Systems at Work

Making Connections

I’ve always viewed the world through the lens of connection. How does this storage tank connect to rest of the plant? How does the electrical wiring connect to the pump to turn it on? How does the final product connect to the truck for shipment? And my favorite, how does process safety connect to production to ensure everyone goes home the same way they entered the plant?

Over time, I realized what I had developed was a systems approach to how I viewed the world.

What is a System?

A system is the unique way that individual components are arranged for a common goal. As a process engineer in the chemicals industry, that goal was sustained production of a bulk chemical at a set purity. When I transitioned to the pharmaceutical industry, it was the production of a drug product at the highest quality and efficacy. The same approach can be applied to computer systems. My systems-first mindset allowed me to connect the dots of a computer network system.

Types of Systems

The figure below shows three systems from what can be considered three widely different fields – a Tank Distribution System, The Circulatory System, and a Computer Network System. But if you look a little closer you can see that at their core, they’re all systems.

Systems at Work. A tank distribution system, the body's circulatory systems and a computer network system.
Systems at Work – A Tank Distribution System, The Circulatory System, and a Computer Network System

On the far left is a tank distribution system. The cylindrical and spherical storage tanks feed chemical reagents to the reactor via pumps. The reactor has an agitator that mixes the two chemicals together once inside the reactor. Once the reaction is complete, the final product is pumped out of the reactor. Typically, the final product is sent to storage until it can be loaded unto a truck or railcar.

In the middle is the human body’s circulatory system. The heart receives blood that’s low in oxygen from the body and pumps it to the lungs. The blood leaves the lungs now full of oxygen and returns to the heart. The heart then pumps the oxygenated blood all over the body.

To the far right is a simplified computer network system. The servers transmit data to computers within the network via wires and cables. With the advent of cloud computing, you don’t have to maintain physical servers anymore. Instead, you gain access to servers over the Internet through an agreement with a cloud service provider.

For the Greater Common Goal

Whether it’s a storage tank, the human heart or a computer server, the one trait they all have in common is that they’re part of systems. In a system, some thing is being transferred from one part of the system to the other. That thing could be chemicals, blood, data, drug products, waste water, financial transactions – any thing really.

What systems do you operate where individual components work together for a greater common goal?

If you want to improve your documentation so that both your internal experts and your end users can easily understand your unique systems, contact me today!

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