Employers place a strong emphasis on essential skills in the workplace. Essential skills are used in nearly every occupation, and are seen as ¿building blocks¿ because people build on them to learn all other skills.
Each profile contains a list of example tasks that illustrate how each of the 9 essential skill is generally performed by the majority of workers in an occupation. The estimated complexity levels for each task, between 1 (basic) and 5 (advanced), may vary based on the requirements of the workplace.
Stationary engineers and auxiliary equipment operators operate and maintain various types of stationary engines and auxiliary equipment to provide heat, light, power and other utility services for commercial, industrial and institutional buildings and other work sites. They are employed in industrial and manufacturing plants, hospitals, universities, government, utilities, hotels and other commercial establishments.
- Deal with pump failures. For example, a stationary engineer in a recreation centre finds that a swimming pool pump has shut down. The stationary engineer ensures that the pool's second pump is working, repairs the first pump by replacing faulty parts and follows up by checking pump pressures and testing the water to ensure it has not been adversely affected by the pump failure. (1)
- Experience leaks of various substances from plant systems. For example, a stationary engineer detects a minor ammonia leak in a refrigeration system. The engineer must locate and contain the leak and perform necessary repairs. This may require testing the flow route using a wetted litmus paper to identify where ammonia is present, determining which valves to shut off to isolate the problem, and attempting repairs or making a request for maintenance assistance. (2)
- Deal with fluctuating demand for power, such as swings in demand for heat or cooling during season changes. They may switch from automatic to manual control since it is easier to make small changes quickly with manual controls. Manual operation runs the risk of missing particular readings or adjustments that could result in damage to equipment, but the risk is balanced by the increase of boiler system efficiency. (2)
- Encounter unacceptable levels of pollutants in emissions systems. For example, a plant's sulphur dioxide emission is too high which requires checking the pipes and valves in the chemical emissions system to ensure sufficient lime and activated carbon are injected to scrub acids and absorb mercury in the emissions. The problem may be caused by a plugged feed pipe which can be corrected by simply hammering on the pipe to loosen the obstruction. (2)
- Find that equipment malfunctions have created hazardous environments or conditions. For example, stationary engineers in a brewery may deal with a faulty safety valve that has allowed a large volume of carbon dioxide to escape. This in turn has caused the safety valve to freeze open. They must put on Scott air packs to add heat to the valve to thaw it and also work to isolate the tank to prevent further carbon dioxide loss. (2)
- Experience fuel feed problems. For example, a pulp mill stationary engineer notices that the black liquor fuel evaporator flow rate is not to specifications. The engineer checks pumps and valves for malfunctions and may send a field worker to visually examine the whole line and to gather manual readings to confirm if computer readings are accurate. The problem may last briefly or for months. The plant may be able to keep functioning without solving the problem, but at reduced efficiency and capacity. (2)
- May find that low firing rates have reduced steam production. Although there are standard procedures for increasing the firing rate, effective application of the procedures involves analysis of the relationships among a variety of factors. For example, they may analyze how to compensate for poor quality fuels such as wet garbage or wood by adjusting other factors such as air to fuel ratio, fuel feed stroke and pace, air duct pressure and under and over draft levels. They must adjust various levels to raise firing rates without wasting fuel or producing smoke and unacceptable emission opacity levels. (2)
- Experience power outages and interruptions caused by downed hydro lines and poles. They contact the hydro supplier to find out the estimated duration of power loss, determine which plant service areas are affected and assess the on-site solutions available, for example to fire up back-up generators. The impact of a power interruption may be significant if it takes place at a university campus during mid-winter when many buildings and computers are demanding full power. Waiting out the interruption and monitoring the situation is an option but response time may be limited when the weather is very cold because a heat coil can freeze in 10 minutes and cost up to $50,000 if damaged. (3)
- Experience boiler "trip outs", that is when boilers unexpectedly shut down due to electrical problems. For example, a stationary engineer finds that the biggest of a plant's four boilers has tripped out. The engineer must ascertain if the boiler can be recovered, if the loss of steam can be made up by the remaining boilers and if the remaining boilers are ready to operate to full capacity. If the steam loss cannot be made up the engineer must discuss with management the curtailment of various production functions. (3)
- Decide to add treatment chemical to boiler water based on the results of water sample testing and how much raw water will be going into the system that day. (1)
- Decide to adjust operational levels based on changing weather conditions and demands on the plant. For example, a refrigeration plant operator may decide to cut back on the number of ammonia compressors during cold winter days and when there is not much product in the cooler. Making the wrong decisions could result in loss of refrigeration and spoiled product. (2)
- Decide whether to call in external contractors to make repairs after hours or to wait until regular daytime maintenance staff is available. They consider the urgency of the repair and the comparative costs involved in the two options. (2)
- Decide the order of preventive maintenance jobs to be completed during a given time period based on the complexity and urgency of the jobs and how the work will fit in with the schedules of other departments. (2)
- May make purchasing decisions, such as what supplies and equipment parts to keep in stock, or when and how much power to buy from external suppliers. For example, a stationary engineer may decide to purchase external hydro power during a breakdown of the in-plant generator based on an estimate of the time it will take to recover the generator. (2)
- May decide which process to curtail when dealing with shortages. They select the processes that involve the least consequences. For example, a stationary engineer experiencing a major loss of steam pressure at a pulp mill plant may ask the pulp digester to shut down because that process uses a lot of steam and it can be stopped by simply closing a valve, whereas other pulp processes will require hours of shutdown and start-up time. (2)
- Decide the values of system set points to maintain safe and efficient operation. During fluctuating demand times, it requires extensive background knowledge to keep plant equipment balanced. For example, if the water drum level on a boiler is set too low it may be difficult to fill it quickly enough when demand increases; conversely water level that is too high may result in blown pipes when demand drops. (3)
Job Task Planning and Organizing
- Assess the reliability of computer readings by comparing them with manually gathered gauge readings and with visual examination of equipment behaviour. (1)
- Judge the criticality of repair tasks. For example, a stationary engineer judges whether a boiler will make it to the next scheduled maintenance, considering that the boiler is old and has only half of the elements working. A breakdown in the interim might require extra costs for unscheduled repairs and overtime. (2)
- May evaluate the quality and suitability of different pumps to determine which replacement pumps to recommend. They analyze plant requirements and study technical specifications and manufacturers' literature to determine which pumps are most suitable. They must be able to justify their recommendations to managers. (2)
- Judge the safety of equipment and installations. For example, stationary engineers in refrigeration plants judge the danger of ice fall in coolers based on examining the current ice accumulation and estimating the rate of further ice formation. They consider various factors that can affect ice formation such as the moisture and temperature of ambient air and the frequency with which the cooler doors are opened. (2)
- May assess the significance of a wide range of abnormal equipment readings and alarms issued by distributed control systems. They draw on technical knowledge and experience to judge if the alarms are routine and require only minor adjustments of operating levels or if they indicate serious problems which require the initiation of major corrective procedures. Accurate assessments lead to timely corrective actions that can prevent costly equipment damage or production shutdowns. (3)
- Assess the likelihood of major equipment failure based on interpreting a wide range of system levels. They synthesize the data with observations of repeated or unexplained malfunctions, such as boilers that pop valves and blow steam causing damage to boiler components. Accurate conclusions about the meaning of different readings and events can facilitate repairs; for example, in knowing whether to call in plumbers or mechanics. Inaccurate assessments can result in failure to plan needed maintenance shutdowns before a major breakdown occurs. (3)
- Assess the efficiency of plant performance by using distributed control systems to monitor the levels of numerous inter-related plant processes such as fuel feed, furnace draft, boiler outlet, oxygen input, chemical feed, water and steam flows, pressures and temperatures. They check that these levels fall within specified ideal ranges, that computer readings agree with manually gathered gauge readings, and that the relationships between various levels are optimum for maximizing the production of power at minimum cost. (3)
Own Job Planning and Organizing
The work of stationary engineers and auxiliary equipment operators is structured and dictated by the requirement for continuous operation of equipment for supplying heat, power and other utility services to various facilities. They generally follow a routine schedule of shift duties, including performing plant rounds at set intervals, and monitoring, adjusting and recording equipment and system levels. They also conduct water and chemical tests and perform preventive maintenance according to schedules. They organize their own tasks to carry out these duties and to ensure specified production targets are met.
Their schedule is usually steady and predictable, but it can also be interrupted by problems such as equipment malfunctions and power outages. These may require minutes to days to resolve. When problems occur, they must reprioritize and determine which tasks can be postponed or dropped. Even during emergencies, however, their tasks remain largely guided by standard operating procedures. (2)
Planning and Organizing for Others
Stationary engineers and auxiliary equipment operators do not generally plan or organize the work of others. When problems occur, senior operators may direct the tasks of crew members as needed to correct the problems. Some stationary engineers may be responsible for calling in and scheduling the work of contractors who do maintenance and repairs. Most stationary engineers participate in plant crew meetings to discuss safety and operational procedures. (2)
Significant Use of Memory
- Memorize commonly used set-points to be able to more quickly assess system efficiency.
- Remember how changes in the levels of some system components will affect others; for example, they remember how the levels of compressor pressure affect water temperatures.
- Remember the capacity and comparative efficiency of different plant components. For example, they may remember steam generating capacity of different boilers and the comparative efficiency of air compressors.
- Remember the allowed emission rates for air pollutants such as sulphur dioxide and carbon monoxide.
- Remember the codes and definitions of various system alarms.
- Search the Internet for information which may affect operational decisions; for example, they may look up weather forecasts to predict power demand or find current energy prices on provincial websites. (1)
- Look up standing orders in binders or in electronic documents to check operating parameters and procedures. (2)
- Speak with other staff for advice about equipment and operation problems. For example, they may ask more experienced operators about how to fix older machinery for which operating and repair manuals are not available. (2)
- Look up information on a range of distributed control system screens to monitor plant efficiency and troubleshoot problems. They draw on experience to know which screens to review for relevant information. For example, a stationary engineer may call up screens of historical data to check when an alarm first tripped on a function and to examine the levels of other functions at that time. (2)
- Research equipment manuals and notes kept in plant and equipment logbooks to analyze equipment malfunctions or failures. (3)
Other Essential Skills:
Working with Others
The extent to which stationary engineers and auxiliary equipment operators need to work with others varies according to the size of the heat, power and other utility service plants where they work and the size and type of facilities these plants serve. In some settings stationary engineers work alone as a shift engineer, with little or no contact with other workers. In others, stationary engineers work with a shift crew of stationary engineers or with various maintenance staff. They occasionally work with a partner or helper as needed to troubleshoot and carry out equipment maintenance tasks, for example to turn a valve while a helper observes the effect on gauge readings or to clean ash from a furnace. They may also work as a team with other crew members to maintain plant efficiency and meet production targets. Senior operators may have greater responsibility for overseeing a number of plant functions and coordinating the activities of other workers, especially during problems and emergencies. (2)
The learning goals of stationary engineers and auxiliary equipment operators may be self-initiated or determined by management, but in both cases are largely determined by job task demands. They learn through performing work tasks, talking with co-workers, reading manuals and taking formal training courses and programs. Most of this learning focuses on safety, operational procedures and new equipment. They may take courses in firefighting, dealing with chemical spills, working in confined space, demineralizing boiler water, treating plant effluent, and operating new equipment. They may also take courses to upgrade their level of stationary engineering certification. (2)