System Engineering and Associated Procedures
This post is to expand on previous posts with respect to Project Engineering and it is aimed at providing an understanding of the term “System Engineer ” and ” Procedures” and the connection between both.
It is my opinion, from experience, is that people are hired to bring together a team that can make things happen. “Things”, as in “make things happen”, cover the majority of activities on and off planet Earth.
Once a design team has been assembled and worked to make a specific “thing” happen the last man out of the project office switches off the lights and moves on to the next “thing”.
It should be remembered that those who fabricate the “Thing” have to work with materials in a working environment in which a CAD model is not used, the CAD model being used to produce 2d drawing for construction purposes. It would not make economic sense to have a highly qualified design engineer not only designing but fabricating the “Thing”
Clearly, once the “Thing” is designed and the hum of people’s activities within “Project Thing” space has gone, the space is quiet and generally dark. However, there is much remaining in the space that the project occupied, if only the ghosts of those previously working in the space
I recall the words of a Senior Engineering Manager, in a major Energy design house, before the impact of computers. His words “I want my Project Engineers on the shop floor, not sat at their desks”. His demand was to ensure that the work flowed through his department without any hold ups. Such hold ups were referred to as “Holds” and with some 400 engineers on the shop floor each could potentially have a technical “Hold”. A “Hold” may be caused through many concerns but generally a decision had to be agreed, or a piece of information had to be chased by the responsible Project / System Engineer
Before the introduction of computers and Computer Assisted Design (CAD) all engineers developed their part of the overall design on a paper drawing sheet. Accordingly, as each engineer needed to interface with another engineer(s), to ensure the design interfaces were aligned, the amount of movement throughout the offices was very significant. The conversations created the buzz in the office and if there was not buzz there was no project or project progress. With the introduction of CAD the buzz was reduced but is still evident.
System Engineering and Associated Procedures – What is a System?
All this buzz is to bring together all the parts of the design. Many of these parts can be referred to as part of a system. For example, there may be a piping system, which may be a process fluid system, or a cooling water system, a fire (fighting) system, a vent system, a fresh water system, a fuel system etc. Then there may be an electrical system which may be a power system, a control system, an alarm system etc. Further systems, covering the various aspects of the design, all have to come together to comprise the “Thing”. When these systems have an interface with each other there can be much detail and coordination required to make a successful operating plant.
In any organisation, the requirement, when constructing a operating “Thing”, should be to ensure the “Thing” causes no damage to people or the environment. Accordingly, great emphasis should be made to the attention of the appropriate health, safe and environment (HSE) requirements.
System Engineering and Associated Procedures – What is a Procedure?
The design is generally such as to make the manpower required to operate and maintain the “Thing”at a minimum, however, with all mankind’s ingenuity, there are times when an operator is required to intervene. It has been the experience of industry that requiring a person to intervene in an operation can cause a disaster with loss of life, equipment and damage to the environment. Accordingly, engineers always make strenuous efforts to “engineer out” the requirement for operator intervention but, in cases where that is not possible, it has been found that the person who is to intervene has to be provided with a guide on all the steps to be taken to carry out a safe intervention. These guides can are generally referred to as “procedures” e.g. “Operating Procedure”, “Maintenance Procedure”, etc. Such procedures require a writer who is technically competent to ensure all the tasks required to be undertaken are covered within the procedure and are written, described and illustrated to ensure a new person carrying out the intervention is fully informed as to actions before , during and after the intervention are all carried out.
Therefore the person responsible for the design, of a specific system in an operating design, is probably the best person to draw up any procedures required.
As noted above, at the end of the design phase the design office is abandoned and it all the expertise drawn together is dispersed. Sadly, in my experience, all the working practices are also dispersed as the team falls apart. Sound working practices are lost as people move to other occupations and retire. Lying in the dust that slowly takes over the project office and the working documents that were used to generate, for example, a procedure for the safe access to a Pig Receiver. The original document has been forwarded to the Client and the information has left the project in the mind of the responsible engineer. In line with commercial practice the written workings for a particular document cannot be used by taking forward to another clients project.
System Engineering and Associated Procedures – Why Do We Need Them
With the advent of CAD and other electronic tools there has been a tendency to only communicate in soundbites and accordingly, there is less and less attention given to the written word and procedures. I feel sure any reader of this post will not agree with this statement, but time will tell. For example “Deepwater Horizon” would be an area that was operated outside of a procedure assuming the procedures had been written in some form in the first instance.
System Engineering and Associated Procedures – Consequnces Of Not Having
Bottom Line is that Engineers always need to understand a disaster could be a simple oversight and they should always, always look ahead for the potential for a small oversight in design to lead to a catastrophic failure