Project Engineering – it’s a love-hate relationship

Image

 

About an hour ago (my clock reads 19:18), I got back from work. I’m too tired for my usual post-work gym session and grateful for the leftover casserole in the fridge that only needs 5 minutes in the microwave.

I am living the life of a project engineer. Despite the fact the novelty of travelling for my job has well and truly worn off, I rather like it.

Perception isn’t everything but it’s one department where most project engineers can’t complain. When people ask you what you do, the name of the large-scale, high-profile project just rolls off the tongue while trying not to look too smug. Explaining my asset management projects usually takes at least a couple of sentences. By the end, most people regret asking.

Two days a week, I put on my hardhat and make the one hour and twenty minute drive on single carriageways to our site which produces biofuel- I’m working on a project to expand that part of the factory.

As it is an expansion project, we can replicate designs of existing parts of the site, making the design process relatively straightforward. I am currently putting together specifications for the instruments (sensors, valves and actuators) so we can start the tender process (inviting companies to provide us with quotes- if more than one company can do that, then the company with the lowest price wins the contract). There are other engineers looking at how the pipes will connect to the existing process; determining locations of tanks, pipes and motors, and putting together technical drawings. The list of tasks goes on.

Project engineering suits generalists. Although the majority will have an area of expertise (mine is control & instrumentation), there is a greater necessity for engineers of different disciplines to work together at every stage. One of the biggest challenges engineers face is designing systems that are user-friendly and that takes collaboration. One example of bad communication between the civil and the instrumentation engineers is when you’ve got instruments connected to a vessel and the structure designed to give engineers access to the devices doesn’t allow access. Instead, when the sensor’s annual calibration is due, the maintenance team needs to spend time and money erecting scaffolding for a small routine task.

All in all, there are no shortage of headaches for the project engineers, and certainly no shortage of migraines for the project managers. There are several issues we face on a daily basis ranging from trying to keep up with what the rest of the team are doing, to discovering the drawings which form basis of your design are out of date. On top of that, most engineers and contractors are working on multiple projects in different areas of the country, meaning long commutes or hotel stays (another novelty which wears of quickly) are inevitable.

Yet everyone I meet on the projects, including myself, enjoys their job. I think it’s the sense of purpose combined with the satisfaction when every last obstacle has been overcome and the project has been completed. Construction won’t start for another six months at least, by which time I will be back at university. The sense of purpose is enough for me though.