I have seen both aspects of engineering -Operations and Design and hence feel some what qualified on the subject of how a operations enineer and a design engineer think. Ideally, there shouldn't be a diference in the manner which an engineer thinks and analyzes be it Operations or Design. But having seen both aspects of engineering the fact of the matter is that in most cases an operations engineer doesn't see eye-to-eye with the design engineer.
Operations engineers abhor change. The fact that the plant / unit is running trouble free with a certain configuration of the plant / unit and certain parameters brings out the thought process that change is bad. I used to think in a similar fashion as an operations guy. We had a technical services team who were something closest to a design group in the plant. Their job was to suggest changes in plant configuration and parameters. However, the operations group used to always feel that they were tresspassing in their domain.
However, during any breakdown and subsequent re-start of the plant the operations group was in the forefront, working like a well-oiled machine to restore production & product quality. At times when the technical services guys would come up with some strong suggestions for change, the operations group used to resist by taking the stand that any misfortune due to the suggested changes would be squarely on the account of the tech services guys.
Since the tech services guys were not accustomed to troubleshooting during any process upset, they used to be apprehensive about taking the responsibility for any unforessen mishap which could lead to production downtime and consequent financial losses.
After spending close to 11 years in production where the overall thinking was that change is not good, I realized that I was getting stuck in a rut and going nowhere. With some effort and quite a bit of luck I was able to move out of production and join a engineering design consultancy.
This was a different world altogether. I was supposed to design and size equipment which I used to operate. Moreover, I was getting exposed to constant change in technology, whereby introduction of new technology was being done on a regular basis for improved safety, ease of operation and increased productivity and profitability.
It was a pleasant surprise to know that things could be done better. The same result could be achieved by adopting different methods was a revelation to me. Flexibility had replaced rigidity.
I now knew that this was my true calling. My basic instincts were more in sync with change and flexibility than rigidity.
But what happened to me was something a bit out of the ordinary. Not many of my colleagues were lucky to have this kind of experience. Many of them are now Plant Managers and Works Managers of the production company where they work and are well settled in their careers but the mindset is still of an operations guy. I wish them all the best in their lives for they have their own familial and social responsibilities and are doing great in their careers as well as being responsible members of our society.
I consider myself singularly lucky of having been exposed to both aspects of a chemical engineers career - Operations & Design.
Would like to hear of some similar experiences from other distinguished forum members.