Process Engineering - design vs operation

In the development phases of a processing facility/plant, the role of the Process Engineer is very clear.

This role involves:

  • Preparation of development concepts
  • Development of process simulations and Heat and Mass Balances
  • Development of Proces Flow Diagrams
  • Development of Piping and Instrumentation Diagrams (P&IDs)
  • Preparation of datasheets
  • Sizing of process lines
  • Sizing of process equipment
  • Etc

In the above type of work, there can be:

  • 'Greenfield' projects, that is starting from a blank sheet of paper, and
  • 'Brownfield' projects, that modification of or addition to existing processing facilities/plants.

Working on brownfield projects is more difficult, because the Process Engineer has to take account of and incorporate in his / her work real constraints related to existing facilities.

However, in an 'Operation' mode, what does a Process Engineer do?

To get a good grasp of this, let us consider a simple example:

Imagine that you possess one hundred boxes of personal belongings and that you need to store them. There can be two situations:

  1. You have the choice to build a storage place or to select an existing storage place where all your boxes can fit.
  2. You do not have a choice and you are given a storage place of a certain size.

In case 1, you will be able to store all your boxes in the storage space, because it was built for your boxes or because it is large enough for your boxes.

However, in case 2, you will have to evaluate the size of the storage space that you are given and you will have to estimate the number of boxes that you can fit in. It may be that the storage place is too small and you will not be able to fit all your boxes in. It may also be that the room is large enough and that you will have no problems fitting all your boxes in.

The Design Process Engineer corresponds to case 1: he / she will design a process facility/plant to match your predicted production profile and he / she will size your process equipment such that it will be large enough to accommodate your fluids production rates.

The Operations Support Process Engineer corresponds to case 2: he / she will take a look at your process equipment and he / she will tell you the fluids rates that your process facility/plant can handle.

One can see immediately where this leads:

  • What if your field starts producing more gas than expected? If oil is your main product, how much oil can you still produce?
  • What if your field starts producing more water than expected? If oil is your main product, how much oil can you still produce?
  • What if you discover a field close to your plant and you want to produce it through the existing plant/facility? Does your plant/facility have the adequate capacity to produce the new field?

Many more questions of the above kind will come to mind and the Operations Support Process Engineer will be the person to talk to.

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