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Career Advice: Appreciate The Help You Receive

Feb. 23, 2022
Many people will have a hand in your successful project

I could see right away what Frank couldn’t. He had been collecting samples and overseeing testing of boneyard coils from our O2 heater for several years to identify the cause of a problem afflicting the coils. From my previous experience as a research engineer, I could tell it was a well-organized study. I had done aging and mechanical-properties studies, and, so, clearly spotted creep failure.

I wrote a report describing the math behind this type of failure and, eventually, an expert explored our coil failure further. I used his results to accurately predict and prevent a failure. Later, another engineer, Bill, expanded on my work, which finally convinced corporate to allow us to make some changes to ameliorate this problem.

The solution stemmed from team effort. It resulted from handing down data from one engineer to another until there was indisputable evidence that management could not ignore.

In another situation, I discovered a broken pump whose failure would have ruined the company. I am grateful to the old Navy boilermaker who had watched the pump degrade for years and collected the supporting data I used to convince management of the epic impending disaster.

My point is that I, like most engineers, have benefited from the work of others. They sometimes contributed in ways that were direct but usually in ways indirect and often invisible to me.

Just think about it. You benefit from well-laid-out piping-and-instrumentation diagrams, site plans, instrument drawings, etc.; without these, you have nothing to go by. Often engineers avoid offering solutions because of the exhausting effort anticipated to collect the data necessary to write an engineering report.

Ask any engineer sizing a pump how much easier isometric drawing would make the task. I’ve been at job sites where I relied on Google maps to construct a plan view that I could feed into a hydraulic model; after that, you must do an elevation survey and a complete walkdown with photographs.

If you rely on laboratory work for product quality or material balances, you owe a big thanks to the chemists who provide those vital data. Sadly, most laboratories can’t provide viscosity and density data, so I generally get those data myself. (An earlier column, “Get Into the Thick of Things,”  recommended using Zahn cups for viscosity data, while another, “Plug Gaps in Aqueous Solution Data,”  covered how to find viscosity, density and other physical properties of such solutions.)

Consider the help you get from technical staff at constructors and vendors. Many operating companies have decimated their project groups and now tend to hire the cheapest (least experienced) engineers. So, project work often is in the hands of greenhorns who don’t know pipe from wire conduit.

Most sales engineers will help an inexperienced engineer, to a point, but sales engineering staffs have thinned over the years. By showing technical acumen, a salesperson can impress you and build goodwill. There are limits, though. For instance, pump sales engineers won’t do isometrics and sizing calculations for you but will give you advice based on past projects. Always remember they’re out to make a sale. The size and frequency of your company’s purchases play into how much they’re willing to help; don’t count on extensive efforts if your company likely won’t give them business for several years.

Constructors also consider the prospect of future projects from your firm. They want your work next year but, if there’s a downturn in your business and the capital budgets for maintenance and projects shrink, they may not be so helpful. Expect the most help from constructors that are familiar with your facilities, have done faithful work for many years, and are confident about getting future business from your company.

Recently, I did a walkdown for bidders on a rework job; this involved relocating pipe and conduit prior to installation of a knockout drum. The electrician, a contractor who had worked for us for many years, pointed out some conduit issues he knew might pose a problem. This was very helpful and I really appreciated his contribution. You always should show gratitude to those who make your job just a little bit easier.

About the Author

Dirk Willard | Contributing Editor

DIRK WILLARD is a Chemical Processing Contributing Editor.

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