Value Improvement Practices (VIP) Guide Words

Brainstorming around a table

Brainstorming around a table

A Value Improvement Process (VIP) session, also known as Value Engineering, is a meeting that tries to analyze a design and find ways to improve the “value” the project provides to those undertaking it. This usually means saving money, but it can also mean saving time, reducing maintenance, increasing profit margins, etc.

Value improvement meetings are often run using methods similar to safety meetings like HAZOPs:

  1. A facilitator leads the meeting, keeping the group on track. A scribe takes notes. Members of the project team and others (operations, clients, valued equipment vendors, etc.) may participate
  2. Break the process broken down into “nodes,” sub-divisions that make a logical sense to review at the same time. (Ex: truck unloading, the crude unit, the diesel tank farm, the pig launchers and receivers, the chiller unit, etc)
  3. For each note, brainstorm for ideas that may generate value
  4. The ideas are ranked for their value: how much money could be saved, and at what cost (in time/schedule/safety etc.). Generally it’s enough to categorize ideas into Implement, Maybe, and Reject piles, depending on how promising the idea appears.
  5. A list of recommendations are created, for the project team to follow up on.

Also like safety meetings, several VIPs can be taken over the life-cycle of a project.

Much like having a list of HAZOP guidewords, a VIP list of guidewords, ideas, or prompts can help you have a better session. For any given situation, the majority of guidewords won’t apply, but flipping through the list may occasionally spark an idea. You may also get value reviewing previous articles on brainstorming and TRIZ.

Guidewords/ideas/prompts for VIP brainstorming:

Continue reading

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pH System Modeling and Control

PH ScaleWhen dealing with acids and bases, the subject of pH and pH control often comes up. In this post we'll discuss some methods of modelling acidic and basic streams and talk a little about the practical difficulties in controlling pH in the real world.

pH, you’ll hopefully recall, is a logarithmic measure of the activity of hydrogen ions in a solution. For plain water a pH of approximately 7 is “neutral” or natural water, with lower numbers being acidic and higher numbers basic.




 Modeling Mixtures of Acids and Bases

For simple mixtures of acids and bases, this online calculator lets you predict the pH of a mixture. Before starting the calculator, you must either know the concentrations of the acid and base in the total solution after mixing (see their example Case #1), or the concentrations and flowrates of the acidic and basic streams before mixing (see Case #2).

WebQC pH Solver

Let's try this out! For example, say I have a mixture containing 0.1 mol/L of HCl and of NaOH:


HCL pKa=-7.0 c=0.1

NaOH pKb=0.2 c=0.1 Continue reading

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Free and Legal Access to MS Word, Excel, Office

Using VLOOKUP in a calculation or list

Light users can save themselves $100 with these resources. (Curious what I'm doing here?)

Need to get access to Microsoft Office for a new PC, but don’t have the cash on hand to get the latest version just yet? Try these free and legal options:

  1. Microsoft Starter 2010 – Free "light" versions of Word and Excel. This software was originally pre-installed into certain laptops and computers. Intended for Operating Systems earlier than Windows 8, only. It won’t have all features, for example you can’t run Macros in Excel, and it has a mandatory ad in the corner taking up screen space. But it can do in a pinch. Intro to Excel Starter, Missing features
  2. Open Office, a freeware alternative
  3. Libre Office, another alternative

Open and Libre office are very comparable to each other in features. They replicate almost all of office, but you may feel the absence if you run a lot of Macros, Excel Add-ins, etc.

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Chemical Plant Safety Tips Easily Forgotten

Today, a handful of safety lessons which are easy to forget when visiting a chemical plant:

Dangerous chemicals:

And I thought they smelled bad...on the outside!

What if you didn't have the goggles?

  • Every plant worth its salt will have Material Safety Datasheets (MSDSs) in prominent locations, and proper training, for each hazard. These sheets provide specific guidance on to do if you’re exposed to the chemical and advice for dealing with fires. Training on how to use MSDS sheets is ubiquitous and it should be easy to get some, if you didn’t gain experience with these sheets while getting your degree
  • If you are ever exposed to a “mystery chemical,” a good rule of thumb is this: if exposed in your body/eyes, run for a safety shower/eye wash station and wash your body/eyes out thoroughly, for up to 15 minutes, while calling someone else to get help. When showering, remove exposed clothes as they may be contaminated. Do not induce vomiting. There are plenty of exceptions where this is unnecessary or even dangerous, which is why you check the MSDS first. But this is a typically the right response
  • If the work you are doing means that you may need to use an eyewash station, prepare before you start working. Stop yourself and visualize in your mind how you can stumble to the eyewash station while blinded. What direction can you head for? What wall will you feel along? Etc.
  • If a site has multiple chemicals, don’t mix and match Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) from different zones. For example, there are specialty gloves that can stand up to pools of ultra-dangerous Hydrogen Fluoride for over an hour, yet disintegrate in face of deadly deadly mayonnaise

Respirators: Continue reading

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Why American Women Graduates are Quitting Engineering

Rani Bokar at Intel

Rani Bokar leads the team at Intel

So I dug into another "women in engineering" report, trying to see if anyone had cracked the code on why women tend to leave engineering 2-3x more often, despite being just as qualified. It's a 64-page review of graduates all over the United States: Stemming the Tide Why Women Leave Engineering (PDF). This is more about keeping women in the field, not getting them to consider it as an option in the first place.

Some quick hits on the findings, I am mashing up those who leave before and shortly after entering the workforce here:

  • No difference in demographics, confidence, attitude, GPA, major/discipline of those who stay and leave. It's mostly the specifics of the jobs they find and the climate they find
  • 60-80% who leave field are still working, but elsewhere
  • Setting aside the people who don't find engineering interesting, and main issues are roughly:
    1. 50%: Working conditions -poor training, too much travel
    2. 30%: Work "climate" -  a "work 60 hours a week paid 40" sweatshop or a sexist attitude among the office
    3. 25%: Family reasons and just general work/life balance
  • Recommendations start page 57: Better organizational path, training, positive climate, mentors, reasonable work-life balance. Mostly of it's pretty obvious stuff

I notice that once again, the vast majority of graduates and employees are in chemical, civil, and mechanical engineering. As I've mentioned, this is a highly consistent and statistically huge trend (at least in North America) and I cannot find any discussion of why those disciplines appeal so much more to women. Leave a note in the comments if you have any info!

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