked twenty years later.     

Friday, 29 July 2016

Expert Report Writing: Sewage Treatment Plant Engineering

I've had my head down all week writing an expert witness report, trying to rank the possible causes of problems with tertiary treatment filters at a number of wastewater treatment works. It's going out shortly.

It's a complex issue, and becomes more complex still when you start to try and consider what went wrong, when it went wrong, and who made it go wrong.

Saturday, 23 July 2016

Process Plant Design : Teaching, Training and Teacher Training

Process Plant Design Pokemon

I have a few teaching related things going on at the moment. I was made a Visiting Professor last week by Chester University, with a view to my helping them with their design teaching next term.

I was also in Aston University this week training their staff in design teaching, as well as a couple of virtual guests who snuck in (see pic)

I'm firming up dates for three deliveries of my "Missing Piece of Design " event in London, Edinburgh and Cambridge next autumn, and I'm preparing a course on practical  process plant design for early career engineers based on my first two books to be delivered next January, probably near Manchester.

Back to doing engineering next week, rather than teaching it...

Friday, 15 July 2016

Process Plant Design, Process Plant Design Teaching and Training, and Process Plant Design Teaching Training

Today I'm preparing my materials for a training course I'm giving at Aston University next week, training their staff in teaching process plant design, based on the award-winning approach I developed at Nottingham University along with my colleagues there.

I'm also putting the final touches on an advisory expert witness report on issues with a process plant design in the German speaking world which I am submitting today, and continuing to work on a second advisory report on plant design problems closer to home.

I'm speaking to a long-time collaborator shortly about the development of a new training course based upon my first book which we are planning in giving in January next year.

Nice to be busy...

Friday, 8 July 2016

Wastewater Treatment Plant Problems: Using Science and Statistics to Resolve Competing Theories

I got a new microscope this week to assist with microbiological analysis of wastewater treatment plant problems. Those of you who are trained in microbiology / microscopy will know what the above picture I took with it yesterday shows. I invite the rest of you to guess. I got some interesting answers on my facebook page.

The other thing I have been doing this week (other than writing of course) is statistics, specifically the non-parametric statistics which need to be used when dealing with data which does not meet the tests required to allow the use of the statistics which most STEM types are familiar with.

I regularly see reports by people who should know better using standard (parametric) statistics where they are not valid. Clearly they do not understand that statistics are heuristics. The validity of "standard" statistical methods (like confidence intervals, or even arithmetical mean averages) are based on a number of things being assumed to be true.

Most notably, they assume a "normal distribution", and "continuous variables". So it really doesn't mean anything to say that people have 2.4 children, it isn't just a joke. 40% of a child is of no use to anyone.

This is explained in a discussion of how teacher's happy sheets are misused here, along with a joke:

Three statisticians go hunting. They spot a deer. The first statistician shoots; the shot passes a yard to the left of the deer. The second shoots; the shot passes a yard to the right of the deer. The third one yells, “we got it!” 

Anyway, I had a number of theories to consider this week, and for once I had plenty of data. Some of the data was however comprised of ordinal variables, which is why I had to use non-parametric statistics to investigate the strength and the significance of the correlation between potential cause and effect.

Even when I had tested for both of these (often confused) properties, I had not proved causation. This is again a thing which people who really should know better get confused about. I was however able to say something. Anyone I didn't lose on the way here knows what.

Thursday, 30 June 2016

Chemical Process Plant Layout


I uploaded my new book on process plant layout to the publisher's website yesterday. It's three times as big as my first one on process and plant design, and it was quite a job of project management to make sure it was complete, current and correct with respect to consensus professional design practice. It also required the assistance of hundreds of plant layout designers. I am grateful to everyone who helped make the book a reality.

The book is an update of Mecklenburgh's Process Plant Layout from the 80's, and the table of contents of the new version goes like this:

1              Introduction
2              Layout in context
3              Site layout principles
4              Plot layout principles
5              Planning of layout activities
6              Methods for layout, conception and development
7              Layout analogues and visual aids
8              Hazard assessment of plant layout
9              Transportation
10           Bulk Fluid storage
11           Bulk solids storage
12           Warehouse storage
13           Pollution Control
14           Utilities I : General
15           Utilities II : Water and Steam
16           Central services
17           Construction and layout
18           Details of plot layout
19           Layout within buildings
20           Tanks and Drums
21           Furnaces and fired equipment
22           Distillation columns and towers
23           Heat exchangers
24           Reactors
25           Mixers
26           Filters
27           Centrifuges
28           Solids handling plant
29           Dryers
30           Filling and packaging
PART IV: Detailed Layout: Materials Transfer Systems
31           Pumps
32           Compressors
33           Conveyors
34           Piping
PART V: Detailed Layout: Other
35           Pipe Stress Analysis
36           Instrumentation
A             CAD
B             Hazard assessment calculations
C             Typical data for preliminary layouts
D             Variants on the methodology
E              Masterplanning
F              Conversion factors for some common units
G             Consolidated Terminology / Glossary
H             Consolidated Standards and Codes of Practice

Managing the content of these thirty-six chapters and eight appendixes, such that all were in agreement and cross-referenced was a major task, as was updating and adding hundreds of illustrations, and seventy five case studies to illustrate the consequences of not following best practice.  

The book which was uploaded was my revision 9. My next book will not be such a logistical challenge, but I might be up for producing another tome like Process Plant Layout after that.

Friday, 24 June 2016

The Voice of Chemical Engineering

I love to write. As well as the technical and expert witness reports which are so much of my professional practice at this stage of my career, my second textbook is about to be submitted to the publishers, and I do a lot of blogging to keep the writing muscles limber. For anyone who has never read my "Voice of Chemical Engineering" blogs for Elsevier, you can see them here. There are also my posts on LinkedIn, as well of those on "Expertise Unlimited". I am also currently writing articles for "Chemical Engineering", "Chemical Engineering Practice", and "Engineering and Technology Reference" magazines, and a piece on Reactor Selection and Design for Ullmanns Encyclopaedia of Chemical Technology. I also have a research paper on my teaching practice at Nottingham to write up. Oh, and a PhD. Luckily I write quickly...

Friday, 17 June 2016

Water Engineering Expertise : Evaluation of Management of the Process of Water and Sewage Plant Design and Operation

Though both are covered by confidentiality agreements, all my current expert witness engagements are to do with my evaluation of management of the process of process plant design and operation. This is the most common area on which I offer expert evidence.

There are a number of ways in which process design can go wrong. The best way to ensure it goes wrong seems in my experience to decide to dispense with the process engineer completely - they are after all expensive(but not, it turns out, as expensive as deciding to do without therm)

The second best is to assume that anyone with a degree in engineering is an engineer. Green engineering grads are not engineers yet. They require close supervision by a proper engineer. They may be cheaper than proper engineers, but this often proves a false economy.

The third best is to be unsure of who is responsible for process design. This either shades into the first example, or comes down to bad paperwork.

The fourth is to fail to manage the design process. Active management and formal quality control is required to produce a good design.

The fifth is to fail to manage the construction and commissioning process. Active management and formal quality control is also required to build a good plant .

The sixth is to fail to manage operation and maintenance properly. Operators are human, and left to their own devices, do what is easiest. I see a lot of dusty O+M manuals on site visits, unopened since the day the plant was started up.

To really screw things up usually requires a combination of these approaches. Figuring out which were responsible for plant failure is a fascinating task.  

Friday, 10 June 2016

Process Plant Layout Engineering

Process Vessel Harburg Docks

I am putting the final polish on my Process Plant layout book, (now available for pre-order). My submission deadline is the end of the month, and though the book has been finished for some time, it is always possible to check and tweak and make a book just a little bit better.

Here's an image that didn't make it into this edition of a process vessel in Harburg, Germany. Sometimes blending in to the environment is not the way to go. This giant minion positively enhances an ugly industrial area by the docks.

Friday, 3 June 2016

Expert Witness Water Process Engineering: Data Analysis

Things are progressing with my latest expert witness report. I'm producing a Part 35 compliant report alongside analysing a mass of data about the operation of a tertiary sewage treatment plant.

Expert witness work of the kind I do often involves process troubleshooting. There can be no proper process troubleshooting without stats. I have never had to carry out a three way ANOVA with interactions or use Duncan's multiple range test professionally, but if you have tens of thousands of data points, plotting them on a scatter diagram isn't going to tell you much.

At a minimum you are going to need to use summary statistics to make some sense of the data. Using MS Excel to show you the mean, minimum, maximum, and the upper limits of the 95% confidence interval of your dataset is a good place to start. You might generate correlation coefficients for relationship between parameters.

In some posts here and elsewhere I have criticised the kind of mathematics taught on chemical engineering courses for being too "pure", and insufficiently relevant to modern practice. Some have interpreted this as me saying no maths should be taught, and refuting that quite different idea, what is known in philosophy as a "straw man" fallacy.

I find people who cannot find an valid argument to counter what I am saying frequently wish to discuss what I am almost implying, what they feel about what I am saying, or something I am not saying at all. So, in the interests of clarity, I am saying that maths is good, necessary and useful to the practising engineer. Laplace transforms may not be of much use, but stats are essential. It is a pity that university curricula view things the opposite way around.

I could teach my twelve year old to get Excel to produce summary statistics in fifteen minutes. What an expert offers is not the knowledge of how to do this, but an understanding of what the results mean and what they do not mean. It is commonplace even amongst supposed experts to misunderstand what we are 95% confident about within the 95% confidence interval, to never check whether the assumptions underlying the valid use of parametric statistics are true, and to be unaware of when and how to apply non-parametric statistics.

If you were to hire a statistician, they would hopefully understand all of the above better than I do. They would not however understand what the outputs mean because these are not just numbers. These are clues as to the state of a process. Chemical/ process engineers understand processes. Maths is just a tool to help them see more clearly, and inform their answer to the questions they are being asked. These questions usually add up to the same thing. "How well does this process work?"

The answer to this question is often "It doesn't", and then we sometimes get back to those discussion of what I am almost implying, what they feel about what I am saying, or something I am not saying at all. I'm pretty sure these arguments do not impress courts any more than they impress me.

Friday, 27 May 2016

Expert Witness In Water Process Engineering: Attention to Detail

I'm really getting stuck in to one of the expert witness jobs now, and I'm producing a quick initial draft report to inform the client of the engineering facts and consensus professional opinion around their positions.

Professional pride means that I pay a high degree of attention to detail in all of my work, but in professional engineering practice, there are multiple safeguards against error, based on an acceptance that the very best work has a few percent of errors. Expert witness work is an individual rather than a collective activity, so it does not have these safeguards, which means that you have to be your own QA department.

No expert would enjoy having errors in their arguments or calculations discovered in cross examination, and in the UK, expert witnesses are not immune from being sued by aggrieved ex-clients who feel they were led into an overly optimistic view of their prospects by an expert witness they had engaged.

The expert therefore needs to be very careful in what they say and write, even at the earliest stages of engagement. They should resist any urges they may experience to sell the client on using their services by being the most expert who is most optimistic about their chances in court in the beauty parade which larger law firms use often nowadays.

Similarly, the expert witness needs to be careful about their terms of engagement. Professional Indemnity Insurance does not necessarily cover every possible set of terms an expert might sign up for, and some law firms have a surprisingly bad track record of paying their expert witnesses on time.    

Friday, 20 May 2016

Expert Witness: Sewage and Effluent Treatment

I have got a couple of expert witness jobs on the books now, both with enough meat on the bones to take a while to get to the bottom of. Both involve effluent treatment, one municipal and the other industrial, and unusually, both might be expected to make it to court.

I have been trained in being cross-examined in court, and have some experience of it, but it is good to get an opportunity to get more. 98% of cases get settled before they make it to court, and it is therefore hard to get courtroom experience.

In other news, the plant layout book is nearly finished, and I have written a number of blogs on LinkedIn and for Elsevier which have provoked a debate about (amongst other things) the problems with engineering education which I have written about before.

Friday, 13 May 2016

Expert Witness and Author: Water Process Plant Design

Plant Layout

I'm talking to a couple of new Expert Witness clients today. If all goes well, I will be comfortably busy for the next eighteen months. Both interesting jobs, and one in a country I haven't visited before. Both also covered by NDAs, hence the vagueness.

My Plant Layout book is complete other than the illustrations, which shouldn't take more than a couple of weeks to sort out. I'm going to have a break from writing while I sort out the new expert witness engagements, so "An Applied Guide to Water and Effluent Treatment Plant Design" will probably not get started until December.

I'm expecting it to more or less write itself, as my first book did. It won't be the slog that the Plant Layout book was, due to being a conventional 1,000 page textbook written in a traditional style. It will be no more than half that size, and written in the chatty style of my first book.

Friday, 6 May 2016

Expert Witness Engagements Come in Threes

I'm in the running for three expert witness jobs at the moment, all to do with commercial disputes in the waste water treatment field.

Two are in the UK municipal sector, and the third is to do with oily industrial effluent in the German-speaking world.

None yet require the equivalent of a Part 35 expert report, and two of them are in any case outside England and Wales where the civil procedure rules apply.

All would be technically interesting even without the added interest of a dispute over the facts and their interpretation.

Hopefully, at least one of these will land next week. Like buses however, they tend to come along in pairs or larger multiples.

Luckily the plant layout book text is written and checked now, so I have a couple of months to make sure all of the illustrations in there are just how I want them.

Friday, 29 April 2016

Water Engineering Expert: Expert Witness Enquiries: An Applied Guide to Water and Effluent Treatment Plant Design

I have put a couple of new bids in recently for expert witness engagements, one of them local, and one in the German-speaking world. Expert witness engagements are always interesting, with their combination of technical, legal and financial matters which could not be resolved without calling in lawyers and independent experts, but the enquiries I have had recently have had some especially interesting aspects.

I also signed a contract this week to produce a third book provisionally titled "An Applied Guide to Water and Effluent Treatment Plant Design". I'll start writing it as soon as the second book (Plant Layout) is submitted. The first one is still selling well, and I am appearing at Chester University next week to share some of it with the students there, as well as my ideas about how chemical engineering education can be improved.

Friday, 22 April 2016

Expert Witness: Sewage Sludge Thickenng and Dewatering. "When you Say your Treatment Plant "Works", What do you Mean by "Works"?"

I was up on Scotland yesterday looking at a sewage sludge thickening and dewatering plant with a view to providing an expert advisory report to a contractor in dispute over whether the plant works. As is so often the case, many of the answers depend on what you mean by the word "works".

Anyone tasked with writing the specification of a performance trial needs to be very clear about the answer to the question "what do I mean by works?".

If we want something to be "25% X", do we mean "no less than 25%X", "25%(+/- 1%) X ", or "on average 25%X". If we mean average, which kind of average do we mean?

Do we want a statistically significant result? How significant does it have to be? What statistical test must we apply?

When we say 25%, we are implying that there are two significant figures. If there were three, it would be "25.0%". 24.5% is 25% to the implied two significant figures, so anything over 24.5 is arguably a pass.

Under what conditions is the trial to be conducted? Who is to operate it? What will be done in the reasonably common situation where the client cannot provide the plant with feedstock to the promised specification?

From a practical point of view, if the answers to these questions are not decided in advance, they are hostages to fortune. From a strictly scientific point of view, the lack of declarations on these issues prior to test commencement invalidates the test, for technical reasons to do with the theory of design of experiments.

I see a related situation commonly in other troubleshooting and expert witness situation where no performance trial was ever carried out. Plant may have never been capable of reliably meeting consent and therefore run in a non-compliant fashion for years.

I can have great difficulty in such situations to get clients to understand that discharge consents are absolute, and non-negotiable, and every failure is a breach of the law, as I have discussed previously. Sometimes it takes more than one prosecution by the EA to make them understand.

Friday, 15 April 2016

Expert Witness : Water Engineering: Scottish Law and the Status of the Expert Witness

I picked up a new expert witness instruction for a commercial dispute to do with sewage sludge handling in Scotland this week.

The Scottish courts seem less bothered about written reports with signed statements of truth than the English courts, (preferring oral evidence) but the main difference seems to be the uncertainty about the status of the expert.

I used to live in Scotland, so I knew that their law was different, but I was surprised to find that the status of the expert witness in Scottish courts is in continuing dispute. There has been a lot of commentary recently about the examination of the role of the expert witness in Scottish courts in the case of Kennedy vs Cordia.

In essence, the court had originally ruled on the basis of accepting expert evidence from a consulting engineer, a Mr. Lenford Greasly (many internet sources mis-spell his name Greasley).

On appeal, it was held that the expert's evidence in this case was not admissible, as it did not meet the specific criteria for evidence to be considered as ‘expert’ and was rather "nothing more than what a reasonably inquisitive and intelligent person might have discovered by, for example, looking material up on the internet.” In other words, the court considered there to be no such thing as an expert in Health and Safety at work.

The court wrote that “if the opinion of a witness is not based on the principles of some recognised branch of knowledge in which he has particular experience and expertise, it is useless ‘expert’ evidence and should be held inadmissible.” As the court’s initial decision was based on the expert's evidence, their conclusions were not considered to have been substantiated.

Recently this case went on appeal to the United Kingdom's Supreme Court, who reversed the decision of the Scottish appeal court, and found that the expert did in fact have relevant qualifications and experience, and was therefore properly treated as a "skilled witness" offering expert evidence.

The important factors in determining whether skilled (expert) witness evidence may be offered in Scottish courts are:  (1) whether the proposed skilled evidence will assist the court in its task; (2) whether the witness has the necessary knowledge and expertise; (3) whether the witness is impartial in their presentation and assessment of the evidence and (4) whether there is a reliable body of knowledge or experience to underpin their evidence.

Blogs and other public discussions amongst lawyers since this ruling mostly express the view that the status of expert witnesses in Scotland is now rather clearer than it was previously. Scottish courts still do not however have any equivalent of the English CPR Rules whose Part 35 sets out clearly the way an expert witness should serve the court.

Friday, 8 April 2016

Industrial Effluent Treatment Plant Problems: Why Employ a Process Engineer?

We put another troubleshooting report out this week on an underperforming industrial effluent treatment plant with a range of options for getting it to work properly.

We have looked at a number of plants recently where part of the problem is that some of the equipment is oversized, and some of it undersized. The essence of good process engineering is that the equipment is designed to work together across a range of flows and contaminant loadings.

I had a mismatched equipment situation like this last year caused by a decision by a large international civil engineering firm to do without a process designer. This unwise experiment had two severe effects of the effectiveness of the plant. As well as the mismatch in equipment sizes, a number of unproven technologies were selected, and the implications of their not working as advertised were not considered.

There was a secondary effect of the lack of a process engineer's input to the design: the layout was only just large enough  to accommodate the specified equipment, which created great difficulties in modifying the poor design.  

Why employ a process engineer? To get the right sized equipment, laid out properly to work reliably, cost effectively and safely. Doing without one in the past has proved a false economy for many of my clients.

Friday, 1 April 2016

Troubleshooting Submerged Aerated Filters : Deja Vu

I carried out a troubleshooting visit earlier this week at a food production facility. This is the second submerged aerated filter (SAF) effluent treatment plant I have looked at this year, and (like the first) it didn't seem a good match to its duty.

As I said last week, the first stage of troubleshooting is understanding any data available, and getting a feel for the margins of error attached to it. The data has to be supplemented with on-site testing, noting the appearance, odours, and residual evidence of past problems of the plant, and structured questioning of staff.

Once all of the data has been gathered and analysed, it is usually the case that there are a number of overlapping problems. It if frequently the case that the problems are worse than the client thought they were.

However, everything is possible in engineering. Problems can always be fixed, though this is not always as cheap or quick as clients might hope.

However, it is often the case that at the point where I troubleshoot a plant, several attempts have been made to apply cosmetic or superficial fixes. Though these may be individually cheap, they often add up over time into more than it would have cost to get to the bottom of the problem as soon as it manifested.

Friday, 25 March 2016

Industrial Effluent Treatment Plant Troubleshooting : Consent Breaches

We have a had quite a few enquiries recently from the owners of industrial effluent treatment plants which are failing to meet the Environment Agency's Consent to Discharge, and I'm going to site to look at one next week.

The Environment Agency tend to exercise discretion and work with the owners of inadequate effluent treatment plants, rather than applying the letter of the law, in a way which has in my past experience allowed confusion on the part of treatment plant owners.

Consents to discharge of treated trade effluent are absolute, which means that a single discharge of effluent above consented concentrations or flows is a criminal offence. If your industrial effluent treatment plant breaches consent once, you have broken the law. You should find out why it happened, and try to avoid it happening again.

I commonly see the situation in which breaches have become fairly commonplace. In everyday life, things not working occasionally might be OK, but occasional failures in an industrial effluent treatment point to a problem with the main process which the effluent plant serves, or a problem with the plant itself.

The design of industrial effluent treatment plant is intimately linked with reliability. As such a plant treats a highly variable flow of effluent with a wide variation in contaminants, its designer will have based its design on a number of scenarios, each with associated probabilities.

So, though discharge consents are absolute, plant design is probabilistic. Designing a plant to handle the 99% confidence interval conditions costs a great deal more than designing one to the 95% confidence interval conditions.

It is possible for plants which meet a minimum specification or standard (such as for example EN12566-3 2005 for domestic package plants) to have wildly varying capacities and performance, depending on the cautiousness of their designers.

Any failure to meet consent in industrial or domestic effluent treatment plants should be a wakeup call. More than one failure, and it's definitely time to call in an expert. By expert, I mean professional engineer. Too expensive? There's no such thing as a cheap engineer, as these case studies show.

Friday, 18 March 2016

Process Plant Layout and 3D CAD

I have finished the text of my book on process plant layout. One of the things I needed to get to the bottom of was which 3D CAD program was the best.

In essence, they are all best at something, though they are broadly similar in their abilities. A summary of comments from experts in the field suggests that the 3D CAD software most frequently used is generally as follows: 

Small/medium projects: Autodesk Plant 3D or Intergraph Cadworx

Medium/large projects: Aveva PDMS or E3D; Bentley OpenPlant and AutoPLANT; Autodesk Plant3D; Intergraph CADWorx

Large projects: Intergraph SmartPlant3D; Aveva PDMS and E3D; Cadmatic; TriCAD MS; 

Suitability also varies by industry sector and layout designer discipline, amongst other things. 

Friday, 11 March 2016

Process Design Training Courses

I've been talking to people this week about giving our new process plant design course based on my last book in Africa and elsewhere overseas, and getting it IChemE accredited.

The book has sold well, and has already beaten its sales targets by a large margin, so the publisher is happy.

My latest book on process plant layout is nearing completion, and I have put in a proposal to the publisher for the next one (on water and effluent treatment plant design).

I still have a couple of troubleshooting jobs on the books, and I got an enquiry this week for another one.

Pleasantly busy...  

Friday, 4 March 2016

Process Engineering Training Courses

Despite the lull in training contracts caused by the knock-on effects of the oil price crash, we are hoping to be delivering some training courses in the Gulf region next month, on more general process engineering subjects than usual.

As well as our long-standing "Chemical Engineering for Non Chemical Engineers" course, we are looking to deliver a new course based on my book " An Applied Guide to Process and Plant Design"

Friday, 19 February 2016

Water / Sewage Process Plant Design Engineering Training Course

I'm getting increasing numbers of enquiries from the big consultancies to help with the ramping up of design activity which always comes at this part of the procurement cycle in the water industry recently.

It is an interesting contrast to all of the other enquires I am getting from very experienced people with a background in the Oil and Gas industry who have lost their jobs and can't get new ones.

I'm considering offering a practical water and sewage treatment plant design course to allow the glut of redundant oil and gas staff to retrain to fill the demand for water process engineers.

Friday, 12 February 2016

Expert Water Process Engineer: Troubleshooting Reports

Feedback from clients on my two recent troubleshooting reports was good. At least one of them seems likely to be leading to follow-up work, and the other one may once they have dealt with the aftermath of the recent torrential rains.

I have some new training opportunities, may be in the Gulf region again soon, but things are tough in Oil and Gas at the moment.

Work on my Plant Layout book continues....

Friday, 5 February 2016

Troubleshooting Effluent Treatment : Getting the Facts Straight

I have just submitted my second troubleshooting report in two weeks. In both cases, much of the heavy lifting was getting to the bottom of the facts of the matter.

It is more often the case than not that once the facts are known, the problem is clearly visible, and the solution almost obvious. The engineer's key skill is asking the right questions, and putting the right weighting on the data available.

These are the same basic skills as the expert witness in such cases, though the aim of the expert witness is to stop at the point where the facts, as well as consensus and individual opinion on what they mean is known.

In troubleshooting, what the client want to know is if it can be fixed, and if so how. I have never had an expert witness case in which these were the court's questions.   

Friday, 29 January 2016

Troubleshooting Sewage Treatment Plant

Asellus Aquaticus

I have finished my confidential report today on problems with a sewage treatment plant I visited earlier this week. It was very satisfying to be able to see a reliable way forward, even though the available data was rather uncertain.

One unusual feature of the plant was the presence of large numbers of Asellus aquaticus, (an aquatic relative of the woodlouse, pictured) in the aeration tank.

I have another effluent treatment plant to troubleshoot next week. It's nice to get a break from writing books to do some real engineering.

Friday, 15 January 2016

Troubleshooting Industrial and Commercial Effluent Treatment Plants

I've booked a couple of site visits this week to troubleshoot problems with effluent treatment plants over the next few weeks. It's good to get back to some real engineering.

I'm enjoying writing, but I'm an engineer who writes textbooks, rather than a textbook author, and I like to keep my skills current.

Both site visits seem however to be to plants which might have value as anonymised examples of common mistakes by designers, confidentiality permitting...

Tuesday, 5 January 2016

Happy New Year: Back to Work

I'm back to work today, and it seems many others are too. Lots of new enquiries are coming in, and much of that is real engineering. I enjoy writing, training and expert witness work, but if I were to allow myself to become a former practitioner, all three will be based upon increasingly out of date knowledge of the profession. 

I was asked in cross-examination during my last court appearance as an expert witness about how many times I had appeared in court (three times if you count a planning committee meeting) in contrast to the opposing expert. I was glad to be able to say that I was an expert engineer rather than an expert in being an expert witness (no disrespect to my counterpart implied).

I heard recently that my evidence was preferred by the Judge in that case, which was good to hear.