The Many Levels of Process Engineering


What is process engineering?  

Process engineers are responsible for designing manufacturing plants that transform raw materials into products. In the design-build model, they work closely with clients to optimize chemical processes, controls, and overall plant design efficiency from initial design through final construction.  

Right-sizing process engineering services.  

Not all plants require the same level of process engineering. It is important to provide clients with a menu of services that meet their project’s needs. Right-sizing the process engineering package helps design-build firms accurately estimate engineering costs.     

Generally, process engineering packages fall into three categories.  

Process Light. 

Process light is the ideal approach for projects requiring minimal piping and controls.  

Typical deliverables include process flow diagrams (PFDs), general arrangements (GAs), a detailed equipment list, vendor design packages, and utility piping plans executed in Revit. Piping is designed using 3D equipment and utility header models. Utilities are usually done by mechanical, electrical, and plumbing (MEP) professionals. Controls are handled by the original equipment manufacturer (OEM). Tools used include Revit and AutoCAD.  

An example of a process light project would be a new line Austin designed for a cookie manufacturer. The owner specified and procured the process equipment. Austin’s process team completed the equipment list, engineered the interconnects between the equipment pieces, gathered all the required utility requirements for the process, and generated utility header drawings with piping to within 5 feet of the equipment. Final connections were made by the mechanical contractor.  

Process Medium.  

The process medium approach meets the needs of projects with a moderate level of process piping and controls. As in process light, deliverables include PFDs, GAs, and a detailed equipment list. Additionally, process medium features piping and instrument diagrams (P&ID), mass balance, equipment sizing, instrument specifications, and data sheets. Piping is designed using detailed 3D equipment and piping models, including isometric drawings. Controls are handled by the design-builder utilizing in-house process control engineers. Process mechanical engineers specify equipment and secure quotes for purchase and bids for installation. Tools used include Plant 3D, AutoCAD, Pipe-flo, and Caesar.  

For an example of process medium, we turn to a new cookie line again. With this project, the owner asked Austin to help develop a process to recycle cookie waste, converting it back to a sugar solution for inclusion back into the cookie process. Austin designed a pilot scale facility for the owner to begin trial runs on recovering the 3,000 tons (per year) of cookie waste. 

Process Heavy.

Process heavy approach is mainly for chemical or more complex projects with significant piping and controls. This often includes projects subject to elevated temperatures and pressures. The deliverables, controls, and tools are the same as in process medium. However, additional time and expertise are required due to the project’s complexity.  

An example of a process heavy project is a plant Austin is designing for a tortilla chip manufacturer. The manufacturer is adding six new fryers into an existing facility. Significant detail in equipment modeling and piping was required to fit the new equipment into the limited space.  Laser scanning and 3D modeling were produced, and multiple new oil systems were designed for the new fryers.   

Customizing Packages.  

Every project is unique. Categorizing the level of process engineering needed for a project helps to define the project and is helpful in scope development. This includes being mindful of the project budget and providing options clients may not have considered. Working collaboratively with clients allows the process engineering team to create a services package that ideally fits their needs.  

The Beauty of Design-Build.  

As a design-build company, our discipline professionals—site location specialists, architects, engineers, and builders—are all under one roof. The team shares their knowledge and unique expertise seamlessly with each other and the client. This level of collaboration allows process engineers to think ahead and ask the kind of questions that circumvent issues down the line.  

Learn more about Austin’s engineering capabilities.


Chief Process Engineer

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