To train to use any given 3D software, would take a piping designer no more than about 2 weeks to learn.
To train a 3D CAD operator with minimal piping experience, to become a senior piper, however will take a LOT longer!
The thoughts, ideas, concepts and opinions contained in this article are my rambling thoughts ... you may or may not agree with any or all of it, but its's a debate that goes on and on.
The training times described in the this article may vary from company to company, and individual to individual
The information in this article is not intended to be the last and only definitive word on the subject of Piping Experience Vs 3D CAD abilities.
These are simply my thoughts on the subject.
In a previous article, "Blog 1C: Thoughts on Job Descriptions", James O. Pennock (JOP) outlines his concept of 'Pay Scale' job descriptions and 'Functional' job assignments for piping designers.
Using JOPs table, we can see what it takes in terms of training, on the job experience, supervision, mentor ship and hard work,to go from being a Piping Designer III, or Junior Piping Designer to attaining the level of Principle or Lead Piping Designer ... if that's a role to which you aspire.
But lets talk about the elephant in the room ... 3D CAD.
A gripe many pipers have, is that regardless of their piping training or years of experience, they often get overlooked in their search for jobs because of their lack of experience with a given software.
We can debate what software is better, bigger, faster, etc., but that's not at issue here.
I have seen plenty examples of "veteran" pipers getting over looked in preference to younger, less experienced pipers, because they haven't used package xyz.
What is the logical progression of this type of hiring policy?
To train to use any given 3D software, would take a piping designer no more than about 2 weeks to learn, throw in a couple more weeks on the job using the software, and that piping designer has all the experience he needs to take his piping knowledge and apply it in a 3D cad environment.
This is not a fanciful idea.
Pipers, even pipers who previously have had only 2D experience, think in 3D, they've been doing it since before 3D CAD systems were invented.
Take a piper that has 3D cad experience, on a different software, and that training time is even less.
To train a 3D CAD operator with minimal piping experience, to become a senior piper, however will take, conservatively, 9 years ... assuming there is anyone left to train them.
At present (2014), the piping industry, worldwide, has suffered badly from the effects of the global financial crises (GFC), with many companies, across multiple sectors unwilling to invest in growth, development or new projects.
While there is renewed growth in these sectors, it is not where it once was.Companies are under even greater pressure, nowadays, to keep budgets lean, minimize over heads and win projects in a very competitive environment.
Typically, we are seeing training as being a casualty in all this.
Companies want new employees to hit the ground running, they don't want to spend money on software training, they don't want to employ seasoned professionals on high rates, just to train them in their newest software.
There is also a reluctance to employ "junior" staff, and train them as designers from scratch - how do you justify a high charge out rate on junior personnel?
And do you want your senior staff booking overhead hours to train juniors, when they should be racking up the hours on high charge out rates?
It goes back to that old argument:
"What if we train them and they leave?"
"What if we don't train them, and they stay?"
One of the biggest casualties from the GFC, was experience.
The few jobs that were available, required "ready to hit the ground running" type employees.
Recruiters, tasked with finding the right personnel, were told to find a piper with 20 years experience who can use software XYZ.
When the recruiters came back empty handed, the were told to find a piper who can use software XYZ.
This left the piper with 25 or 30 years experience "on the bench".
If that piper had only 5 or 6 years to go, before planning to retire, that piper stopped being a piper, and did something else until he retired - now who trains the junior piper?
This is a subject that not only affects Senior Pipers, but has a massive impact on the future of Piping Design as a recognizable discipline - without guidance and mentor ship from senior piping designers, junior designers, if they are ever given an opportunity, will not get the level of training and experience that they deserve and need.
Companies / Employers need to take a long term view on training.
Sure, you might train pipers, and some might, after 5 or 6 years, leave, to broaden their horizons or chase the big bucks, but that should be happening with every company ... you can always replace them with someone equally well trained by another company.
Junior pipers, while learning from senior pipers, got great training, valuable experience and the benefit of real world job skill that they can, literally, take anywhere.
They also provide the company with great benefits - cheap labour, adaptable staff, quick to learn new software and someone to do the dirty work ... anyone want to backdraft a P&ID?
Why send 2 senior pipers on site for a survey, when a junior can hold the dumb end of the tape, climb on to the rack, walkdown a line as well as anyone - and at a fraction of the cost.
If companies do not continue (or restart) to train juniors, they are biting the hand that feeds them.
A world without piping designers?
I can guarantee that there are very few things in this world that are manufactured with out the use of a piping system somewhere in their production train.
I am eager to hear your thoughts on the subject.
About the Author
Anton Dooley is a Piper with over 25 years experience covering process plant engineering, design & training. He is the founder of pipingdesigners.com