Establish a Good Reference Library

A few key books should underpin your collection.

By Dirk Willard, Contributing Editor

Over thirty years ago, I started collecting articles and books for my professional library. I lugged this collection all over: from California to Michigan, then elsewhere and, finally, to Ohio. Until about 10 years ago, I had 20-to-30 years’ worth of Chemical Processing, Chemical Engineering, Chemical Engineering Progress, Plant Engineering and other trade magazines. At that time, it took almost 100 boxes to cart my entire reference collection. A few years ago, I started scanning articles to convert them to PDF format; I initially stored the digital files on CDs but today keep them on external drives. Last year, I whittled down the collection to three bookcases by scanning more than 50 binders of material. Now these references are available when I am away on a job. Unfortunately, I don’t have all my books in PDF format.

Capture useful information in equipment brochures in PDF format.

Here’re some reference books besides “Perry’s Chemical Engineers’ Handbook” and the McGraw-Hill chemical engineering series that you should have in your collection. Because chemical engineering is so diverse a field, these texts span a variety of topics.

I’ll start in mass transfer. Number one on my list is Schweitzer’s “Handbook of Separation Techniques for Chemical Engineers.” The latest (third) edition came out in 1997 but remains invaluable. My next choice is Sinnott and Towler’s “Coulson and Richardson’s Chemical Engineering Design.” My third pick is “Chemical Process Equipment: Selection and Design” by Stanly Walas.

Nobody covers the specialized areas of distillation better than Henry Kister. So, get his series: “Distillation Design,” “Distillation Operation” and “Distillation Troubleshooting.” Ludwig’s “Applied Process Design for Chemical and Petrochemical Plants, Volume 2” is excellent for detailed work. For packed beds, I recommend Strigle’s “Packed Tower Design and Applications: Random and Structured Packings.”

For heat transfer, the essential reference is Kern’s “Process Heat Transfer,” which is part of McGraw-Hill’s chemical engineering series. That venerable text remains an indispensable resource.

As far as instrumentation, Miller’s “Flow Measurement Engineering Handbook” has served me well. Liptak’s “Instrument Engineers’ Handbook,” Volume 1 and 2” are useful for devotees.

For quick calculations and troubleshooting, I recommend Hall’s “Rules of Thumb for Chemical Engineers,” and Liebermans’ “A Working Guide to Process Equipment.”

For plant engineering, I suggest Avallone and Baumeister’s “Marks’ Standard Handbook for Mechanical Engineers” and Kutz’s “Eshbach’s Handbook of Engineering Fundamentals.”

As for process safety, you should have several books by Trevor Kletz: “What Went Wrong?,” “Still Going Wrong” and “Process Plants: a Handbook for Inherently Safer Design.” Kletz is often considered the father of the field (see: “Learn from a Safety Guru").

For detail work, use Crowl and Louvar’s “Chemical Process Safety: Fundamentals with Applications” and Hellemans’ “The Safety Relief Valve Handbook.” For layer of protection analysis, get the Center for Chemical Process Safety’s “Layer of Protection Analysis: Simplified Process Risk Assessment.”

Consider Woodson and Conover’s “Human Engineering Guide for Equipment Designers” for insights on how to enhance the usability of equipment.

The real difficulty in economic analysis usually is accurately estimating project cost. Beyond reviewing past estimates, I can make no better suggestion than to buy the latest “RSMeans Facilities Construction Cost Data.” This binder will allow you to estimate the hours necessary for the work and to calculate labor costs based on current, local rates.

Fluid hydraulics is a difficult topic and one often poorly covered in chemical engineering courses. I recommend Potter and Foss’ “Fluid Mechanics,” two Schaum’s outlines — Hughes and Brighton’s “Fluid Dynamics” and Liu and Ranald’s “Fluid Mechanics and Hydraulics” — and de Nevers’ “Fluid Mechanics for Chemical Engineers.” For practical details on sizing pumps, designing piping, etc., you need Flowserve’s “Cameron Hydraulic Data Book.”

In the area of statistical analysis, I suggest Alder and Roessler’s “Introduction to Probability and Statistics,” as well as Mears’ “Quality Improvement Tools and Techniques” and Hald’s “Statistical Theory with Engineering Applications.”

Some information is so valuable it must be at your fingertips. Years ago, while studying for the professional engineer exam, I hit upon an idea: why not keep this information in a single book? I chose “Cameron Hydraulic Data” as that book. I include shortcuts, calculation procedures, tables, regression equations for physical properties, unit conversions, rules of thumb, instrument selection data, corrosion tables and charts, and other useful information.

Equipment brochures contain a lot of useful information but these often are difficult to scan. (They filled a large portion of the 50 binders I had mentioned.) It’s worth the effort to scan them, though, because you’ll find having PDFs indispensable.

dirk.jpgDIRK WILLARD is a Chemical Processing contributing editor. He recently won recognition for his Field Notes column from the ASBPE. Chemical Processing is proud to have him on board. You can e-mail him at

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  • <p>Very Inetersting Article. That's very good that young chemical engineers start build up their own library. Good reference Books mentionned that should be with every chemical engineer.</p>


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