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Time Saving Golden Rules – An Engineering Design Perspective

Working in an engineering design consultancy for almost 15 years has given me some insight into what needs to be done to work more efficiently and save time. Following are some rules that I would recommend:

1. Collect all data beforehand before starting any calculation. For example, if you are doing a pump hydraulic calculations have the following input data available before you start the actual calculations:

a. Pumped liquid properties @operating temperature (vapor pressure, viscosity, specific gravity)

b. Layout of the pump suction source (tank, vessel), pump and the pumped liquid destination (tank, vessel)

c. If available, the P&ID (Piping & Instrument Diagram) showing the pipe size, isolation valves, in-line instruments and equipment.

d. If available, pressure drop data for in-line instruments and equipment. Assumptions based on accepted good engineering practices and sound logic could be utilized if such data is not available from the basic project documents or from the in-house reference database.

e. Tentative pipe routing (suction and discharge) sketch from the piping engineer which estimates the type and number of pipe fittings (elbows, reducers, tees etc.), elevations at the suction source, pump suction nozzle, pump discharge nozzle and the destination.

2. Do not re-invent the wheel. If your company has design software duly approved for doing any design calculations, use the same. You don't need to spend time developing your own calculation procedure. Make sure that the software you are using is current and approved by the company and / or the client.

3. If your company maintains a good reference database of past projects, use it to save time in preparing engineering documents for similar types of projects.

4. Do not take up any engineering activity which you are unsure of. Spending time on any activity where there are a lot of if's and but's will lead to only unproductive work and frustration. Take up the activity only when the minimum required input data is available to produce a valid and correct design document.

5. If you are doing a project of similar nature with only capacity changes then it is recommended that the PFDs (Process Flow Diagrams) and P&IDs should first be converted to the project format first before attempting any engineering mark-up. The task of changing the title block of the drawing should be left to the CAD operator. Remember, the man-hours of a CAD operator cost much less than that of an engineer. Maximize the utilization of the CAD operator by assigning him the conversion of the drawing to the current project format to the maximum possible extent.

6. A lot of process engineering documents are deliverables to other disciplines. For example, process data sheets for instruments are generally an input to the instrumentation discipline to prepare their purchase requisitions. The instrument purchase requisition is an extensive document which has one section for process data. A time saving measure could be to directly fill the process data in the purchase requisition instead of generating a separate process datasheet and issuing it to the instrument discipline, which subsequently would require transferring the data from the process datasheet to the purchase requisition.

7. If you are preparing a descriptive word document which requires a lot of attention to the contents and requires tremendous powers of concentration, then just write by hand on paper before getting it typed and formatted. If secretarial staff is available to do the typing and formatting, utilize them. Avoid spending time on typing and formatting a word document in case competent secretarial staff is available. Again, the man-hour cost of a secretary is far less than that of an engineer.

8. Avoid re-work. It is totally unproductive and you end up spending more time than expected as well as not doing it right. If you are anticipating that the input data provided to you is not firm and can change, don't work on that deliverable till firm input data is available.

9. Ensure proper coordination with other disciplines. Lack of coordination can prove disastrous. For example, if the piping discipline decides a planometric change (e.g. sequence of connecting various tappings on a header) in the piping GA drawing it should be with the consultation and concurrence of the process discipline. Most piping engineers are unlikely to know the consequence on the process if they change the sequence of tappings on a header and only the process engineer is likely to know it.

10. Don't leave documents of other disciplines sent to you for review and checking lying on your desk indefinitely. Other people are depending on your inputs and comments for their work to progress. Follow the schedule for checking and returning. If you can complete it before time, believe me you will earn a lot of friends and admirers.

11. Sometimes engineering documents are sent to you for review and checking which is beyond your capability. Don't be ashamed of your inability to review the document. You are not supposed to be a know-it-all. Tell the concerned person that you are unable to review the document sent by him or her because you are not the right person to review the document. Return the document immediately without reviewing, because allowing it to lie on your desk is unproductive and a waste of precious project man-hours.

12. Don't make frivolous changes. Engineering is serious business and not a personal ego trip. Changes for the sake of change don't serve any purpose. Review carefully the impact of the change on the cost, project schedule, safety and functionality. However, remember that if by not changing you are hiding a design mistake than you are being dishonest. Mistakes have to be corrected no matter what the cost is.

These are just a few rules that I have mentioned. Would be happy to know some more experiences of readers of the forum regarding engineering design activities.


Thanks for sharing these pointers, Ankur. It made me aware of how important it is for all of us to work fast & right.
A very good checklist Ankur! I have been working in process engineering for 40 years and at some time have made many of the mistakes you identify. Thanks for keeping us honest.
I would add:
Don't trust formulae where you do not know the origin or cannot understand the basis.
If you are stuck - its usually because you need more data - so find it, or ask colleagues / supervisor.
When trouble-shooting trust basic principles of physics and thermodynamics. If you are rusty on these - refresh your understanding - its a good investment.
Don't be afraid to challenge what is not clear - but don't be defensive if you can see you have gone down the wrong track. Admit it and move on, you will be respected for this.
Keep your copy of project documents up todate and mark superceded documents as such - as soon as you get a revision.
When developing a complex simulation model you will make mistakes while debugging it - so keep a log of changes made to each revision - retaining the older models which you might want / or have to revert to.
Fantastic piece of work.Really agree with the ego and mistake part.It happens every where.

I would also like to add that standardization of similar equipment would save lot of time.

Very usefull information, thank you.

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