Yes! Piping is a language. It has an alphabet (component symbols) which, when put together properly will form words (assemblies) and then the words join other words form a sentence (configuration) from there you build a paragraph (a complete pipe line) and then a chapter (a unit) and then a whole book (a complete plant).

Piping is a Language

To be a good competent piper you must know and understand all the rules of spelling (assembly of piping components) and all the rules of grammar (routing of piping systems).
In order to produce a “Best Seller” you must also know and understand the wide variety of equipment types found in a process plant.
These include pumps, exchangers, vessels, tanks, heaters, compressors, and many others all with their own specific quirks and needs that impact installation, operation, maintenance and safety.
The goal of this piping language is to communicate.
There are many steps along the path a project takes but the final method of communication is a drawing, normally a simple piping isometric. You will be communicating with many different people and groups with different responsibilities and levels of understanding.
These groups include; material control technicians, pipe fabrication shops, construction managers, installation sub-contractors, pipe fitters, insulators, painters, the client, inspectors, etc.
If you know and use the right alphabet (symbols) then all of these people will understand exactly what you are “saying” with your simple piping isometric drawings. Today to be a good piper also requires learning the “tools” that are available and used.
Like a “writer” of novels some times the writing is done longhand and sometimes it is done on a computer.

Piping is the same.
You must be able to draw piping longhand and in today’s world you must be able to use one or more of the many CADD systems (AutoCAD, CADWorx, PDS, PDMS, etc.).
Doing piping on a computer does not in itself make you a good piper.
Doing piping manually, out there in the field in the hot sun or in a driving rain storm or in a nice office also does not make you a good piper.
Doing good piping, no matter how you do it, is what makes you a good piper.
By all means learn to use all the available “tools” but do not let yourself get locked into one system.
Over the last thirty years as many if not more of these systems have died (Calma, ComputerVision, Coopervision, etc.) than there are still in existence today.
You may also leave one employer with one system and go to another employer with a totally different system.

You need to be flexible and adaptable. Another point, learning Piping is first the learning of the profession.

Learning PDS (or one of the other computer based drafting tools) is learning a tool. Learning to use the “tool” is not the same as learning the profession. The tool is not the profession. Look at it this way.
A carpenter builds things out of wood. He has lots of tools. Years ago he used a hammer to drive nails.
Then along comes the pneumatic nail gun.
The carpenter can now drive nails faster.
That is fine if the carpenter first knows good carpentering.
When a pneumatic nail gun is placed in the hands of a bad or untrained carpenter you still have a bad or untrained carpenter.
He (or she) can just make more mistakes faster.
To be a good piper takes many years.
It takes the right kind of training and experience to accumulate the knowledge that will make you a professional.
That training and experience teaches you the right way and wrong way to use the piping language to communicate your designs.

About the Author


{cb:James O. Pennock has more than forty-five years in the process plant design profession. He has been involved in both home office and job site assignments on refinery, chemical, petrochemical, power and other projects. His experience ranges from entry level designer to engineering manager. Much of this was with Fluor. He is also the author of the book "Piping Engineering Leadership for Process Plant Projects." He is now retired, living in Florida, USA and does only occasional consulting work.

Mr. Pennock can be contacted via E-Mail at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..}

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