When initially thinking of process engineering I viewed it as the precursor, the decision making which happened to assist other disciplines along their design paths.

One of the major outputs of the process engineer is the P&ID. This set of schematic documents contains the information about the asset giving the team a frame of reference to identify, nominate and confirm their design.

I believe BIM will change all this, and perhaps even make the P&ID a moot point.

A process engineer in the virtual space would do all their planning in the model environment and the associated disciplines would follow suit. The output would no longer be a deliverable such as the P&ID but a model with the requisite systems, identifications, parameters and so on, doing away with the need for the P&ID as a referral document.

When I made the argument for the demise of the P&ID recently, to a bunch of process engineers no less, I received strange looks – like modern people observing a prehistoric ancestor scratching out their first cave painting.

Understanding is the key, and I have spoken with John Messenger, advanced water treatment leader at MWH Global, gaining insight from his many years of experience. Why is the P&ID so integral?

John and I have discussed BIM and process engineering, thinking of the current use of the P&ID while looking at where BIM is influencing the infrastructure sector. The P&ID is the Rosetta stone for those projects where a multitude of disciplines collaborate. Those disciplines can refer to the P&ID for a variety of fact checking reasons.

This being known, BIM is essentially a collection of facts in graphical format. I believe that as process engineers become more comfortable working in the model environment the P&ID’s uses will diminish and eventually the P&ID itself will take its place as something we ‘used to do.’

What does the future process engineer do? Essentially, exactly what one does today except in a virtual environment. The opportunities, efficiencies and future scope of the process engineer will change as is it will continue to do so for all infrastructure engineers in the emerging realm of information engineering.

John put it far more succinctly than I by saying “the P&ID will first move from being a front line deliverable to being a backroom design guide. It is possible that it will eventually cease to exist being replaced by tailored BIM visualisations of each process sub-system within the plant.”

After speaking with John and other process engineers, I understand far more about the P&ID and its use by process engineers and I believe we agree that it serves as a valid tool but it must evolve to be part of BIM.

BIM for infrastructure moves inexorably forward with an increasing amount of client organisations requesting services or products with a particular flavour as they begin to understand what they might gain by asking for BIM.

At the risk of suggesting that the P&ID and indeed the role of the process engineer must evolve, and expecting more strange looks, I invite the fraternity of process engineers to investigate BIM, then stretch a little further forward. What do you see?