What do Mechanical Engineers do in Oil & Gas? Where they end up.
Mechanical Engineers do a myriad of jobs in Oil & Gas. There are many whom I have met doing things that I have never could have imagined at university. This is why experience makes you more mature and open minded.
Mechanical engineering itself is a very broad engineering discipline. It covers the application of physics, material science, manufacturing, maintenance, etc. Therefore, covering the items related to only Oil & Gas is not exhaustive with just a blog post.
However, I would like to simplify some of the sub disciplines that Mechanical Engineers do involve in. For Oil & Gas, that means the application of this into either Upstream or Downstream.
Many will find that each sub discipline has so much to offer. A person spending time long enough under one will not be able to perform in another. However, since the basics are similar, they relate to each other and changing responsibilities would not be impossibly difficult. Although some time would be needed.
If you are a Mechanical Engineer practicing in Oil & Gas, I would like to hear your views after reading this article.
What Mechanical Engineers do in Projects
Here, Mechanical Engineers do involve in a lot of stress analysis. This is thankfully done using Finite Element software which is a norm these days. Furthermore, 3D CAD projects might also be a possibility where a detailed model of a product is created. This discipline involves a lot of creativity and heavy computer performance usage.
One of the interesting projects that one might land in this area is platform design. For example, drillships, semi-subs, permanent platforms to name a few. There is a cross between structural and mechanical at this point. However, you will be concentrating on the machinery and equipment on the platform.
A Mechanical Construction Engineer usually involves in the physical construction of platforms at site or yard. This follows the design that has been created in the previous stage.
I have seen engineers from both clients and contractors particularly at a shipyard in Korea. They are responsible in managing the manpower at site. Supervising the technicians on what to do and by the deadline is key.
Often, all contractor activities will be monitored using Checksheets. Any issues found will be punched and should be closed before proceeding to the next level.
Final quality of the job will be ensured by the QAQC engineer.
Responsible in ensuring the smooth startup of machinery and static equipment. The activities relate to “giving life to the platform.”
Usually mechanical engineers representative from vendors would come and demonstrate that their equipment works on site. This is what some would consider as Site Acceptance Test (SAT).
It is normal to see Vendors’ HQ to provide with a checklist for the representatives to perform. This is usually a formal Checksheet and is signed by both the reps.
A commissioning job can take several hours up to a few months. This depends on the size and complexity of the machine or equipment.
What Mechanical Engineers do on Plant & Platform Maintenance
This is related to the engineers working in an operational plant, where they are usually called on demand basis.
Generally, people who are working in an established plant ensures the integrity of the assets. This is done by maintaining the asset either through preventive or predictive methods.
Mechanical Static Engineers Looks after columns, vessels, boilers, furnaces.
Often, they are always aware of the different standards of the industry such as ASME. It involves a lot of material understanding, welding methods etc.
Mechanical Rotating Equipment Engineers look after pumps, compressors, engines, and turbines primarily.
I myself as one, am responsible for ensuring the health of these equipment and prevent catastrophic failures.
Understanding the auxiliaries of the equipment can be interesting. Such as the bearing, lubrication and wear of the equipment. This also necessitates the comprehension of the support systems such as the lube oil flow system and seal system.
Reads the value of vibration and temperature using the correct tools and methods.
Once a Cond. Monitoring Engineer told me that this area encompasses a lot more. For example, using our eyes to oversee the plant is one form. During my studies, I recorded the value of friction and this is also a monitoring form. However, plant specific methods are restricted due to ease of data collection and instrumentation capabilities.
Further analyses the data obtained by the Condition Monitoring Engineer.
I have seen Reliability Engineers who started off from other areas. Particularly Rotating Equipment and Condition Monitoring Engineers. I think the best Reliability Engineer should have basic understanding on these two. Thus, analysis of equipment health and sound recommendations could be made.
A reliability engineer estimates and manages the uncertainties and risks of equipment failure. This could be done by statistical methods. Furthermore, these have to be compared against safety and cost parameters, before any maintenance recommendation is made.
What Mechanical Engineers do in E&P
This is in the Exploration and Production (E&P) business.
From a clients’ view, this relates to the design and construction of oil and gas wells. People who involve in design determine the trajectory, types of tools to be used, drilling mud etc. Whilst, the construction stays at site and ensures the planned design is put into action.
From service provider’s view, a drilling engineer could be the one advising the client on the abilities and limitations of the tools and technologies to drill. This also includes specialists of different types of machines or tools.
Though at first instance, this seems not a Mechanical Engineering discipline. I have walked across some Drilling Engineers and a Senior Advisor once remarked, “Mechanical Engineers do tend to pick up things faster compared with Petroleum Engineering Graduates in drilling. This is due to the fact that they are aware of multitude of aspects of physics and energy. For instance, thermodynamics, materials, stress & strain relationship, fatigue failure etc.”
Field Service Engineer
A Field Service Engineer often roves around the clients’ premises. This usually needs a lot of travelling. They have to ensure that their company’s products are repaired or serviced.
A person doing this job will be trained properly by their company. He is highly specialised and knows everything about a single product or service.
However, there is a downside. It may mean that he is lacking in the breadth of knowledge of other products.
I think for anyone to thrive, the most important trait is the perseverance. This is especially in getting to difficult places and meeting people with different backgrounds, to conduct his job.
Often, the job itself is doable, but the effort to get there are always challenging with the tight schedule and heavy travelling.
I was in research and I have seen many Mechanical Engineers do all sorts of R&D projects.
For example, in the area of tribology. A group of Mechanical Engineers do their research into creating a more competitive machine lubricants. They would want to make a more effective product by decreasing component wear, oil degradation and the lowest friction.
Another example is in the tools. This is where development is focused on creating a better tool which can withstand higher temperature and last longer. An example of application is in drill bits technology.
I have seen large R&D centres with Mechanical Engineers doing stuff that can become a department at a university at its own right.
Did I miss anything? If you are a Mechanical Engineer and work in the Oil & Gas, I would like to invite your story or comments. You may introduce yourself, the type of company you’re working at and tell us what you do.