Most day-to-day plant and engineering issues aren’t unique. Someone probably has solved the particular problem already. Finding an existing solution often is easier than devising a new one. The key is locating information about the problem and how it was addressed.
Decades ago, companies kept libraries of technical resources for their employees to use as needed, and perhaps even had a librarian at a central location to help find information. In addition, individual plants often had libraries and made at least some effort to keep critical books and magazines on hand.
Cost cutting has eliminated these practices. Personally, I have rescued many books and magazines from the dumpster during library-closing cleanouts at three different sites. These recycled references have helped me many times over the years.
In the early 1990s, the situation frequently was dire for practicing engineers. The libraries were gone but nothing had replaced them yet. If the engineers didn’t spend their own money or have access to a local university library, information was hard to get. Starting in the late 1990s, the internet has helped fill the gap. One option that companies thought promising — subscription services to provide pay-per-use access to internet resources — seems rarely used. Cost-cutting pressures continue and managers often frown upon any pay-per-view expenditures.
The plant engineer frequently is stuck with the default company subscription. So, “free” internet resources usually remain critical to fill the hole in their access to information. However, the internet is full of junk and obsolete material.
Here are some of my favorite locations for high-quality information. These are websites with content applicable to many types of plants. The list leads with the curated-and-free sites then fills out with some less-curated or low-cost ones.
Chemical Processing is more than just a magazine. It runs a website (www.ChemicalProcessing.com) with discussions, webinars and access to past issues. Feedback and comment from some of the most experienced professionals in the industry appear on the site.
The National Association of Corrosion Engineers (www.nace.org) has a superb collection of conference proceedings dating from 1996 to the present. Thousands of papers cover materials selection, corrosion and coatings for every major industry. You can download for free pdfs of papers in proceedings from conferences that took place five or more years ago. The easiest way to get to them is not obvious, though. From the home page, select the “Store” in the upper right; then on the store page, select “Conference Papers” from the drop-down list and enter your search terms; choose the papers you want (priced at $0 each) and put them in your cart; then “buy” them when you check out through the store.
For insights about compressors, turbines and pumps, check the symposia run by the Texas A&M Engineering Experiment Station Turbomachinery Laboratory. Proceedings are available at turbolab.tamu.edu: hover over “Symposia,” then “Turbo/Pump Symposia” and next “Proceedings.” Or go directly to http://turbolab.tamu.edu/proc/. This free site covers every type of large compressor, turbine and pump. It includes discussions of equipment developments, troubleshooting and case histories — since 1972 for turbomachinery and 1984 for pumps.
The Colorado Engineering Experiment Station hosts the Flow Measurement Technical Library at http://library.ceesi.com/. References include flow measurement and custody transfer for conventional flow systems and pipelines. The materials you can access for free include thousands of papers on every aspect of flow measurement for liquids, gases and multiphase fluids. However, the website will put you through a few hoops to get the papers to ensure you’re not an auto-downloading robot.
Among the best government websites is the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (www.uspto.gov). Go to “Search for patents” to start looking for patent information. The search includes full-text search for patents from 1976 onwards and images for patents from 1790 to today. All searches and downloads are free. You also can chain your search by looking for what patents are cited by other patents.
The World International Patent Organization (WIPO PatenScope, https://patentscope.wipo.int/search/en/search.jsf) provides search through multiple government websites. This covers some elements of patent information from major nations (U.S., Japan, U.K. and others). It includes more than 58 million searchable records and over 3 million downloadable documents. It’s not complete but is a good starting point for international patents.
Two free, but less-curated, sites merit some attention.
Scholar.google.com offers a search focused on peer-reviewed and patent publications. It’s not perfect but is very competitive in performance compared to commercial products for searching literature. One weakness with Scholar is that it doesn’t appear to search American Chemical Society publications. These can be searched at pubs.acs.org.
Anybody can upload nearly anything to YouTube.com. However, with judicious searching, you can find some tremendous lectures, videos and animations on technical subjects and how equipment works. Videos may come and go, so if you find something really important, use a downloader to save a copy.
Now, let’s turn to some minimal-cost but high-quality sites. Knovel (www.knovel.com) focuses on reference material and books, and offers different subscriptions. Many professional organizations offer access as part of their memberships. I get Knovel through both the American Institute of Engineers (AIChE, www.aiche.org) and the U.K.’s Institution of Chemical Engineers (www.icheme.org). They cover different content, so I check both when looking for material.
Additionally, the AIChE offers good prices for meeting proceedings. Go to “Events and Resources,” then “Conference Proceedings.” If you have the choice of getting the proceedings either on CD or online, spend the small amount extra for the CD. The online proceedings of the older meetings can’t be bulk downloaded in one file, the newer ones can. Downloading to your local computer makes using special search programs easier.
Finally, if you must have a critical reference that’s only on paper, contact The Linda Hall Library (www.lindahall.org) in Kansas City, Mo. It will copy, scan and send the paper to you for a fee. I’ve been using them for decades to get the critical items that I’ve needed.
ANDREW SLOLEY is a Chemical Processing Contributing Editor. You can email him at ASloley@putman.net.