Think like a chemical engineer to save time and money (Day 322)

Excellent chemical engineering can transform businesses.

Costain is a British construction and engineering company that provides innovative engineering and technology-led solutions. They are also one of IChemE’s Bronze Corporate Partners.

Strensham water treatment works

Strensham water treatment works

A project that highlights their novel way of thinking involved working with Severn Trent to upgrade their Strensham water treatment works in Worcestershire, UK. Severn Trent, a leading utility company, had set challenging efficiency targets.

They asked Costain help them with the refurbishment of 21 rapid gravity filters.

However, all this needed to be done without disrupting the water supply to 350,000 customers. And they wanted the project completed in less than 88 weeks, which is pretty demanding for the water industry.

Costain took on the challenge knowing that the £8.6 million project would have been impossible if they didn’t use a splash of fresh thinking for the water industry – they called it ‘factory thinking’.

They worked collaboratively with Severn Trent and their design partner MWH to develop a systems-led engineering approach, including off-site prefabrication.

Using a systems approach is fundamental to chemical engineering and this work is a great example of systems thinking in practice.  Systems thinking involves understanding how individual activities influence one another holistically.

Costain recognised the advantages of off-site manufacturing and assembly. They applied this to many different aspects of the project, including:

  • eliminating the need to construct access scaffolding within each filter, saving four days work per filter
  • minimising working at height by bringing in the structural steel work already assembled as one complete unit
  • pressure testing pipework off site, so once a filter was offline it could be quickly assembled, this saved another four days per unit
  • conducting detailed post-installation reviews and learning exercises. This lean engineering and collaborative planning approach saved a further seven days per unit

Money tapCostain reduced the overall project duration by almost a half and handed the plant back after just 45 weeks. This saved £800,000  and created a safer working environment for the process and delivery teams.

So why does this matter? Well, population growth, regulatory changes, energy cost increases and climate change are going to have a dramatic impact on water usage and availability.

Governments and regulators have committed to cutting waste and preserving this vital resource.

There’s now a greater focus on energy efficiency, so having key enabling technologies and leaner manufacturing allows chemical engineers to focus on improving on the water treatment process.

Water is essential to human survival and access to clean, safe drinking water is central to quality of life. Chemical engineers play an important role in the water industry, all over the world.

In the UK, we often take the water that flows from our taps for granted. However, it can be costly, both financially and in terms of reputational damage to disrupt water supplies to consumers.

In this case, Costain upgraded Severn Trent’s  Strensham treatment works to deliver clean water to the people of Worcestershire, UK – and in pretty quick time, I might add.


If you are working to make your industry more efficient and save time and money why not get in touch and share the story of your success.

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