Process Engineering

How to Become a Plant Engineer at Different Process Plants?

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Table of Contents


So you want to become a Plant Engineer?  Well whether you just finished your engineering diploma or degree or have been in industry for a long time, one thing is for sure; you need to understand what Process Plants are.  Becoming a Plant Engineer is mostly based on the experience you gain throughout your engineering career so it is extremely important you understand where you can gain the experience needed in order to become a Plant Engineer one day.  So, let’s start with understanding – what is a process plant?   Process plants, also referred to as factories, are engineering facilities where raw materials are transformed chemically and physically into completed goods or into intermediate products that require additional processing.

Types of Process Plants

Examples of process plants include the following (click on link to learn more about the process plant you are interested in):


Why Do We Need Process Plants?

Though are many more types of process plants, the processing facilities listed above play a vital role in meeting the basic needs of humanity.  This is why it is important for any aspiring Plant Engineer to own a physical copy of the books listed above as these will act as handbooks which you will use throughout your engineering career, a truly valuable resource to have. With the book available on site for reference you will be able to carry out proper design, maintenance and operation of such facilities. This will bring you a step closer to becoming a Plant Engineer as steady, dependable supply of materials and products required for comfortable and productive living in the contemporary modern world will be produced consistently at the facility at which you work. 

Building strength in chemical engineering through process optimization

Engineers design and build process plants in order to meet the most basic needs of humanity [Source: Elsevier]

How Are Process Plants Designed?

Plant Layout and Piping Design involve many activities which can initially seem overwhelming – however once broken down into project phases the tasks to completed become easier to manage, these include:

•Development and the continuous refining of “Plot Plans”. Plot plans are depictions of the exact location of major equipment and their associated infrastructure (foundations, ladders, platforms etc.). These plot plans are created by creating the process, client specification, quality, environmental and health and safety requirements. The coordinates of the process plant used extensively in determining and specifying the locations of the equipment.
• Determining the sizes and locations of nozzles. a nozzle is a cylindrical or round spout at the end of a pipe, hose, or tube used to control a jet of gas or liquid.

• Routing of pipes. The planning of pipeline layout, which includes considerations of neatness, economy, and safety. Pipe routing must consider the effects of vibration, corrosion, and normal service on pipes before deciding where to lay them.
• Designing of accessory components of major equipment. These accessory components include foundations, platforms, and stairways.
• Specifying safety equipment and their locations. In order to comply with health and safety requirements and standards the location of safety equipment has to be indicated based on the specification for the equipment. This equipment includes fire hydrants and safety showers.
• Multi-disciplinary interaction between engineering specialties. Being conscious of the location of instruments, structures, control valves, electrical raceways and other ancillary plant items is critical when carrying out pipe routing.

How are process plants designed?

Steps in the design of process plants [Source: Shikin Aziz ]


How Are Process Plants Built?

Process plants consist of various types of equipment, such as; piping systems, instruments, electrical systems, electronics, computers and control systems.  This is what makes the design of process plants such a complex undertaking.  The complexity of process place requires team effort involving different disciplines of engineering: process (chemical), mechanical, piping, electrical, instrumentation, controls, materials and project management. In addition to the team effort, on the individual level, it requires considerable management and coordination skills – skills which are critical for anyone looking to become a Plant Engineer. 

When building a Process Plant the goal is to design, construct and commission the facility in the most cost-efficient way possible.  This must be achieved  while still meeting the process requirements of the facility and within all specifications given by the client.  Th most important part of the entire build process is to ensure that the Plant will operate in a safe and reliable manner. Besides these, there are other factors that need to be taken into consideration when designing process plants, and they are:

  • Designing, engineering and constructing the facility according to the initial project schedule and getting the plant on stream as quickly as possible.
  • Cutting out or minimising field rework, which increases plant construction costs quite significantly.
  • Constructabilityconstruction feasibility review, a process in construction design whereby plans are reviewed by others familiar with construction techniques and materials to assess whether the design is actually buildable.
  • Maintainability the probability that a failed component or system will be restored or repaired to a specified condition within a specified period or time when maintenance is performed in accordance with prescribed procedures..
  • Operabilitythe ability to keep a piece of equipment, a system or a whole industrial installation in a safe and reliable functioning condition, according to pre-defined operational requirements.
  • Compliance to quality, environmental and health and safety requirements – this requires complying to ISO 9001, 14001 and 45001 related standards, respectively.
  • Minimising costs.

Interaction of various engineering disciplines in process plant layout and design

Interactions of various engineering disciplines in plant layout and design. [Source: ]

Skills Needed to Become a Plant Engineer or Piping Engineer

You may have seen them on a job description for that Senior Piping Engineer or that Plant Engineer role you’ve been working towards, well – that’s because they are truly needed.  The list below the skills which you must inherently possess to be a proficient Pipe Design or Plant Engineer.   

  • Full understanding and detailed knowledge of the process that will be used in operation of the plant.  This will allow you to know the function of all equipment in the process plant. You can get this information from the Process Flow Diagrams(PFDs) which are generated the process engineering department.
  • Understanding of the operations of all equipment and their maintenance procedures.
  • Attention to detail and common sense in terms of technical aptitude that allows you to exhibit sound engineering judgement.
  • Being able to think creatively  in order to develop solutions relating to layout problems and challenges.
  • Being able to think and move objects in your mind in order to visualise spatial relationships between plant items in three dimensions.
  • Being proficient with Computer Aided Design (CAD) tools such as 3D modeling software and pipe stress analysis software.  It is advised to develop expertise with the Autodesk Suite of Software, specifically AutoCAD Plant 3D.
  • Brilliant communication skills – this is applicable to both technical and non-technical communication.  Should you wish to develop your communication skills as an Engineer read Communication Skills for Engineers – The Basics.
  • Being able to work well as part of a team.  This is critical in order to function effectively as a member of a multi-disciplinary project team.
  • Being able to communicate issues and problems relating to plant layout effectively to the  project management team.
  • Being able to generate, maintain and update project drawings and documentation as and when needed.
  • Awareness that conscientious, quality effort during the design and engineering phase can shorten project schedules resulting in economic benefits and client goodwill.

Plant Engineer or Piping Engineer Skills

Skills need to become a Plant Engineer or Piping Engineer [Source: Arcelor Mittal]

What Data is Used in Process Plant Design?

Large amounts of data is generated and made use of in the design of process plant.  These are mostly generated by the plant layout and piping design engineering team.  The data generated contributes significantly to the overall quality of the project.  This is why it is necessary to ensure data integrity and accessibility through proper management of project and process plant data.  Plant data can be broadly categories and the 3 categories of Process Plant data are:


  1. Project data is made up of information such as the location of the process plant, access roads, applicable standards, regulations and codes or bylaws, climate  data (rainfall, wind speed and wind direction, humidity and pressure, and average temperature), seismic activity, waterways, railways etc.
  2. Design and engineering data is generated internally at the design and engineering phases of the project. Design  and engineering data includes; equipment that’s needed and their respective sizes, service conditions (humidity, temperature, pressure etc.), and mass flow rates.
  3. Vendor data consists of information provided by equipment suppliers and contractors in the form of vendor drawings and data sheets.  

Data generated in piping engineering

Project data, design and engineering data and vendor data are generated in process plant projects. [Source: Enginering360]


Rules of Thumb for Plant Layout and Piping Design

The approach to plant layout and piping design can vary depending on the nature of the plant and the project. For example, the design philosophy for an offshore facility is quite different from that for an onshore chemical plant simply because of limited space available on offshore platforms. However, there are a few useful rules of thumb that can be followed.

  • Knowledge and understanding of project requirements and project documents.
  • Conservation of space and resources.
  • Arrangement of equipment in a neat, organised manner taking into account process needs and safety.
  • Attention to detail including adjacent equipment, supports and other items, which can cause potential clashes between piping and equipment/supports.
  • Consideration of constructability, operability and maintainability of the plant.
  • Routing of pipe in a neat, orderly and symmetrical manner keeping in mind the future needs of the plant.
  • Avoiding excessive changes in elevations and directions.
  • Ensuring consistency in design.
  • Avoiding excessive amounts of relocations and revisions by “doing it right the first time”.

Rules of thumb for plant layout and piping design

Rules of thumb for plant layout and piping design. [Source: Amazon]

Common abbreviations used in Process Plant design

Terminology and jargon are always are critical factor of any field or industry.  This is moreso when it comes to Process Plant Design and Layout as it is usually the separating factor between being deemed competent or incompetent. In order to be able prove that you know what you are talking as a Plant Engineer, make sure that you are know the following abbreviations – thing of them as the ABCs of Plant Design and Piping Engineering.

  • N,S,E,W: North, South, East and West
  • CL: Centerline
  • El: Elevation
  • TOS: Top of Steel
  • BOP: Bottom of Pipe
  • POS: Point of Support
  • BBP: Bottom of Baseplate
  • ISBL: Inside Battery Limits
  • OSBL: Outside Battery Limits
  • AG: Above Ground
  • UG: Underground
  • φ: Diameter
  • OD: Outside Diameter of pipe
  • ID: Inside Diameter of pipe

Abbreviations used in piping

Common Abbreviations used in plant layout and piping design [Source: What Is Piping?]

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