Engineering

In addition to specific offshore and maritime engineering activities (see relevant web pages), the offshore engineer utilises traditional engineering skills and training. In this he or she is no different from any other engineer, whose skills are needed in relation to virtually every aspect of our daily lives. We drive to work on roads and over bridges designed by civil engineers, in vehicles designed by mechanical engineers. We go on holiday in aeroplanes designed by aeronautical engineers. We watch television and use home computers, both designed by electronic engineers, and so on. This is no less true for the marine environment, where engineers are needed from a variety of disciplines to design and supervise the construction of ships, to design and install offshore oil and gas platforms, to engineer equipment that is needed for seabed mining, to introduce novel technology for the exploitation of energy from the waves, and so on. The growth of the North Sea oil and gas industry over the past thirty years has meant that many engineers have been required by oil companies, offshore supply industries and consultant engineering firms in the design, construction and installation of all the structures, rigs and equipment that are needed in the exploitation of oil and gas reserves, as well as the specialist engineers that are required in the discovery of these reserves and in tapping these reserves.

Engineers working alongside scientists devising new instrumentation and techniques for researching the marine environment need not only all of the traditional engineering skills, but also an awareness of the problems of scientific investigation. For many, this makes a particularly rewarding combination of interests.

Engineers working in the marine and offshore environment, although invariably having particular discipline skills, will also have to work alongside engineers with variety of backgrounds, since offshore technology by its nature is intrinsically multi–disciplinary. Further information can be found in the fact sheets on marine engineering, offshore engineer and naval architecture in this section of the website.

WILL I MAKE A GOOD ENGINEER?

You will need to be interested in applying science and mathematics in the development of technology for the well–being of society. Energy, for example, is a basic worldwide daily need, and consequently we need engineers to provide the solution to exploit energy resources located in or under the oceans (such as in wave energy and in tapping hydrocarbon resources). Although there are many pathways to becoming an engineer in a variety of discipline areas, an interest and ability in mathematics, physics and/or engineering science at school will be important in relation to the formal period of engineering training that is required, whether this be at university, polytechnic or any other college of further education. As engineers always have to keep a constant eye on costs, another important factor will be a general interest in economics and management. You must also be capable of working in a team.

WHAT MIGHT I BE DOING?

Engineers from virtually every discipline will be needed for technological developments in the offshore and ocean environment. A few of these disciplines are briefly described below.

Civil Engineer

Civil engineering plays a major part in marine environment engineering. Structures are always required, especially offshore where the wind/wave/current forces call for challenging designs. The civil engineer will be expected not only to design the structure, but also to be an expert in the seabed soils and fluid loading (hydrostatics/hydrodynamics). Ultimately, many will be involved as managers in designing and constructing offshore systems. Areas of work vary, and with the need for innovative design we find new structural concepts are required. The civil engineer’s job does not end with the design of the structure. The engineer could very well be responsible for the load out procedure, where large dry docks have to be constructed and coastal engineering comes into play. In all major one–off structures (every structure offshore is different depending on usage, water depth and environment) it is necessary to construct models for testing in order to evaluate the design; again, the civil engineer will be the person most likely to be involved. These models will be mathematically similar and will be tested in highly sophisticated facilities capable of simulating the particular environmental loadings expected at the site at which the structure is to be placed.

Mechanical Engineer

In all offshore systems, the mechanical engineer plays an essential role. Take, for example, an offshore platform –essentially a village supported above the sea. The power for the platform is generated on site and, incidentally, is sufficient to supply a fairly large town! There has to be processing equipment, drilling equipment, hotel accommodation, communication systems, cranes for loading and unloading supplies and a helicopter pad for the transfer of personnel. In short, the platform is a self–sufficient factory/hotel/airport on legs, in one of the most inhospitable locations on earth. For a lot of operations high pressure design is fundamental, and this – in association with the transfer of high temperature – highly corrosive, flammable fluids, requires an extremely competent level of mechanical engineering. There are many other areas which require mechanical engineers trained to cope with the marine environment. These include ship design, hydrodynamics, wave energy systems, submarines and innovative ideas such as ocean thermal energy conversion. The mechanical engineer therefore deals with the mechanics of systems and can be involved from the initial design stage through to the assessment of the failure of a particular piece of equipment, be it through mishandling, fatigue or corrosion. In today’s engineering, where new materials/steel alloys can be tailored to a particular operating environment, the mechanical engineer is required to be versatile, innovative and, above all, knowledgeable about materials, design and the environment.

Electrical Engineer

The electrical engineer may be involved in areas of work such as remotely operated vehicles (ROV), control systems, downhole monitoring, underwater acoustics and navigation, directional drilling, communications, data processing and heavy electrical plant. In many cases the electrical engineer’s main involvement is within the areas of communications and control of data processing. With the advent of new technologies, especially in electronics, the engineer is able to control/inspect/drill deeper and with higher precision than was previously possible. If we consider the important area of work of inspection, repair and maintenance, we find that over the years ROVs have progressed from relatively basic camera–thruster (flying eyeball) vehicles to complex pieces of equipment, capable of functioning in many ways as well as a human. This is essential when we consider the depths to which current drilling rigs can operate. Data transfer using innovative electronics has made it possible to communicate with these ROVs through fibre optics or acoustic links. In many other areas of ocean engineering, from satellite communication to low cost data buoy design and development, the electronic engineer is the key expert.

Instrument Technologist (Engineer)

Spanning the full range of engineering disciplines, this field highlights skills in electronic design, computation, control and data handling, appreciation of the properties of sensor and transducer systems and knowledge of their interaction with the marine environment. The field is intimately tied to an understanding of the basic scientific aims and the role of the chosen technique in the wider context of industrial and commercial instrumentation. Implantation of designs requires an understanding of the mechanical design problems on packaging, hydrodynamic problems in streaming the apparatus behind towing vehicles and the computational needs of later data analysis. This type of specialisation touches on all the other areas of marine engineering and marine science.

Chemical Engineer

The chemical engineer is perhaps the easiest to identify in the offshore oil industry. Onshore refineries are essential for the processing of crude, but equally important are the processing units offshore. The are particular difficulties in marginal fields where compliant structures (structures which are designed to comply with the resultant environmental loadings) are used. Processing equipment designed for ‘terra firma’ situations has to be redesigned to operate under this new environment. The chemical engineer assesses the required processing at site and the additives necessary to aid both the extraction and transfer of the crude oil. The chemical engineer is also responsible for drilling fluids (mud), chemical inhibitors, sea water processing, fluid injection and many other areas where expertise in such disciplines as the control of chemical reactions, heat and mass transfer and fluid flow are normally involved. The winning of metal–bearing ores and even gravel from the seabed normally involves the transfer of a slurry or some other liquid/solid mixture to the surface with perhaps some processing on the collection vessel. It is expected that problems such as these will continue to occupy chemical engineers well into the future.

Petroleum Engineer

Petroleum engineers are needed at every stage in an offshore oil and gas development. At the outset they work alongside marine geologists and geophysicists to locate oil and gas reservoirs that are trapped more than a kilometre beneath the seabed. Complex seismic techniques and 3–D computer imaging are used by petroleum engineers in this important task. Petroleum engineers then have to calculate how much oil and/or gas is in place, so that they can recommend to oil company executives if spending the vast amounts of money needed in the development of a field would indeed be an economically attractive investment of resources. Petroleum engineers are then needed in deciding how best to exploit the field by selecting the locations where oils wells would be drilled, and also in taking samples of oil reservoir rock in order to provide data for their oil reservoir computer programs. These programs are subsequently used to provide information to optimise the recovery of hydrocarbon reserves throughout the life of the field.

WHICH COURSE SHOULD I CHOOSE?

Once you have identified one or two particular branches of engineering which sound especially interesting, you will need to find out more about the courses on offer. ‘Which course should I choose?’ is a difficult question requiring careful consideration. Choices include the following:

  • a traditional engineering course, e.g. BSc Civil Engineering, which offers options in offshore/marine/petroleum related subjects. There is a wide variety of final year options which may cover pipeline engineering, design of offshore structures and even diving
  • BEng degree course combining a range of offshore engineering subjects with a parent engineering discipline
  • Marine Technology/Marine Engineering/Naval Architecture courses which may lead to hitherto unmentioned careers such as shipbroking, or work in government departments concerned with the safety of ships and offshore structures
  • Petroleum Engineering courses

It is also possible to enter an engineering career with a physics degree. Many physicists are employed by the offshore oil and gas industry.

More than thirty higher education institutions in the UK are involved in offering relevant courses at undergraduate level. It is important to consult individual prospectuses. See the General Information on Courses section of the website for a list of courses.

CAREER PROSPECTS

There is a wide variety of opportunities. Since the development of the North Sea in the early 1960s, there have been excellent job opportunities in relation to oil and gas developments. Jobs exist within oil companies, offshore suppliers, consulting engineers, research institutions and government departments.

For further information contact:

The Engineering Council
246 High Holborn
London WC1V 7EXt +44 (0)20 3206 0500
f +44 (0)20 3206 0501
e on-line form
w www.engc.org.uk
Institute of Energy
61 New Cavendish Street
London W1G 7ARt 020 7467 7100
f 020 7255 1472
e info@energyinst.org.uk
w www.energyinst.org.uk
Institution of Chemical Engineers
Davies Building
165–189 Railway Terrace
Rugby
Warwickshire CV21 3HQt 01788 578214
f 01788 560833
w www.icheme.org
Institution of Civil Engineers
One Great George Street
Westminster
London SW1P 3AA
UKt 020 7222 7722
f 020 7222 7500
w www.icenet.org.uk
Institution of Electrical Engineers
Savoy Place
London WC2R 0BL
UKt 020 7240 1871
f 020 7240 7735
e postmaster@iee.org.uk
w www.iee.org.uk
Manager, Professional Affairs
The Institute of Marine Engineering
Science and Technology

Aldgate House
33 Aldgate High Street
London EC3N 1ENt 020 7382 2600
e ed.hansom@imarest.org
w www.imarest.org.uk
Institution of Mechanical Engineers
1 Birdcage Walk
London SW1H 9JJ
UKt 020 7222 7899
f 020 7222 4557
w www.imeche.org.uk
The Education and Training Officer
The Royal Institution of Naval Architects
10 Upper Belgrave Street
London SW1X 8BQ
UKt 020 7235 4622
f 020 7259 5912
w www.rina.org.uk