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How Can I Teach Process Plant Layout, and Why Should I?

By: , Posted on: October 21, 2016


I’m halfway through my final proofreading of what has become a thousand-page tome on process plant layout, based upon Mecklenburgh’s classic 1985 text on the subject. It is on-track for publication in December.

Mecklenburgh’s original book is still the key reference on the subject for standard texts like Sinnott and Towler and Lee’s Process Safety, as well as the HSE website, (to name but a few) despite being so out of date in a number of respects. Quite a bit of my updating has involved accommodating the massive increase in the use of computers since 1985, and eliminating the explanatory text on the parts of a computer and so on which used to be necessary. As I have explained elsewhere, the increased speed and ubiquity of computers has been far more important in plant layout engineering than any great increase in capabilities since 1985.

Arguably the most important legacy of Mecklenbergh is however his provision of a textbook which allowed layout to be taught in an academic setting, still used for that purpose until the last five to ten years. What I hope most for my new version of the book is that it will make it again possible to teach layout to undergraduate chemical engineers. The more or less complete absence of any teaching of layout in modern chemical engineering courses is in my opinion a grave error. Not only does it make any hydraulic calculations meaningless, there is also a pedagogic problem.

Putting things together in a three-dimensional space is a key engineering skill, which might even be thought of as a distinctive form of intelligence. If we do not teach and assess this ability, we are not accurately evaluating the potential as engineers of our students. If we believe that any part of the function of engineering degrees is to prepare graduates to work as engineers, we are failing them and their potential employers.

3D modelling software like that which produced the picture above does not supplant this skill. The piping engineers who drive such software still need skilled input from process designers. The skills of both “pipers” and process layout engineers have been dying out, as the most skilled and experienced practitioners retire. Some of the heuristics which they use have been built into layout software, but many have not.

I have collaborated with several hundred process plant layout designers to produce this book. I have incorporated as many of their rules of thumb into the new book as possible, but I have also collected a dozen practical systematic methodologies from a number of disciplines. I have spelled these out in a stepwise fashion, allowing a beginner to use them to progress a layout design. I am hoping that this will be particularly attractive to the academic audience, as well as providing insight into alternative approaches for the practitioner.

I have also added seventy-five case studies illustrating how often poor layout has led to disaster. Some of these are the classics which engineers of my generation assume everyone knows about (but actually they don’t any more) such as Flixborough, but there are many previously unpublished examples as well.

Another key new element is the inclusion of comprehensive reference to key worldwide standards, codes of practice and design guidance applicable to the subject of each chapter. Though the book is written in a conventional academic textbook style, it is referenced back to these sources, rather than to academic papers, for reasons I have explained elsewhere.

I have spent a great deal of effort in clarifying the writing, and attempted to eliminate any traces of inconsistent coverage, uneven tone, obscurity or self-contradiction from the text, as well as adding hundreds of new illustrations, many of which are now in colour.

process plant layout

It is in short, considerably better than the original, and the original was great. It is available for pre-order here.

Read more posts from Sean Moran, The Voice of Chemical Engineering

About the author

sean moranProfessor Moran is a Chartered Chemical Engineer with over twenty years’ experience in process design, commissioning and troubleshooting and is regarded as the ‘voice of chemical engineering’. He started his career with international process engineering contractors and worked worldwide on water treatment projects before setting up his own consultancy in 1996, specializing in process and hydraulic design, commissioning and troubleshooting of industrial effluent and water treatment plants.

Whilst Associate Professor at the University of Nottingham, he co-ordinated the design teaching program for chemical engineering students. Professor Moran’s university work focused on increasing industrial relevance in teaching, with a particular emphasis on process design, safety and employability.

Connect with Sean on LinkedIn here, check out his Facebook page here and stay up-to-date on his thoughts, research and practice at his personal blog here.

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