An early lesson and a late night: how I learned the real design expert is the user

  • Type:
    Conference Presentation
  • Conference Type:
    AIChE Spring Meeting and Global Congress on Process Safety
  • Presentation Date:
    April 12, 2016
  • Duration:
    30 minutes
  • Skill Level:
    Intermediate
  • PDHs:
    0.50

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During my first few weeks as a full-time engineer, safety truly hit home. My co-worker and I had been tasked with working on a fermentation filtration experiment skid. The skid held about 50 gallons of fermentation broth, and was testing the ability of a filter to separate solids from the liquid. We set the system up, tightened the bolts, and secured the lines, then started up the pump. Liquid quickly started shooting out at high pressure, as we realized a line had disconnected. We fished through the slippery fermentation liquid and quickly hit the emergency stop button, preventing further loss of contamination. At least 20 gallons had been released into the lab, making a long day of clean up.

The situation occurred because there were no procedures, because of inexperienced operators, and because of failure to do a full system review or walk through prior to startup.  The system designer, however, was successful in his thoughtful placement of the emergency stop buttons.  Process engineers, product designers, and researchers all have an important responsibility in preventing accidents similar to this. It is vital to design with the operator at the forefront of every decision in order to create success. It is equally important to ensure the operators understand how to operate the equipment, and what to do if it fails.

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