Archives :: Commentary
March 1, 2013
It was Terry Thurber’s idea. It was a bad idea. But Bob Miller and Nick Urbanski taught me many years ago that, in the research and development (R&D) world, bad ideas are often the best ideas. Install things upside down or turn them inside out. R&D managers will be surprised at what can be learned. Thereafter, file what was learned under “We Learn More From Our Failures Than Our...
February 1, 2013
At Chemical Engineering magazine, we focus the bulk of our coverage on the unit operations and equipment that tie the various segments of the chemical process industries (CPI) together. Regardless of industry sector, plant engineers perform chemical, mechanical and thermal transformations of raw materials, including petroleum, minerals, air and others, into products, using a host of common processes. But...
February 1, 2013
There was genuine excitement at the November 14 and 15 ChemInnovations event held in New Orleans. This was especially true at the Plant Managers Roundtable that was moderated by Rebekkah Marshall. On stage with Rebekkah were Jim Armstrong of Rhodia, Inc., Paresh Bhakta of Celanese Ltd. and Jim Hull of Georgia Gulf Chemicals and Vinyls, LLC. All three gentlemen are very experienced plant managers, all with...
January 1, 2013
It always makes me nervous when people say “change is good.” By now I’ve come to realize that statement is usually made after change has taken place, usually without planning, and we might as well make the best of it. Given an average situation, change is 50–50. Given a positive situation, there’s more downside risk to change. The trick to successful change is managing that...
January 1, 2013
Based especially on FRI’s productivity statistics for 2010 and 2011, I was nominated for the ChemInnovations Plant Manager of the Year Award. On November 13, I attended the Awards Banquet, but I lost the award to a very worthy candidate — Mr. Chris Witte of BASF Freeport. Here is the acceptance speech that I never had a chance to give: I started supervising people at age five. The neighborhood...
December 1, 2012
I drink tap water! There, I finally said it. I am out of the closet — the water closet. My two sons are now cowering with shame, wondering how they can possibly ever face their Dasani-drinking friends again. It was maybe 20 years ago when I first encountered the concept of bottled water. What a strange idea! Why would anybody want to pay for something that’s free — and everywhere —...
November 1, 2012
My personal physician looks at me like I am a distillation column. Dr. Dianne English worked as a chemical engineer for about five years before attending and completing medical school. As an engineer, she worked for Champlin and Conoco-Phillips — and visited some of the same processing units that I did early during my career. Our conversations are in a language that chemical engineers only half...
October 1, 2012
More opinions on ChE education I would like to contribute to the discussion on “practical” ChE education (CE, September 2012). After graduation, I as well didn’t know what a pipe flange was, nor a gasket, didn’t know how to read a pump curve, didn’t know how to size a relief valve and so on. I could have learned more that applies to the CPI [chemical process industries] in an...
October 1, 2012
According to my version of the story, Robert Kohler said, “We don’t need visas to enter Hungary.” According to Robert’s version, he said, “It’s easy to get visas to enter Hungary.” Either way, he was wrong. Either way, he got us to Budapest. Robert Kohler and I visited the OMV plant in Schwechat, Austria, on a Friday morning. At Robert’s urging, we decided to...
September 1, 2012
Re: Education needs a reality check... I would like to pass on a few comments on Jason Makansi’s letter titled “Education needs a reality check”, which appeared in the August 2012 edition (p. 6). I too, like Jason, began my now 36-year career not knowing which way to turn a valve but being fully trained in transport phenomena. Did my university fail me? No. My university’s ChE...
September 1, 2012
Nobody would have ever called Denny proactive. He wasn’t even reactive. He was barely active in any sense of the word. A majority of his acquaintances would have, in fact, called him inactive. Nevertheless, Denny was on our sales team, albeit the junior member. Dan was the division vice president. If Dan ever smiled, I don’t remember it. He wasn’t very inspiring. In fact, when he spoke...
August 1, 2012
From August 2012 Letters to the Editor Three years after receiving my B.S.Ch.E. degree from Columbia University, and working in industry for a power company and at a refinery, I was asked to give a talk to the New York City chapter of the American Institute of Chemical Engineers (AIChE) students’ night on my early experience in the field. One of my observations for the audience was that when I...
August 1, 2012
My June 2011 editorial (CE, p. 27) recommended the hiring of happy people. It included a photograph of the present FRI technician staff. After a recent safety meeting, I handed all staff members fresh copies of their resumes. Once they picked their jaws off the floor, I explained: “I wrote, from scratch, seven different resumes for the seven of you. I started with job descriptions. All of these new...
July 1, 2012
Where do middle boilers go? If you answered, “Nobody knows”, then you’re wrong. FRI’s Design Practices Committee (DPC) knows — and they’re willing to share. The DPC was formed in 1975. It originally contained just six members. Neil Yeoman was one of the original members. He still participates on the DPC today — as a consultant. Dan Summers, of Sulzer Chemtech, is...
June 1, 2012
Circa 1978, Reese and I visited a petrochemical plant in Corpus Christi, Texas. Primarily, our job was to inspect trays that had been installed in three columns. Each of those columns was about 10 ft in diameter and 100 ft tall. Our first mistake: We tried inspecting all three columns on the same day. By the time we got to the third column we were physically drained. Nevertheless, with shaky legs and arms...
May 1, 2012
Every five years or so, a call would come in and once again I would be troubleshooting a certain extraction unit in Canada — usually in the dead of winter. This particular unit had a liquid-liquid extractor, a stripper, a vacuum regenerator and the usual complement of pumps, pipes, valves, vessels, heat exchangers, raccoons and crows. Some of you might remember the extractor from my Crow’s Nest...
April 1, 2012
I will bet that many readers are familiar with a Teddy Roosevelt quote that includes the following: “It is not the critic who counts…the credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena...” Ralph Weiland has been in the arena for many years, doing chemical engineering work that has benefitted many people. At the Spring AIChE meeting this month (Houston; April 1–5), the...
March 1, 2012
For the first half of my career, I worked in a group that developed, designed and sold distillation trays. Late during the 1970s, half of that group’s business disappeared — almost overnight — when structured packing replaced trays in very large ethylbenzene-styrene vacuum columns. Even the best of trays could not compete with the low pressure drops of structured packings. In 1985, Norton...
February 1, 2012
I was whining to myself, and to anybody who would listen, about the 20 to 30 projects that I have on my desk at all times. Then I met Ms. Regina Henry, who is the coordinator of immigration at Oklahoma State University (OSU). Together, Regina and I counted her active projects. They totaled 460. Regina, two assistants and two part-time assistants are currently helping 460 foreign-born students to study and...
December 1, 2011
The following letter originally appeared in Chemical Engineering, December 2011, p. 6. The U.S. Dept. of Health and Human Services’ (HHS) flawed and unwarranted ruling that styrene poses a health hazard continues to stir opposition from respected scientists, manufacturing leaders, the hundreds of thousands of American workers whose jobs depend on a viable styrene industry, and a broad-based...
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