Chemical Engineers: More than Glorified Plumbers – Really!

Author

Jennifer Morningstar

Expertise Includes:

    • Chemical Release and Exposure
    • Confined Space Entry - Lockout/Tagout
    • Environmental Regulatory Compliance
    • Fires and Explosions
    • Industrial Accident Investigation

As a senior at Virginia Tech, I was told that ChemE’s were little more than glorified plumbers.  Looking back, I’m pretty sure it was to keep our geek-egos in check. It was an effective tool! However, as I grew and traveled as a professional, it became an effective descriptor; applying to a larger scale and using a modifier or two for specific applications.  So, if you have a loss that falls into one of the categories below, a ChemE could be the expert you need.

Case One – “Water” is where it shouldn’t be.  Industrial chemical releases (or spills) can have many causes; but don’t just think ‘spill’ here.  Contamination is a case of material being where it should not.  Also, during routine or special maintenance, if employees unintentionally come into contact with process material, that situation falls under this case, too. Root cause failure analysis is a great tool for determining what went wrong.  Specifically, lockout/tagout procedures or start-up/shutdown sequencing have been involved in several losses recently handled by Warren. These are all issues a chemical engineer routinely analyzes.

Fig-1-Chem-E-Intro

Case Two – Hot Water/ Cold Water.  Some processes use steam as a source of heat.  That means boiling water, controlling the steam, reclaiming the condensate, and maintaining proper water chemistry throughout the system to prevent fouling, etc.  Some processes need refrigeration and, on a large scale, use multiple-stage cooling systems.  ChemE’s work with these systems routinely so, if your loss involves a boiler system or chiller/refrigeration system, a ChemE could help you.

Case Three – Clean/Dirty Water.  Municipalities need clean water to drink. They also need a place to send their dirty water for processing before it’s discharged back to a river.  Water treatment and waste-water treatment are both systems that require the precise balance of chemical reactions and physical separations.  A ChemE’s experience and education can help you with a loss in these areas.

Fig-2---Chem-E-Intro

Case Four – Cooking (no plumbing reference could get me here). Think about how you cook at home.  Now, think about how a company prepares and packages food on a commercial scale.  If your loss or incident involves that sort of food processing (from live animal harvesting on out) or large-scale, commercial ovens, a ChemE has the training you need.

These scenarios are really the thirty-thousand-foot view of the chemical engineering profession.  Stay tuned for more detailed case studies for each of these four loss types.

Jennifer Morningstar, PE has 19 years of industrial experience. Her areas of emphasis include chemical release & exposure, OSHA process safety management, industrial accident investigation, fires & explosions, and scope of damage/cost to repair analyses. She spent 16 years working at a polyethylene terephthalate (PET) manufacturer.  She is an OSHA-trained Process Hazard Analysis study leader and completed Root Cause Failure Analysis training to become an Incident Investigator. Jennifer authored procedures for lockout/tagout and confined space entry. She has experience as an energy management consultant in a variety of industries including mineral extraction, pulp & paper, animal harvesting & packaging (including rendering) and grain milling.  Jennifer holds a Bachelor of Science Degree in Chemical Engineering from Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University as well as a Masters of Business Administration from the University of South Carolina.

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