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I am one of those dunderheads who most of the time anyway does nothing more than keep the plant running. Most of the time a trained monkey could do my job, in fact at times a monkey would be better at it because monkeys are very strong and have prehensile toes. Whenever I have to crawl under or over a big pipe (ruining the insulation in the process) to get to some otherwise inaccessible part of an installation I think the same things; well at least I dont have to work for peanuts ...
Back when I was in school (I am a well-trained monkey) it puzzled me that 99% of what I was being taught was BITS; here is a piece of equipment, here is what it does. Given that my job (and that of my classmates) was in all probability going to be the operating of an installation, I must say that there was very little attention paid to what happens if you put bits together. Moreover, having done an internship at a technical university, I became convinced that this BITS approach is a universal problem. So far I have had quite a few years of experience in my job and with trainees and engineers; nothing has yet given me cause to change my mind in this regard.
THE most important thing you will (have to) learn is that any installation is a combination of many elements that has its own special oddities. The second most important thing you will learn the easy or the hard way is that making changes is difficult.
Changing things is difficult because the thing you want to change is somebodys baby; they designed it that way and they want to keep it that way. Changing things is difficult because it means people have to change the way they do certain things; they have always done things this way and they want to keep doing things this way, thank you. Changing things is difficult because the result will rarely be what you expected it to be.
In the article Easing into Your First Plant Assignment there was a very important reason given for working with dunderheads like me; experience. By all means, as that article suggests, use the experience others have. However, that article forgets to tell you the most important thing; HOW to use that experience.
As I said; people work on routine and change makes people nervous. Your job as an engineer is to design new things or improvements to existing things. There is however something crucial to your chances of success; selling the idea. Not just to the people in management but to the people who will have to work with the thing you (are to) design too!
A large part of any engineering project is working out the essential things (processes and pieces of equipment) to use. The next step is usually to work out how to tie in the new equipment to the existing systems and th STOP! Once you have a rough idea where and how the new equipment should be installed go and talk to the people who will end up using it!