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Ask an Expert: Richard Beale
Title: Sr. Staff Technologist
Affiliation: The Association of Science and Engineering Technology Professionals of Alberta (ASET)
Author of The Planning Guide to Piping Design
- What is your particular area of expertise?
First and foremost, I am a piping designer. Having worked for so many years in various piping design roles, I find it hard to describe myself as anything other than a piper (and proud of it too). In the last decade though, I have become increasing involved in engineering information management (EIM) and although ‘expert’ may be a bit of a stretch, I do consider myself to be quite knowledgeable in this area also.
- How would you explain your current work to a stranger on a bus?
Explaining what I do in as few words as possible always seems to prove difficult and I often feel that I have not done this very well. Here’s an attempt though. I develop and manage work processes for the creation and storage of engineering information, such as drawings and computer models. I also oversee the set-up of the computer aided design software, called CAD for short, used by engineers and designers. A large part of my job entails advising document controllers and designers on how to problem solve the 5-10% of issues that fall outside of the normal day-to-day tasks and assisting engineers gather data for their projects.
- Where do you carry out most of your work?
Most of my work is carried out in my employer’s offices located in downtown Calgary.
- What first inspired you to study your subject matter?
As a teenager owning and working on my first motorbike, I developed an interest in all things mechanical. During my high school years I was fortunate to attend vocational schools where I was able to study technical and architectural drafting. After graduating, this training landed me my first job with an engineering company as a junior draftsman. By chance I was assigned to the piping group, which I took an immediate interest in. This inspired me to pursue further studies in piping and mechanical engineering technology at my local technical college.
- What’s the most exciting part of your job?
I would have to say that it’s working with a diverse group of professionals from whom I am always learning. Our team is comprised of document controllers, business analysts, technical writers, software developers and engineers.
- What keeps you awake at night?
I find the constant uncompromising opposition to the Canadian Oil and Gas industry that has put so many people out of work very saddening. As an insider who has worked the vast majority of my career in this industry, I am aware of the high quality of engineering and construction, and the deep personal pride and ethics exhibited by all involved. For such people to be unemployed is a loss to all of Canada. With compromise and political will, a more carefully thought out transitional plan from fossil fuels to renewable energy would not only see a highly valuable resource continue to play its part during the interim in the standard of living enjoyed by all Canadians, but would also see our other valuable resource, this being these highly skilled people, continue to contribute and provide needed expertise in the development of solutions to the world’s future energy needs. As it is, a great number are sitting at home worrying about their finances and what the future holds for them and their families.
- What false preconceptions do people have about your job?
A sometimes preconceived notion about my job is that it only requires having knowledge of the drafting of drawings. To work effectively in engineering information management, one must also possess technical competency, knowledge of the document management and CAD software tools and databases, knowledge of project and construction execution, and knowledge of facility operations and maintenance. Interestingly, these skill sets that enable me to do my job are the ones I primarily garnered during my years in design and are the ones possessed by all good designers.
- What’s the most interesting thing you’ve learned this week?
The most interesting thing I learned this week was actually something very basic, this being the importance of an AutoCAD drawing title block naming convention for metadata extraction into document management software. Without going into detail about this, my real learning this week is that every decision has far reaching consequences in a data driven world. Everyone, from the most junior of draftsmen and document controllers to the most senior of designers, engineers and document managers, must pay attention to the whys and wherefores and the entering of data into drawings, documents and databases to very exacting standards. Failure to pay attention to the detail of a required data entry format is the death knell of any data management system.
- What do you think will be the next big discovery or development in your field?
While not new, further development of digital twin technology will increasingly lead to acceptance and implementation for plant lifecycle management. Another technology on the increase is laser scanning of existing infrastructure for the integration of new design and checking of the fabrication and installation accuracy during construction. Virtual reality is an emerging technology for design reviews and operator training that will also see more utilization in the coming years.
- What are the biggest pain points in the industry?
The political climate (no pun intended), the uncertainty of the regulatory process and the consequential loss of investment and expertise are the biggest pain points. This is of course my view as a Canadian living in Alberta and may not be true of the industry in other parts of the world.
- How have you used books for your own professional research and how it influenced your work, research or thinking, or help you solve a problem in your field? What outcome did it lead to?
I love books and have a fairly large personal library related to engineering and design. Specific examples of research and how I have been influenced elude me, but suffice to say that before the days of the Internet books were my primary source of information, so yes, I have used books extensively in my professional life. While nowadays I often turn to the Internet when I need information on a specific topic, I still quite frequently pull a book off the shelf for reference also. I like having books around because they’re tangible. Holding a book and flipping pages provides a certain sense of satisfaction that can never be replaced for me by electronic media.
For a limited time you can read Chapter One – Before You Begin on ScienceDirect
This chapter sets the tone for the purpose of the book. It begins by creating an awareness of the importance of an initial piping design set-up and moves to introducing in summary the topics that are covered in more detail in the following chapters. Summarization begins with a review of the common aspects of piping design set-up known to all piping designers; these being standards, specifications, and procedures. The chapter moves to discussing the often overlooked project management documentation, such as the Design Basis Memorandum and Project Execution Plan, of which the piping lead must inform themselves due to there being information contained in this documentation that can impact set-up decisions. The chapter is concluded by emphasizing that the piping lead is accountable for the piping set-up on the project.
Want to read more?
The Planning Guide to Piping Design
- Provides essential standards, specifications and checklists and their importance in the initial set-up phase of piping project’s execution
- Explains and provides real-world examples of key procedures that the piping lead can use to monitor progress
- Describes project deliverables for both small and complex size projects
- Offers newly revised chapters including a new chapter on CAD software
The book is available now on ScienceDirect. Want your own copy? Save up to 30% when you order via Elsevier.com, enter STC317 at the checkout.
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