ASK AN ENGINEER

The Pittsburgh, PA Section of the Society of Women Engineers


* Question 1 - I am a chemical engineer working on my Masters. I would like to know to what extent is computer literacy needed to work in the chemical industry. I am familiar with languages like C. To be more specific, what are the well known packages for equipment design, process design and simulations used in the chemical industry. Can you tell me of a site where I can obtain more informaiton.

Answer 1 - Programming ability is not as important as familiarity with an ability to use spreadsheets, databases, and word processors, and other applications. Most organizations have programmers who take care of the programming issues. There are a number of design, modeling and simulation programs that are used, and the best vary depending upon the specific application.

* Question 2 - I have just accepted a position with a manufacturing company requiring time and motion studies to determine cost of production and labor with the goal to reduce costs and determine more efficient methods to achieve the same quality product outcome. I am in need of information or web sites that can give me detailed information on conducting these studies; how to approach the overall task and how to break down the functions into manageable segments.

Answer 2 - The first step is to list every task in the process to be analyzed. Each task can then be broken down into smaller tasks/motions. Each task has to be clearly defined - where it begins and where it ends. Variables that can occur within the task generally indicate that it should be broken down into separate tasks. For example, if 2 people are working on an assembly line to make toy trucks. The person at station A puts the wheels on. But there are actually 2 tasks in putting on the wheels - placing the wheel on its support and tightening the bolts. There may be opportunity for improvement in each task, and if they are classified as one task, the opportunities for improvement may not be as obvious. There are a number of text books available about time and motion studies. They can be obtained at university book stores or through professional societies - try the mechanial engineers or industrial engineers societies. They each have web pages.

* Question 3 - I'm interested in engineering, particularly in computers or computer programming. Please advise me on the institutions that can provide this kind of course.

Answer 3 - A number of institutions throughout the country that have computer programming and computer engineering curriculums - way to many to mention here. And the selection of a school should involve much more that just the curriculum, but things such as religious affiliation, cost of tuition, the area of the country in which it's located and the size of the school. There are references - such as Barrons - that can be found at book stores and libraries that summarize this information and rank the schools based upon a number of factors including difficulty of curriculum and difficulty of admission, and provide information about admission requirements.

* Question 4 - I am a mechanical engineering student who is looking for the ideal job. My goal is to find a company with a product that I am interested in, and then make that product better. What course of study should I follow?

Answer 4 - I fairly generic mechanical engineering curriculum, with more emphasis on the mechanical aspects that the thermodynamic/heat transfer aspects would be recommended. To explore the perfect job, take advantage of undergraduate reserach programs, summer internships, and/or co-op programs available. Talk to professors and people in the workplace to try and find out information about various companies. The internet is another good option for exploring companies. Also try and get involved in the student section of ASME and any projects/competitions that they are involved with, as these are often sponsored by corporations.

* Question 5 - What effect will the introduction of antifreeze (propylene or ethylene) in a quantity not to exceed 1 gallon have on a septic system tank and field?

Answer 5 - The exact effect wil depend on the size of the system, the amount of material in it, and whether propylene or ethylene glycol is added. But the effect should be minimal.

* Question 6 - I am looking for information on blending plants.

Answer 6 - In blending plants, no actual chemcial reactions occur. Materials are mixed, much the way paint is mixed when pigments are added. Because no chemical reaction occurs, this is known as physical mixing.


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