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Changes to process engineering in the next decade

  • 1.  Changes to process engineering in the next decade

    Posted 22 days ago
    What are the biggest changes to process engineering that you expect to see in the coming decade?

    David Gedymin
    Sr. Process Engineer
    ZPower Battery, Inc.
    Tarzana CA

  • 2.  RE: Changes to process engineering in the next decade

    Posted 22 days ago
    Neglecting the COVID effect...

    The biggest changes is the retirement of experts in industry who started their careers in the 80's and early 90's.  We had a huge oil crush in the 80's, causing many people NOT to choose chemical engineering as a career.  The long term impacts will now be felt (and are being felt even in the last 5 years by my local experiences).  Those experts are retiring, or worse, experiencing illnesses or death.  We can no longer rely on them.

    The "career gap" therefore is significant from that time to the late 90's where more people were enrolled.

    For example, at LSU, the graduate class of Chem. E.'s in 1992 was 6 people.  In 1997, it was over 50 again (my class), and 1996 was just under 40.

    Before and after 1992 was a curve to get to the minimum.  I don't have the numbers to explain in detail, but this is definitely a trend.  A co-worker of mine used to joke that 1992 graduates were "unicorns"--you never saw one, but believed they existed.

    Now, as those pre-92 people are leaving industry, we lose expertise.  The smart ones are retiring at 30 years, and all of them should be retired by 40 years.  We're in the middle of that loss.  What's also to be remembered, many of the mid-80's graduates couldn't find jobs and sustain careers, so countless numbers left the industry because they couldn't get experience or feed their families, or even start a family as a chemical engineer.  Houston for example had many chemical engineers driving taxis (obviously well before Uber was a thing).

    The most significant and obvious impact that will hit the news is the number of SIGNIFICANT PSM events that occur (explosions, loss of containment, deaths in industry).  But we will also lose invaluable experience handed down over the generations in a heavily mentored profession where not every type of project has been performed with these experts overseeing and remembering the lessons of their mentors in the decades preceding (e.g. ammonia plants or other).

    We will see companies trying to be "lean" in personnel driving those "rich 40 year experience guys" out of industry, relying on younger engineers as a commodity just to "get stuff done", and project managers not knowing any better on issues that will bite us all when installed, and then you get a terrible product.

    As a result, much like "Return of the Jedi"--you should see a return of the consultant--a true consultant, who knows what they are talking about, rather than a group of 10-15 year engineers who are great entrepreneurs opening a consulting company as well.  But they will be very limited in availability, and not everyone can benefit.

    I was at an API conference one year and the keynote was how PSM should not be proprietary--I agree.  This is why I share so much on LinkedIn to help people stay safe in the PSM world (and I don't have time to share enough).

    My focused answer to your question is "We will see more significant PSM events"--but the impacts will be even more far reaching than just that--but that's what we will SEE in the news.

    Couple all of the thoughts above with the fact that loyalty to a single company is more rare today than in the prior generations, and the issues are compounded slightly.

    We all need to work together and ask questions back and forth.  Encourage our companies to share information instead of calling it proprietary (especially w.r.t. safety), and drive to re-build the expertise that has been lost and will continue to be lost.

    I will say--Canada is seeing this especially.  I talk to clients in Canada routinely who see a severe lack of qualified engineers in the "consulting companies" and they can't get the help they need.  They build facilities with teams of 15 year or less engineers who are qualified in their field, but not on the "one nuance different facility" being built, and the facility does not work well, and the operators are left with a mess.  The USA is a close second to this cause-effect relationship.  It's coming, and in some parts of the nation, is already arrived.

    Eric Parvin PE
    Owner / Process Manager
    Highlands Ranch CO

  • 3.  RE: Changes to process engineering in the next decade

    Posted 22 days ago

    Excellent summary Eric!


    Although I think that sharing is good (especially the PSM practices), I think that home grown process engineering expertise creates a lot of value for the facility that is never attributed to good process engineering.  Canadian companies shouldn't bemoan the lack of good process engineers in the consulting industry, instead they should value that expertise and be willing to pay for it on an ongoing basis – not just when "things are broke".


    I don't think that the practice of process engineering is going to change a lot – good process engineers are going to have new ways of learning more about their processes, they will have new tools to make better use of that more complete understanding, but they will make the same kinds of subtle process improvements and clever capital improvements that are currently being done.