The new project is getting more and more interesting by the day. I’ve been working on a very intial-stage budget and schedule and had a meeting with the metallurgists again yesterday to work through some of the details of the process.  We’re drawing up some initial PFD’s (Process Flow Diagrams) to get a visual idea of what we’re going to be building. This is the very first step in making the plant come to life.
Did you know, engineers LOVE drawings? We’re actually trained to love drawing. Its literally the very first thing they teach you in engineering-school. And no, I’m not talking about beautiful sketches, (those come later in the development of a product i.e. the marketing phase 😉 ).  I’m talking about any simple, feable attempt to describe something you can see and feel, something 3-dimensional, on paper. Its the way we communicate. A picture really does say a thousand words and I never feel quite comfortable describing something to someone without a pencil in my hand! (As you can see I’m very brainwashed).

So what the PFD’s do is they take the description (in words) of the process and convert it into simplified flow-diagrams like the one below.  Well, I cant really put up the actual PFD’s of our plant, but I found this one on the net which is a good example.

My role at this stage is not really to draw up the PFD’s. I need to take the PFD’s and create what we call a Scope of Work and a BOM (or Bill of Materials). This is a list of all the materials needed to put the plant together – all the different components that make up the plant. Although the metallurgists may specify that they need a ball mill (for example), the mechanical engineer (thats me) job is to specify all the equipment that make the ball mill operate. It needs a system of gears to drive it, a shaft and motor, bearings to hold the shaft up etc.
At this very early stage of the project, we need to put together an estimated budget and schedule. For this, the Project Engineer (thats me too), needs to estimate the costs and quantities of not only the mechanical parts, but also the steel to hold them up, the concrete for the civil foundations, the electrical and piping requirements etc.

Now if you think this is a daunting task, you are right. I have no idea how to estimate costs and quantities. In fact, there are companies that specialise in Quantity Surveying and Cost Consulting. They will come into the picture soon, but right now we’ve just got to get an estimate.  Its really quite interesting – especially the schedule. You have to think about each task in the project and what tasks need to happen before this task can start. There is a lot of problem solving, but I have had great help from everyone from suppliers to our Procurement and Construction Managers. (Remember – although you may be a smart young engineer, you still will learn the most from experienced people. Asking for help may be the greatest tool you will ever learn to use at work).