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Sustainability in Instrumentation and Process Control: The Role of Process Engineers

Posted on March 9th, 2016 by in Chemical Manufacturing Excellence

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The suggested working definition of sustainability is:

Sustainability is the capacity to endure; it is how systems remain productive indefinitely; it is the endurance of systems and processes. Sustainability includes four interconnected domains: processes, economics, politics and culture. 

Note that the first domain (or component) of sustainability is processes.  Process engineers are usually directly responsible for the process itself due to their training and expertise.  Depending on the nature of the process, process engineers may have chemical, mechanical, electrical or other backgrounds.  While highly skilled in their discipline, even the best process engineers can be less skilled in other disciplines.  This may seem negative… but it can actually present opportunities to become even more sustainable.

Regardless of their background, process engineers should develop their processes with sustainability in mind.  This is a multi-faceted activity that can entail using “green” raw materials, avoiding the production and/or storage of dangerous intermediate chemicals, using less energy, and a host of other considerations.

The processes developed directly affect the instruments and controls that are applied.  However instrumentation and control professionals usually have little input into the engineering of the process.  In many organizations, the process is “set in stone” before the instrumentation and control engineer even starts work.  Therein lays an opportunity to involve instrumentation and control professionals early in the process design phase — not to design the process but to ask questions such as why things could not be a little different to improve controllability, reduce the number of instruments, consolidate and/or eliminate process equipment, and the like.  These questions can be considered to be polite suggestions that encourage thought and potentially promote sustainability (sometimes significantly) — even when the best process engineers are working on the project.

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All opinions shared in this post are the author’s own.

 

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