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Modern Industry

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SOFTWARE & ENGINEERING TOOLS Optimising asset design & operations – Pushing boundaries of performance

Mar 5, 2020

For organisations, it is essential to cultivate an environment of continuous innovation while integrating with operations, planning, scheduling and manufacturing. Most companies create a collaborative environment to ensure maximum operational efficiency with optimisation. The cover story analyses the bigger picture of shared model design engineering and how it can induce a reduced CAPEX & OPEX, and bring in operational optimisation. - Vikas Dhole, Vice President Engineering, Product Management, Aspen Technology

To realise the maximum potential for optimisation, process plants must simultaneously address multiple dimensions and factors. Most successful organisations bring together people from across the business to optimise design and operations through process improvements. There are multiple groups involved in this optimisation; they need to build on each other’s contributions rather than working in isolation or at odds. Cross-disciplinary teamwork that takes a big-picture, integrates the approach to optimisation, delivering superior business result – including reduced CAPEX and OPEX, faster time to market, greater energy efficiency and higher profit margins. For example, a project that addresses capital and energy concerns can’t ignore safety, environmental issues, controllability and yields. Advances in engineering tools help organisations improve collaboration and integration to deliver comprehensive asset optimisation strategies that yield significant financial returns.

Technology alone is not the answer. However, digital transformation enables best practices that drive significant value. These best practices call for organisations to rethink the way they operate and the tools they use to make decisions. More relevant than ever, these approaches help companies succeed in today’s market as they contend with changing market conditions, constraints of aging equipment, a shifting workforce and increasingly strict environmental and safety regulations.

New possibilities drive performance

Performance engineering is about pushing the boundaries of existing concepts, designs and asset constraints to create new, higher performing designs and operations. Using asset models consistently across the CAPEX and OPEX cycle multiplies the value delivered. Shared models support conceptual engineering, Front End Engineering Design (FEED) and economic evaluation, safety, sustainability and operation optimisation, driving performance improvements at all stages. Explore some of the best practices that can deliver value at all stages of plant design and operation.

Conceptual engineering

Develop optimal process

Organisations in the process industry, particularly specialty chemical producers, must overcome technical challenges to introduce new products that meet the market demands and create clear differentiation, quickly evaluating process development options, understanding how operational changes will impact product quality and accelerating scale-up calls for collaboration across sites and functional groups.

Process models that enable modelling and optimisation of batch and continuous operations, involving both solid and fluid operations, offer a way to fast-track innovation. Process development staff can evaluate different processes and equipment configurations to design fewer and more targeted lab experiments and reduce investments in experimental and pilot plant facilities. Process simulations allow teams to find the optimal process and assets in hours instead of weeks. Combining modelling exercises, that traditionally took place across several tools, reduces engineering time by consolidating information and streamlining collaboration between research and engineering.

Design optimisation with concurrent conceptual engineering

Typically, process plant conceptual designs go through numerous iterations in a time-consuming, sequential path. A process engineer develops a process alternative using simulation, then shares that information with an equipment expert who sizes the equipment and finally, shares the information with an estimator. By the time the estimate for the proposed design comes back to the process engineer, weeks have passed.

Due to time constraints, organisations typically evaluate only a few alternatives and settle for a feasible design rather than the optimal one. Moving from this sequential approach to concurrent engineering, where different tasks involved in the process design cycle are performed simultaneously, allows companies to evaluate myriad design options from different perspectives in a short time.

Concurrent conceptual engineering tools allow firms to quickly analyse an asset for energy, economics and equipment while optimising for maximum yield and ensuring process safety and environmental compliance.

Front End Engineering Design (FEED)

Accelerating multidisciplinary collaboration

Performance engineering can automate the handover from conceptual engineering to front-end design, delivering greater efficiency. In addition, capturing updates in real time and cascading them to everyone who needs the information enables global engineering teams to work concurrently, with automated handoffs around the clock. Providing a single source of truth for FEED collaborators reduces manual data re-entry and improves accuracy, which can translate into as much as a 30% reduction in the FEED time.

Taking a data-centric approach means the entire team has up-to-date information and no one wastes time waiting for the latest project iteration. Using a single asset data model improves accuracy as well and allows teams to share best practices and reuse designs. The latest basic engineering capabilities also enable faster hand-off to mechanical and detailed engineering.

Driving collaboration between process engineering, mechanical engineering, estimators and other groups to optimise assets maximises the potential benefits plants can achieve in terms of CAPEX, OPEX and energy savings.

Economic evaluation

Improving efficiency and reducing risk

Many engineering and construction firms struggle to create accurate estimates based on limited information at an early phase in the lifecycle. Providing reliable quotes is especially critical for markets where the Lump Sum Turnkey (LSTK) contracting model prevails. Today’s model-based estimation tools can quickly generate conceptual estimates from the process simulation, and then continue to develop detailed cost estimates for equipment and associated plant bulks, as well as indirect costs.

Using volumetric models that are regularly updated on the cost basis derived, from five well-established regions paired with historical data from completed projects, allows EPCs to calibrate for greater accuracy. Costs like labour, materials, bulks and equipment can be adjusted based on specific project information. Increased estimate accuracy, reduced man-hours and less rework mean significant savings for engineering firms. For owner-operators capital cost estimation, including risk analysis, enables collaboration with EPCs and minimises chances of project overruns.

Safety and sustainability

Developing safe design and operations

Safety is a top priority for owner-operators and EPC companies. Analysing assets for safety across lifecycles help minimise risk to staff, reduces downtime and protects process equipment. While firms want to ensure they operate as safely as possible, an overdesigned safety system can increase project costs or delay already constrained projects.

Performance engineering enables complete overpressure protection safety analysis starting from equipment to flare system including relief and blowdown. Using integrated steady state and dynamic simulation, including safety analysis, helps identify asset designs that can support current demands while accommodating capacity growth, extending asset life and safety.

Optimising energy for supply and demand

While both process engineers and utility engineers focus on improving energy consumption, they’re examining the problem from different sides. Process engineers typically look at a process’ energy consumption and assume the utility system as given; utility engineers consider the process as given and optimise the utility system. The greatest savings occur when both aspects are considered simultaneously – optimising processes to minimise the utility demand and the utility system for maximum efficiency.

Achieving the maximum potential in energy management calls for both, design and operations improvements. Design improvements typically provide the maximum impact but require capital investment. Operational improvements, such as planning and scheduling the utility system and optimising processes also delivers additional savings. Combining design and operational opportunities holistically can save 10% to 20% for the asset.

Operations improvement

Updating planning models based on actual performance

Accurate refinery planning tools are critical for sustaining profits. Unfortunately, these tools depend on models that can easily become outdated when there are changes in crude slate, operating conditions, equipment or catalysts.

Updating planning models using simulation models tuned to actual operational conditions allows for better decision-making, ensuring production meets or exceeds the plan. Automating the planning model update workflow reduces the planning update time from months to just weeks, giving refineries more accurate plans and a means to improve margins. Most importantly, this tool enables refineries to update the models themselves, in-house, without costly third-party consultants. Companies using Aspen HYSYS reactor modelling for operating advice, unit monitoring and planning model updates, report benefits ranging from $8 million to $36 million per reactor unit.

Digital twins driving operational excellence

Process engineers work with many teams in plant operations to help optimise an asset. Typically, operations staff bring a problem to the process engineer’s attention. The process engineer will analyse the problem using a simulation model and make a recommendation. The more time passes, the more opportunity is lost, causing delays in optimising operations, ultimately losing margins.

A simulation model tuned to current operations results in a digital twin of the asset mirroring the performance of the asset in both, offline and real time modes. This digital twin can quickly identify the opportunities for improvements, accelerating collaboration between process engineers and operations team, resulting in faster decision-making and increased margins, taking a holistic, collaborative approach and leveraging the digital twin technology to quickly evaluate the different operational scenarios, including revamps & speeds optimisation, within a broader business context.

Training operators reducing risk and accelerating time to production

Operator training simulators have been proven effective in preparing operators to manage start-ups, shutdowns, complex operational changes and respond to equipment malfunctions in ways that reduce risks while improving safety. When operator training simulations reuse the dynamic models created for engineering, owner-operators save time on training development and can start preparing engineers and operations staff sooner.

Plants can confidently prevent safety incidents and improve sustainability with more rigorous training scenarios, based on their unique equipment and operating conditions. Post start-up, companies can update models to reflect changes to start-up and shutdown procedures, new operating conditions or equipment updates and revamps, thereby extending the value from the investment in an operator training system. This best practice of lifecycle dynamic modelling improves operator effectiveness as well as the safety and reliability of the asset across its lifecycle.

Accelerate Advanced Process Control (APC)

To roll out a new Advanced Process Controller (APC) or re-tune an existing one, most plants conduct step tests on the actual asset. This usually involves introducing a disturbance to see how the plant responds and then using the data to define initial tuning parameters for the controller. Using the actual asset for testing requires high levels of engineering and operations expertise – this approach can introduce operational risks and may impact production.

Performing step-tests on a digital twin reduces production losses and saves time implementing APC. Control engineers can collaborate with process engineers to leverage existing simulation models, based on actual operating conditions, leading to faster deployment for new APC units, reduced operational risks and less impact on production.

Digital acceleration driving profits & productivity

For peak performance and profitability, organisations must simultaneously optimise design and operations across multiple dimensions through strong collaboration between disciplines. Technologies that enable collaboration across disciplines can help teams combine their strengths to deliver the maximum potential from optimisation. Time and time again, we’ve seen that collaboration across engineering, planning, scheduling and plant operations deliver unparalleled results.

Performance engineering provides a concurrent engineering environment that EPCs, upstream companies, refiners and chemical companies can use to optimise equipment, plants and assets based on consistent models throughout the asset lifecycle. This not only enables optimisation across the CAPEX and OPEX cycles but also drives collaboration between process engineering and other groups to capture a wide array of benefits, including safer, greener, more profitable operations. Implementing any of the best practices outlined here will deliver value; saving capital and energy, reducing environmental impact with an inherently safe operation, which will maximise the Return on Investment (ROI).

Choosing tools that drive asset lifecycle

Only one technology company has a proven track record for creating value across the entire performance engineering spectrum. AspenTech delivers billions of dollars in value annually across verticals and regions, from R&D and conceptual engineering to FEED, economics, safety, sustainability and operations optimisation. Continuous innovation in engineering tools that integrate with operations, planning, scheduling and manufacturing execution drives unparalleled value for asset-intensive companies working to digitalise and ultimately, digitally transform.

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  • Vikas Dhole

    Vice President Engineering - Product Management
    Aspen Technology

  • Shared models support conceptual engineering, Front End Engineering Design (FEED) and economic evaluation, safety, sustainability and operation optimisation, driving performance improvements at all stages

  • Performance engineering for engineering, procurement & construction

  • Performance engineering enables complete overpressure protection safety analysis starting from equipment to flare system

  • Plants can confidently prevent safety incidents and improve sustainability with more rigorous training scenarios

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