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API and the Technical Data Book - Petroleum Refining - A Standards Rant

These days, among other things, I am writing the book chapter on petroleum engineering and refining, for the forthcoming title, Using the Engineering Literature, to be published by Dekker sometime in 2004. One of the titles I want to include is the Technical Data Book – Petroleum Refining, a major work from the American Petroleum Institute, which is a “critically reviewed compilation of the physical and thermodynamic data and correlations that are of most interest to petroleum refiners for process evaluation and equipment design.” (from the 6th ed, 1997).

I was searching the API catalogue to verify if the 1997 volume is the most recent edition. What I found was this:

Electronic Version of the API Technical Data Book
Improve the overall design and operations in today’s highly complex petroleum refinery process systems with the API Technical Database. Version 1.0 of the API Technical Database replaces the printed format of the popular API Tech Data Book with a modern Windows® interface that is so unique it is patented. This single-screen approach provides access to the latest API physical property estimation methods and the software is critically reviewed and approved by the API Technical Data Committee. Included is a database of property data for nearly 900 components, characterization of petroleum fractions, and petroleum fraction distillation interconversions. Users can quickly determine petroleum fraction physical property data such as critical properties, vapor pressure, density, liquid enthalpy, gas enthalpy, heat of vaporization, liquid heat capacity, gas heat capacity, surface tension, liquid viscosity, gas viscosity, liquid thermal conductivity, gas thermal conductivity, and heat of combustion. Temperature-dependent properties can be tabulated and graphed over any range, and distillation interconversions are displayed graphically. This data can then be exported for use in simulation and engineering software programs.
Contact EPCON International at 281-398-9400
or visit the EPCON website at: www.epcon.com
That the API had decided to replace the Technical Data Book – Petroleum Refining, with a database is fundamentally fine with me. What is not clear, however, is whether this database, featuring over 130 API standard methods in pdf format, is being sold only as a product that may be downloaded to one computer. I have requested a demo download from EPCON, which has yet to arrive.

My feeling is that this is (yet) another example of an important standards developing organization (SDO) making a decision that benefits engineers, executives and technicians in industry, while ignoring their subscribers and users at universities and colleges, where future engineers, executives and technicians who will become many of their customers very soon, are being educated and trained. By moving this publication from print to a database that can be downloaded to one computer station, students are left out of the loop, essentially losing access to a valuable resource in engineering design, unless libraries can somehow run it on a local station. In the era of desktop delivery, this doesn't work anymore. Given that the only price I can find for the database is $5,000US/year, libraries would be very hard pressed on two fronts - accessibiity and cost - to justify its purchase.

On university, college and technical school campuses, we need online access to standards now. I am not interested in standards being made available on CD-ROM – it’s print or online only. CD-ROMs have quickly become impractical for many libraries. Often the licencing restrictions are suffocating. Some months back, we ordered and received the latest version of the Standards Library for Measurement and Control from ISA – The Instrumentation, Systems and Automation Society, available only on CD ROM, no longer in print. The disc sits in my office, because we discovered that it came “licensed for single user”, meaning we can’t even load it on our network and restrict it to one networked CD ROM station – it HAS to be a single, non-networked station. Well, duh. One of the sites I discovered selling the 1999 edition sums up the problem for librarians and students: "Designed for use in the office and on the shop floor...", but not the classroom or the library.

The question becomes, why do most major SDOs choose not provide online access to their standards? My take on it is this: there may be a fear that if institutions of learning are able to provide campus-wide access to online versions of industry standards, then one of two things will happen: 1) students will start downloading every standard they think they will use now and later when working in industry, and/or 2) every engineer on Planet Earth will come down to the library in droves to do exactly the same thing, thus depriving the SDOs of revenue to which they are entitled.

Where is the evidence that this might happen? If sets of standards were available online in our libraries, I do not think it would be feasible to expect local engineers and technicians to visit and start systematically downloading standards – most of them are too busy working! The engineering students on our campus have a tough enough time getting through their course assignments and project work rather than spend time planning and carrying out a downloading run of standards.

SDOs and standards resellers, justifiably worried about systematic downloading, must realize that the same thing can happen with any other product available online. However, it seldom does, and when it does, servers will shut down access. Servers can be programmed to watch for systematic downloading, and when it does happen, shut down a subset of IP addresses. This has happened on our campus a few times since the emergence of e-resources, and each time, those involved were identified, the issue (no pun intended) quickly resolved, the IP access restored.

IEEE seems to have it right, at least in the sense that when you subscribe to the IEEE/IEE Electronic Library, site-wide access to all their active standards in included. (Admittedly, this is not an inexpensive way to get to them, but still...) Has IEEE reported massive systematic downloading of their standards? I’ve heard nothing to that effect. (My only concern with IEEE's service is that access is provided only to active standards - this needs to change, as access to superceded and obsolete standards is critical for historical research, and as required when engineering work involving restoration or rehabilitation is undertaken, and superceded standards must be consulted accordingly.)

The ASME BPVC is another example – only Section II is (or seems to be) available online, via Knovel, and a few other providers. Design students most often need Section VIII, which in our library has been known to go on long vacations from the reference stacks, or suffer from pages mysteriously disappearing. The most absurd example of theft/vandalism was when we discovered recently that someone (something?) had removed all the standards from the binder in our reference collection of TEMA: Tubular Exchange Manufacturers Association. If the BPVC or the TEMA standards were available online, theft and vandalism would be non-issues.

For now, the hard copy of the two most recent editions of API's Technical Data Book - Petroleum Refining, will stay on our reference shelves. Unless API, through EPCON (and other companies, such as CHEMPUTE SOFTWARE, which leases the db for $5000US/year), decides to make the Technical Data Base available to instructors and students - their future customers - we will have to live with the 1997 edition.

The time is overdue for all critical industry standards to be made available online, and for the SDOs to give serious consideration to their customers-in-waiting: students who need access to their standards now, serving as a critical component of their education, on the way to becoming members of professions who will in turn be purchasing access to and using said standards in the field.

Of course, that's just my opinion, I could be wrong.


You are absolutely right! It is absurd in this day and age that publishers are moving to a CD-ROM only method. The problem, though, is what you state... they are making the most money from industry and don't really care about universities. I'm not sure if all the universities in the world ganged up and protested that it would even make a dent in their sales.

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