How should we imagine the process engineer’s work in general?
The process engineer deals with the connection of material streams and the equipment, focusing on the physicochemical behavior of material streams or may I say ‘When fluid meets the metal...’.
What does it look like on paper or monitor?
Please do not expect visual HD models as there’s no need for a scaled model at this phase. There are symbols with mathematical and physicochemical attributes, data and characteristics both for medium and equipment. And that's the reason for a process engineer to do the 'math', not the sharp scaled detailed 3D model. I also act as a data source to specialists of fellow disciplines.
Looks like a process engineer should be a professional in all those disciplines.
Not at all. All engineering disciplines have their unique working method and expertise, which reveals itself only when you go into the detail of their work. Don't be surprised there are no polymaths :) Practically, process engineering could also be described as ‘disciplines in discipline’, which means that this profession is divided into industrial segments such as chemicals, food & beverages, agricultural, pharma, automotive, energy and oil&gas as well. It is very rare that one person could be an expert in all of the above (as I mentioned before, there are no polymaths) but the general principles of the process design are the same everywhere.
What about the connection with the client or the projects themselves?
There are projects where the existing plant should be expanded or the existing technology requires modification or optimization. In this case, the engineer's work is extended by field surveys and data collection. The client provides lots of information, however, sometimes essential data or documents for some equipment, which is already in operation, are missing or unavailable. This can cause difficulties during the design phase. Eventually these tasks are beyond the process design engineer's work and if we cannot see this during the preparatory project-planning phase, we will face issues with changing the management.
Sounds like a challenge of your job. Is there any other major challenge you have to face as a process engineer?
Parallel design and online concept changes during the project became a general expectation due to digitalization and huge time pressure. In my opinion, this is almost impossible, considering the relationship between process, details required by other disciplines and overall coordination of the project. There are design phases and orders, which cannot be swapped. Civil engineering and architects are unable to start the design parallel to the process design.
We all have to understand this concept and work on to avoid such anomalies. As a result we’ll get a much more reliable project flow, which is beneficial for both the client and the engineering company.