A stationary engineer, also called operating engineer or power engineer, is a professional who operates heavy machinery and equipment that provide heat, light, climate control and power. Stationary engineers are trained in many areas, including mechanical, thermal, chemical, electrical, metallurgical, computer, and a wide range of safety skills. They typically work in factories, offices, hospitals, warehouses, power generation plants, industrial facilities, and residential and commercial buildings. Stationary engineering is not within the scope of Professional Engineering.
Stationary engineers are responsible for the safe operation and maintenance of a wide range of equipment, including pumps, gas compressors, generators, motors, boilers, gas turbines, steam turbines, air conditioning systems, heat exchangers and refrigeration equipment, heat recovery steam generators (HRSGs) that may be directly (duct burners) or indirectly fired (gas turbine exhaust collectors), hot water generators, steam turbines, and refrigeration machinery in addition to its associated auxiliary equipment (air compressors, natural gas compressors, electrical switchgear, pumps, etc.). Power electricians construct, maintain and commission electrical apparatus used in electrical power generation, transmission, distribution and converter systems. They install, maintain and repair power generators, power converters, power transformers, circuit breakers, distribution apparatus, and metering and associated auxiliary equipment.
Stationary engineers may hold various titles, such as boiler operator, power plant operator, or watch engineer. In addition, some may have various designations, such as first class, second class and third class. In the United States, stationary engineers must be licensed in several cities and states. The New York City Department of Buildings requires a Stationary Engineer's License to practice in the City of New York; to obtain the license one must pass a written and practical exam and have at least five years' experience working directly under a licensed stationary engineer, or three years if in possession of a Bachelor of Science degree in mechanical engineering. Holders of the Stationary Engineer's License primarily work in large power generation facilities, such as cogeneration power plants, peaking units, and large central heating and refrigeration plants (CHRPs).
The stationary engineering trade emerged during the Industrial Revolution. The group includes railroad engineers and marine engineers. Famous people who began their working lives in this trade include George Stephenson and Henry Ford. The early steam engines developed by Thomas Savery and Thomas Newcomen which drew water from mines and the industrial steam engines perfected by James Watt and others employed the ancestors of today's engineers. Railroad engineers operated early steam locomotives and continue to operate trains today. The traditions and classification of the engineer were developed to the greatest extent by marine engineers who worked in the engine rooms of the great ocean liners in the 19th and 20th century. The use of the title "engineer" by stationary engineers has been challenged in court by university-educated professional engineers; however, the stationary engineers have prevailed to date. The job of today's engineer has been greatly changed by computers and automation as well as the replacement of steam engines on ships and trains. Workers have adapted to the challenges of the changing job market.
Many stationary engineers are becoming more involved with the technical aspect of the job as it has shifted toward a dependence on building automation. Building and central plant operations are now relying heavily on direct digital controls; and as such the engineer is required to be much more computer literate to work with the BAS (Building Automation System).
Stationary engineers may also choose to be unionized; many larger cities are very reliant on the services of organized employees. Non-union buildings may blend their engineers with general maintenance staff, and as such may be required to also provide general building services such as cleaning or other non-skilled duties. There are two main types of workers sharing the title and trade union affiliation (International Union of Operating Engineers). The first group are workers who operate steam plants or boilers. These are generally called stationary engineers but are known by other titles such as boiler operators, thermal technicians and power engineers. The second group is a larger class who drive and operate cranes and engineering vehicles such as bulldozers and graders used in construction and engineering projects.
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- The International Union of Operating Engineers
- The National Association of Power Engineers, history of "Stationary Engineers"
- The American Society of Power Engineers
- The National Institute for the Uniform Licensing of Power Engineers