Thursday, 18 December 2014

Harmful Algal Bloom Remediation: Malaysia

Completed my draft report on engineering solutions to cyanobacteria problems at the University of Nottingham's Malaysia campus today. That's my last job of the year, barring any emergency callouts.

Not had much expert witness work recently, seems like I'm getting more real engineering consultancy again for some reason. Can't complain, it's all interesting.

Tuesday, 16 December 2014

End of Year: Luxury Problems

We have lots of enquiries in at the end of 2014. We have recently had invitations to bid for two overseas sewage treatment plant troubleshooting jobs, minewater treatment consultancy, sludge treatment training, and the usual Middle East/North African water training work.

I am just completing my report of remediation of algal bloom problems at Nottingham University's KL campus, which I am going to submit just before I take a weeks holiday for Xmas/New Year( barring callouts at the PCB contaminated groundwater remediation plant I help look after)

My first book has just gone to the printers, and I have just signed a contract for my second, about process plant layout.

Lots of work is the most luxurious of problems.

Sunday, 16 November 2014

Harmful Algal Blooms: Lake Remediation


I gave a course on harmful algal blooms in Oman a few years back, and I have designed treatment plants to handle them in the past.

I am presently engaged in designing a treatment plant to clear a harmful bloom from the lake at an overseas university campus.

It is interesting work, combining my original biological/ environmental training with my engineering experience.

Friday, 24 October 2014

Effective Wastewater Treatment Malaysia

Room set up for Water Treatment Course Kuala Lumpur Malaysia
















I'm going to be in Kuala Lumpur 4 - 6th November delivering our always popular "Effective Wastewater Treatment" course. I was going to deliver it again on the way back in Qatar, but I can't spare the time in university teaching weeks. Postponed Qatar delivery until Xmas.

Wednesday, 15 October 2014

Expert Witness: Sludge Treatment

The main expert witness job on the books was settled this afternoon, shortly before I was due to appear in court for cross examination.

It was the biggest expert witness job I have done, with three part 35 compliant reports, a meeting of experts, and all preparations for cross examination in a London court.

The client was very happy with my "excellent" reports. The training I have had in report writing, and the meeting of experts proved invaluable, (especially the latter, in view of the lack of understanding of the opposing "expert" of both the technical issues and how to conduct a meeting of experts).

My interactions with the opposing expert reminded me of something George Bernard Shaw once said "Never wrestle with pigs. You both get dirty and the pig likes it.”

Thursday, 11 September 2014

Expert Witness : Water Treatment Engineering

I have just picked up another bit of expert witness work, and I am preparing for a meeting of experts on the existing expert witness engagement.

Both are to do with water and sewage treatment engineering, though they are at very different ends of the water quality spectrum.

I find the forensic troubleshooting aspects of these cases fascinating. Though I only offer expert services in an area I have been working in for twenty-three years now, I never get bored of it.

As for the part of the job which is more new to me, I am glad to have been properly trained in how to write part 35 reports, conduct meetings of experts, and give evidence in court. I see the first two things done badly by others on most expert witness jobs I become involved in.

It seems to me that  the training I received should be a compulsory prerequisite for serving as an expert witness.Based on those I have seen, much court time must be wasted reading reports which fail to clearly distinguish between opinion and fact, and by "experts" who do not understand their duty is to the court, rather than their clients.

Monday, 8 September 2014

Teaching and Writing about Process Plant Design

I am just finishing the manuscript for my book on Practical Process Plant Design. I have enjoyed writing it, and I have had a proposal to write a second linked book accepted by the same publisher.

I have had an interesting correspondence with authors of the previous books on process plant design written back in the 80s and 90s.

I am awaiting the results of a bid to offer a few courses on Plant Design in the UK through the IChemE. We have a few enquiries about courses in South Africa, Middle East and Malaysia which are close to signing contracts too.

I am also getting ready for the start of a new teaching term, and my teaching will be slightly different based on the book. It is all about practical process plant design teaching / training at the moment.

Saturday, 30 August 2014

Scaling in Landfill Gas Stripper: Troubleshooting

The report on troubleshooting of a landfill gas air stripper has been completed, and the results look quite conclusive. A chemical dosing solution has been found, which I hope the client will use to avoid the time-intensive manual descaling they have been using to date. 

Saturday, 16 August 2014

How to Write a Part 35 Expert Witness Report

I got the Part 35 Expert Witness report I was waiting for today, and it was as I predicted interesting.

Without wishing to comment further on that particular report, I can offer a few tips for anyone who is asked for the first time to write an Part 35 expert witness report.

1. Be sure you are actually an expert in the area in question
2. Get professional training in writing Part 35 reports, meetings of experts and giving evidence
3. Remember always that your duty is to the court, rather than your client.
4. Offer evidence to back any opinions expressed in your report
5. Clearly differentiate between fact and opinion
6. Remember that name-calling is no substitute for rational argument

There is more detail in the first link.

Saturday, 2 August 2014

Honey Done

In my course on process plant commissioning, I have a phrase I inherited from an American presenter, "honey do " jobs.These are the jobs which build up when commissioning engineers are out on site working long days under pressure which can give them problems with their wives/ husbands.

A couple of months after the end of teaching, I have cleared my honey do backlog, my textbook is more or less there and I just have a couple of little R+D / troubleshooting jobs and a remaining expert witness appointment on the books. It might be time to take a holiday!

Friday, 25 July 2014

Expert Witness Report / Meeting of Experts

Good News Everyone! I have just hear that the "other side" in my remaining water engineering expert witness engagement have asked for extra time to produce their own report.

Looking forward to seeing it, it's an interesting case. It's hard to see how there might be another expert with a substantially different opinion from mine, so it should make for interesting reading / meeting of experts.

Tuesday, 22 July 2014

Troubleshooting Landfill Gas Stripper Calcification

I have a student intern helping me to diagnose problems with an air stripper removing methane from landfill gas, and I'm pretty sure we have arrived at a practical solution to the problems of calcification (or scaling) which were being experienced.

Nice to do something practical, even if there is a little bit of associated labwork establishing the best solution prior to site-trialling it.

Sunday, 6 July 2014

Expert Witness: Water / Environmental Chartered Engineer

I'm getting ready for a couple of court appearances in autumn as an expert witness. In both cases I produced a Part 35 compliant report for the court, but in only one of the cases did the "other side" commission an expert witness to produce another one.

There should of course be no "other side", as all expert witnesses have a duty to the court, rather than their client. Judging by some reports I have been sent in the past, some other "experts" are not as clear on this as I am. I imagine that those who write partial reports must dread a court appearance, when their presentation of what is at best dodgy minority opinion as consensus opinion, or even fact will be exposed.

That said, one of the court cases which were pending has just been settled out of court on the basis of my report, to the complete satisfaction my my client. When you are right, you are right.

Monday, 23 June 2014

An Applied Guide to Process and Plant Design

Elsevier's website has a link to the book...Draft is almost complete, and I have a couple of ideas for other books to pitch. I'm really enjoying writing.

Wednesday, 11 June 2014

Electrocoagulation and other Experiments

I have been pricing up bits for an electrocoagulation trial this morning as part of an ongoing process development contract. I have quite a few little experiments going on over the summer supporting process development, troubleshooting, optimisation and improvement exercises.

This is what happens when you start working in a university - people start thinking of you as an experimentalist. I see more of this stuff now, and less of the hands-on overall-wearing stuff I used to do. I don't mind coming in from the rain, and it is all still practical problem solving rather than blue sky research.

In devising the rig I am going to use to test the process, I see that this is also a design exercise. I have to purchase commercially available equipment and materials to make a device to do a specified job to a given degree of precision.

Perhaps the reason why so many of my academic colleagues do not understand design despite having to devise test rigs is because they have technicians to do the rig-building for them, so lecturers can avoid thinking about how to make things which work.

This might also explain the low status in academia of design practice. Despite the politically correct answer which many of them would give if asked, it is very clear from their attitudes that most university lecturers consider themselves a cut above their technicians.

Technicians have told me in the past about the vague descriptions and still vaguer sketches they receive from lecturers of the experimental rigs they want building, which makes it clear to me that that a lot of the thinking which goes into rigs actually comes from technicians rather than academics.

Design looks easy until you try it, especially if you have been watching someone with a lot of experience.

“In theory, there is no difference between theory and practice. But in practice, there is.” ― Yogi Berra

Thursday, 5 June 2014

I Just Flew In From Malaysia, and Boy Are My Arms Tired...

Old jokes apart, it's a long way back. I've been in Singapore and KL doing some networking and training for a couple of weeks, and it was well worth the trip.

I have got some prototyping to do over here for a confidential design job, and I'm hoping to get stuck back in to writing the textbook as soon as the jetlag wears off- I'm about halfway done now. My latest TCE article was published this week, and so far all of the feedback is very positive.

There are lots of potential training opportunities, mostly overseas, as well as a possibility of some design work in Singapore.

It's never boring....

Tuesday, 6 May 2014

Modelling and Simulation in Process Plant Design

I'm writing a bit of the textbook dealing with use of modelling and simulation for process design, and there seems to be a problem.

I don't seem to be able to find the scientific papers where someone showed that process modelling and simulation programmes are capable of even a fair match with real full scale plant without you inputting lots of data from a real plant just like the one being designed.

What is not well known in academia is that such data is very hard to get if you work for a process design company, as it is jealously guarded by operating companies. Operating companies also tend to only record data which is useful to them. This may well not include the data modellers need.

I can however find lots of papers (and IChemE guidance) which are concerned with the paramount importance of undertaking model verification (debugging) and validation (making the model match reality), stages which seem to be left out of academic use of such models.

Including these stages would draw attention to three things:

1. Even commercial models are full of bugs and bear little resemblance to reality before real operating data is added. Models you write yourself with Matlab etc. are far worse.
2. Genuine plant operational data is very hard to come by
3. It is almost always quicker to design a plant than to model it

The supposed advantage of modelling is speeding up the design process - has anyone else noticed that all of the articles in the TCE plugging modelling for design are written by modelling programme vendors?

Wednesday, 23 April 2014

Expert Witness : Noise and Odour Nuisance from Sewage Treatment Plant

I have been fixing dates today for an appearance in court as an expert witness in respect of odour and noise nuisance caused by a old filter bed type sewage treatment plant impacting on an adjoining campsite.

That makes two court appearances I now have planned for the autumn. I hope at least one of them goes ahead, I'm looking forward to making use of the expert witness cross examination training I had earlier in the year.

Tuesday, 22 April 2014

Industrial Chemical Process Design

As part of my background reading for the upcoming book, I have just skimmed through Douglas L Erwin's "Industrial Chemical Process Design". which is basically about how to use Visual Basic to carry out tasks to support engineering design (rather than solve engineering problems - computers can't solve problems)

The book has a narrow focus: "The great majority of the process engineer's work is strictly with organic chemicals". Whilst that is clearly Mr Irwin's experience, it hasn't been mine, or that of the majority of process engineers I know.

But Erwin is a practitioner, and his approach is practical. He recognizes upfront that even the programs he supplies with the book on disc "have not been put through an exhaustive beta test", so he says that the "quest of this book, to correct the program through your good ability". He is not implying that we should forget the IChemE's Guidance on Use of Computers

So I'd recommend this book to those who wish to use VB to carry out design tasks (especially those in the petrochemical industry), but they should be aware that by the time you have written and tested your programme, other methodologies might well have given you an answer a great deal more quickly, unless the programme is to be reused many times.

I have some Excel spreadsheets that I use to do hydraulic calculations, which have a bit of VB in them. I went to all of the trouble of having them third-part validated because I knew I would be using it many hundreds of times in subsequent years. It's just not worth the trouble for a one-off task.

Monday, 21 April 2014

Detailed Design Development : Water Process Engineering

In view of all of the pilot trial and prototyping work we have had recently we have put a new page on our website advertising the service.

I'd have liked to put pictures up on there, but since all of the work is commercially sensitive, they will have to wait until pictures are in the public domain.

Thursday, 17 April 2014

Process vs Plant Design TCE Article

I submitted a new article to The Chemical Engineer magazine yesterday, which starts like this:

Chemical Engineers are often known as process engineers in professional life, but we do not design processes - we design process plants. Engineers design physical artefacts, and a process is not an object. Process plants, however, are – they are made of concrete and steel, wires and pipes, tanks and pumps. Processes happen in them.

The process designer specifies the physical sub-components of the plant and how these are to be connected and controlled in order to carry out the process safely, reliably and economically. The process is an emergent property of the specified collection and interconnection of parts.

The job of selecting and specifying the parts and their interconnections involves a great deal of professional judgement, as well as the judicious application of engineering science and mathematics. The documentation of these choices is done largely by means of drawings. Drawings allow the communication with other engineering disciplines which is necessary to optimise the plant design.

Drawings are the things which the people who will build the physical plant need to do their jobs. The plant itself is the ultimate deliverable, but the immediate deliverables are mostly drawings. This is process plant design, a rather messy, intuitive, collaborative, multi-disciplinary, multifactorial business. It involves knowledge of the needs of electrical, software and civil engineers, equipment suppliers and of those who will procure, commission and operate the plant. It also involves communication and negotiation with these other disciplines...

You'll have to get a copy of the TCE to read the rest (they hide all of their articles behind a paywall) but it covers many things I have written about on here before. There will be lots more on this in the book, chapters two and three of which also went to their publisher yesterday.

Friday, 4 April 2014

The Essential Tension in Plant Design and The Modified Scotty Principle

Things are moving on with the design projects we have on the books, and we are close to pilot plant construction in both cases. With novel designs like these I use pilot plants as both prototypes, and a source of detailed, plant-specific data to allow the final design to proceed.

There is an tension between external design consultants and product managers in client organisations, explored in this paper, but even when designer and product manager are within the same organisation, there will be a tension. Designers are usually risk-averse, and management are usually risk-tolerant (I'd give you a link to a TCE article on this a while back, but they hide all of their articles behind a paywall)

In essence, management usually want to get a product to market as soon as possible, and with the absolute minimum possible margins of safety, and highest possible profit margin. Designers don't want to design things which don't work, they have a good idea of the limits of their analytical techniques, and they know that all design relies on approximation and heuristics.

When non-designers look at our calculations and drawings, it all looks very mathematical, very sharp-edged, but these are precise calculations of approximate values, and those straight lines on the drawing might be different in ten thousand ways.

The use of computer modelling and simulation programmes as design tools can cause many to be lulled into thinking that such slick-looking output must carry some weight. It can seem as if engineering has become such a straightforward application of scientific principles and mathematical modelling that computers can do it for us. It isn't, and the IChemE's guidance on use of computers has not been reversed.

I hear that management are now asking engineers to justify adding any margins of safety to designs done substantially using modelling programmes, but that engineers are then being asked to carry out de-bottlenecking of plants which have been designed in this way.

So there will always be a tension between engineers and management. The Scotty Principle addresses this tension with respect to timescales:

Scotty Principle(n.) The defacto gold star standard for delivering products and/or services within a projected timeframe. Derived from the original Star Trek series wherein Lt. Cmdr. Montgomery 'Scotty' Scott consistently made the seemingly impossible happen just in time to save the crew of the Enterprise from disaster.

The premise is simple:

1) Calculate average required time for completion of given task.

2) Depending on importance of task, add 25-50% additional time to original estimate.

3) Report and commit to inflated time estimate with superiors, clients, etc.

4) Under optimal conditions the task is completed closer to the original time estimate vs. the inflated delivery time expected by those waiting.

(Urban Dictionary)

Margins of safety are not just about gaining a Scotty-style reputation as a miracle worker, however. When things are uncertain, designers should err on the side of caution, "underpromise and overdeliver". Occasionally you will lose out to those who are willing to gamble, but winning in that way makes them lucky, not good. Let's not trust to luck.

Saturday, 29 March 2014

Expert Witness Training: Water Engineering Expertise

I attended one of Prosols Expert Witness Training sessions yesterday, on the Meeting of Expert Witnesses often ordered by the court.

There are a number of such courses offered by various providers. The Expert Witness Institute organised the first couple I went on, which were on writing Expert Witness Reports and  cross examination as an Expert Witness.These three courses covered the most difficult areas of the expert's role, though I discovered in doing them that my natural approach to these things is the correct one.

I am presently finishing the writing of a Part 35 compliant expert report for a UK government agency, and I hope that one of the two cases I have been offering expert opinion on will go to court later in the year so that I can have another opportunity to practice assisting the court in person.

One of the issues we covered yesterday was how to challenge the expertise of the other expert to offer an opinion on the matters under consideration. This is something I think it likely I will have an opportunity to practice in future, when there are so many non-engineers willing to offer advice on engineering matters.

Simply put, expert engineers are Chartered Engineers. Non chartered "engineers" are probably neither experts nor engineers, and Chartered Chemists may be expert chemists, but they are not engineers. If you are looking for an Expert Witness in Water Engineering, you want an expert engineer.

There are two engineering disciplines which understand how water and sewage/ wastewater treatment plants work- Environmental Engineers and Chemical Engineers. Chemical Engineers have the deeper understanding of how processes work, and are consequently traditionally a lot better paid (something I am trying to fix with Nottingham's Environmental Engineers). So a Chartered Chemical Engineer is likely to be far more expensive than the miscellaneous scientists and "engineers" who claim to offer expertise in our area, but if you choose wrongly, the court will be unlikely to allow you to change your "expert" once you have chosen one.

At best you get what you pay for, and Google seems full of people who will write you an "expert" report on anything, including my area of expertise. I guess they are gambling on the fact that 98% of cases never make it to court, so they will never be cross-examined on their partisan and ill-argued reports. Sooner or later I look forward to seeing one of them have to defend their dross to a barrister.

Thursday, 20 March 2014

Real Plant Design

I have a few confidential design jobs on the books at present, and they remind me that the problems of design of real plants are not mathematical in nature ( though we may use maths to help solve them)

All of these projects are development work, developing small integrated process plants which are to be sold as products, which means that they have to meet Van Koolen's test of being as simple and robust as a washing machine.

The problems are however exactly the same as on larger scale plants, (though the lower skill level of the operators makes the design if anything more challenging):

Collaboration with clients and designers from other disciplines uses a lot more of my time than higher mathematics or leading edge science.

Geometry is often a lot more important than calculus.

Cost, safety and robustness are a lot more important than genuine novelty.

Novelty is always constrained by practical considerations.

Process Plant Design and the Use and Abuse of Modelling and Simulation Software

I have a number of process plant design courseworks ready to mark, some for pharmaceutical plants, and some for groundwater treatment plants. I am always looking for new industrial visitors to set my students design challenges, and  have obtained agreement today from an industrial gas plant supplier to provide a design project for a plant including cryogenic distillation next year, which should stretch our second years a bit.

They tell me that they make a lot of use of simulation and modelling programmes to support their design process, as air is essentially the same everywhere, and their plant at smaller scales is made up of well characterised blocks of equipment, for which they have written well characterised blocks of code for Aspen, a simulation package.

It is starting to seem that this marks the dividing line between use and misuse of simulation and modelling programmes. If you have a great deal of applicable data on the exact plant you are designing, and are designing many similar plants, you can go to the effort required to fit a modelling programme to your plant, and writing accurate models of your unit operations. Plant design then becomes a question of linking these blocks into an integrated model, and optimisation of the model can be a valid proxy for optimising the plant.

If you are doing a one-off design, you do not have a great deal of information about the plant which will be built. Rather than using a validated model, you will be using the straight-out-of-the-box generic data and models, and optimisation of this unvalidated model makes no sense. The errors in the model are very likely to be greater than the resolution of the optimisation procedure.

Plant operators are the ones holding the information necessary to validate and tune modelling software. The contracting companies who design the majority of process plants do not have this information, and consequently make less use of modelling. This is presumably why the most commonly used modelling software is written to support the oil and gas companies who are best placed to put in the data, time and effort needed to validate modelling software.

Wednesday, 19 February 2014

Conceptual Design of Chemical Processes: Douglas

Someone suggested to me that the approach to "Process Design" elaborated in academia can be traced back to a seminal book- this one. As the title suggests, it attempts to design chemical processes, rather than process plants. Its author understands that the expert designer proceeds by intuition and analogy, aided by back of the envelope calculations, but sees the need for a method which helps beginners to cope with all of the extra calculations they have to do whilst they are waiting to become experts.

The arguments underlying the academic approach since built on it are helpfully set out explicitly. It assumes that the purpose of conceptual design is to decide on process chemistry and parameters like reaction yield. Choices between technologies are not considered. Pumps are assumed to be a negligible proportion of the capital and running cost, and heat exchangers are assumed to be a major proportion of capex and opex.

It is implicit in the chain of assumptions used to create the simplified design methodology that a particular sort of process is being designed. Like all design heuristics, it has a limited range of applicability. Though it mentions other industries, it is based throughout upon an example taken from the petrochemical industry, and it is clear that it is most suited to that industry.

Having declined to consider many items which are of great importance in other industries, it finds time for pinch analysis, which was quite new when the book was written. Perhaps this really was a worthwhile exercise for the beginning process designer in the petrochemical industries of the 1980s, but there are many process plant designs in 2014 which do not have a single heat exchanger. There are many industries where process chemistry is given to chemical engineers by chemists, and considering process chemistry is not an engineering task.

This book in itself seems to be a plausible approach to the limited problem it sets out to solve, few of whose assumptions I can argue with in the context of its chosen example. It attempts to offer a beginner a way to choose between potential process chemistries and specify the performance of certain unit operations in a rather old-fashioned area of chemical engineering.

The problem it offers a methodology to solve is however not one I have ever been asked to find a solution for. When I am asked to offer a conceptual design, I am being asked to address different questions, on plants with a different balance of cost of plant components. Petrochemical plants of the sort used as the example in this book don't really get built in the developed world any more. 

The approach in the book does however hang together in a way more recent developments based on it do not. A good amount of effort goes into as rigorous a costing as is possible at the early design stage (ignoring the issue of the items which are left out).

This book in essence seems to contain the slight wrong turns which led by successive oversimplifications and misunderstandings to the utterly unrealistic approaches common in academia nowadays.

Friday, 7 February 2014

Process vs. Plant Design

I'm well ahead of schedule with my book on process plant design, and I have an article on the difference between process plant design and the partial design and modelling which is taught in many universities in its stead. Plant design teaching is going well, thought the students are as ever finding it challenging.

Today I am doing a bit of design work under the two confidential projects I have on the books. If I didn't continue to actually design things for a living, I might start to wonder if all of the people in academia who have never designed anything which has been built, but insist they know how it ought to be done were right.

My clients want to spend the minimum amount of resources to progress projects to the next stage - why wouldn't they? The designers are often the one who has to insist that a certain amount of effort be put in to adequately control risks prior to signing off each stage.

The idea current in academia that design should start with an extensive and expensive modelling, simulation, and "optimisation" exercise betrays a fundamental misunderstanding of the commercial world in which all real design exists.

The idea that such an approach is imperative for reasons of "sustainability" shows that a definition of sustainability other than that of the professional engineer is being used. Sustainability is a highly politicised term, but the IChemE helpfully tell us what it means in our profession, with metrics: here.

Thursday, 30 January 2014

Expert Witness in Water and Sewage Engineering

I spoke to a new potential Expert Witness client today (to do with an industrial effluent treatment plant job), and I am awaiting the word from another who I spoke to earlier in the week (to do with clean water supply).

With two expert witness jobs on the books, (both awaiting court dates), and a part 35 report about to be sent out, there looks to be a lot of this work. It is well-paid, but I'd rather maintain my engineering practice. I enjoy it, and it keeps me current and credible.

There are too many "experts" who have never designed or operated a plant, and are not even qualified as engineers, who nevertheless seem to manage to persuade courts as to their credibility in offering an opinion on engineering matters.

Then there are those who used to be some kind of engineers, but who now only seem to work as expert witnesses. They claim expertise in a very wide field, sometimes far from their original experience and training. They seem to be experts in being an expert witness.

This is why it is so important for me to continue in professional engineering practice, and to only work as an expert in areas close to my maximum experience and expertise.

I'm sure than many who write reports on subjects far from their real area of expertise must be terrified than one day they will have to stand up in court and defend their opinions. Personally I look forward to it.

Saturday, 25 January 2014

Heads Down!

University teaching starts on Monday, and I've cleared my desk of all of the most pressing / time consuming jobs. Work continues to come in, we have bids out for a mix of new R+D, design, and expert witness jobs.

My priority in the next few weeks will be to get my two new modules(one for Year 2, one Master's) working properly. I've decided to try teaching a formal method intended to enhance creativity, the Adapted McMaster 5 point problem solving strategy. I'll see how it goes.

I'm bringing in some other chartered engineers to allow design across a wider range of sectors to be taught in the same way as I have been teaching my Water/Environment sector design examples.

Book chapter is looking good. One of my colleagues pointed out to me the IChemE's CAPE guidelines on use of computers by chemical engineers, which is strongly supportive of my ideas in the area, and I have included a mention of it in there. To summarise - computers support professional opinion, they do not replace it, and it is our professional responsibility to validate all inputs, outputs and the quality and appliability of all programmes used.

More generally, I have not so much been looking for texts which tell me how to carry out design, as those which are based in the same understanding of it which I have intuitively after twenty odd years as a practitioner.

I already knew that we only use validated software and spreadsheets in practice, and that custom writing spreadsheets and programmes (as academics do and teach) to order is fraught with error - the CAPE guidelines only told me that the IChemE had codified my knowledge.

Similarly, I know how I go about solving problems, and the McMaster method only names the stages and formalises the attitudes with which to approach them.

I also know how to carry out a design exercise, and Pahl and Beitz's book only sets down for me a highly systematic and explicit version for beginners to follow.

The problem for those beginners is that for every reliable guide there are twenty unreliable ones in my field, describing not how it is done by practitioners, but some theoretician's unvalidated, unproven, impractical idea of how it ought to be done.

Friday, 17 January 2014

Getting on top of it...

Third stage of bidding for government job was completed on Monday, we find out next week if we got it. Six consultancy days left before teaching starts, and my first book chapter is ready for proof reading, all of the various design jobs are in hand, the current expert witness report is substantially completed, and we have produced the tender for the development work we have been asked to price for. I'm ready for a weekend!

Saturday, 11 January 2014

The Iron Triangle in Design Development

"Fast, good and cheap: pick any two" is an aphorism which sums up the "Iron Triangle" of project management. It was mentioned in an article in today's "Guardian", and it reminded me of some issues associated with the confidential design work I am doing at present.

Both of the things I am designing need to be both good and cheap. Getting these designs right is not going to be quick. In both cases there are many constraints to consider, but working within constraints is what makes design interesting.

From a conceptual design point of view there isn't that wide a range of possible choices which are safe, cost effective and robust..  Both have to be exceptionally robust, and have additional physical as well as cost constraints.

The highly mathematical "Process Design" approach is of no use here- I am doing far more geometry than I am calculus.

Thursday, 9 January 2014

Busy, but can't say what with!

Picked up another real engineering job yesterday, to do with sludge drying. More or less all of the other jobs on the books at present are covered by confidentiality agreements, which is a pity, as they are pretty interesting.

We've now got three design jobs, and two expert witness appointments on the books. I'm going to see a government agency next Monday for the third stage of bidding for a couple of training contracts which would give us more or less as much training as we want for the next couple of years.

There are a few other things on the horizon, but I'll be happy to break the back of the various jobs we have now before students return in 2-3 weeks time, and get the first chapter of my book to the editor before month end.