Written by: Christopher Wright at Piping Design Central

Q: I need some URLs for web sites where I can learn piping stress analysis. A few e-books I can download would be OK, too.

A: It's the easiest thing in the world. Just buy FEA software. It'll do everything you want. Look for the words 'user-friendly' on the box so you don't have to worry about bugs or input checking. Just ask the sales person if you're not sure--they're great guys. Don't worry about accuracy, either--that's what they pay programmers for. FEA makes all that mechanics stuff about stress and strain obsolete, so don't clutter up your desk with a lot of books. If the computer makes the number, it's right. Just remember that the red places on stress plots are bummers, everything else is cool. Make sure you get a big fast computer with a lot of megs and stuff and a large monitor. Size counts and chicks dig guys with big monitors. The faster the computer the more stuff you can run and the less reason you have to waste time with an organized approach. (Hint: Big problems make you look good in front of your boss. If you don't complain about running out of memory every month or so, people think you're not making the models complicated enough and they won't respect you.). And always use animation. Any problem worth solving is worth animating.

Above all keep away from fab shops. They're dirty and noisy and the welders and fitters work with their hands, so their opinion isn't worth much. Welding is especially nasty, and there are always silly questions about what to do when things don't fit or something isn't quite round. You don't have to explain anything about weld sizes and procedures and fit-up. You're a stress analyst and people do what _you_ say, not the other way around. Besides, if you're not wasting time around the shop, you have more time to learn to run solid modelling software. CAD is great because anything you can show as a solid model has to be right since the computer optimized it. With CAD and FEA you won't need much actual information, but the Web has everything you could possibly want. Google is good--everything you find with Google is right, so don't waste time cross-checking.

As you might suspect, I'm being a maybe a teensy bit sarcastic, because the question really rubbed me the wrong way. I know a little about stress analysis, some of it from books, a lot from watching knowledgeable people, some by remembering my own mistakes and a certain amount from sweeping up after people who figured they only needed to read a few books and visit a couple of web sites to learn FEA. If you want to learn about stress analysis and piping design, take some time off and go to school. You need to know statics and dynamics, strength of materials, heat transfer, fluid flow and something about metallurgy and materials science. You'll need to know how to communicate instructions and how to spell and write because that's what engineers mostly do, and you'll need to know about designing stuff and about mechanical function. Schools don't teach much about safety codes, so you can go to seminars or hang around people who know about Codes. People don't just build piping systems for their own sake, so you'll need to know something about process engineering--what particular systems are supposed to accomplish and why to use certain types of valves or fittings and not others. Ask intelligent questions, do your homework and don't be a pain in the ass, and you'll learn a lot.