Process simulation as the key discipline of chemical engineering Application of process simulation in disciplines of chemical processing
Chemical engineering can be defined from many different aspects. However, all the scientists and professionals agree that the process is the center of it. To make a distinction from any other discipline, the role of chemical engineering could be defined with its purpose to develop, design, construct, control, optimize and manage any process involving physical and/or chemical changes and make this process profitable without violating environmental balance.
Process simulation as discipline uses mathematical models as basis for analysis, prediction, testing, detection of a process behavior unrelated to whether the process is existing in reality or not. Process simulation is there to increase the level of knowledge for a particular process and chemical engineering in general.
So, when those two concepts are put together, we can look into the chemical engineering as a discipline defining how the process should be developed and simulation as the tool helping us to explore the options. Chemical engineering needs to know how the process should be designed while chemical engineers use the simulation to explore all the process design options and define the optimal one.
Process simulation is today applied in almost all disciplines of chemical engineering and engineering in general. It is the inevitable part of disciplines from process design, research and development, production planning, optimization, training and education to decision-making which makes it one of the most important disciplines of engineering. A wide palette of simulation solutions is mentioned below.
Process design represents one of the traditional applications of mathematical modeling and simulation. Process synthesis and process design use steady state models to define process flowsheet accompanied with material and heat balance. The objectives of process design are to find the best process flowsheet and optimum design conditions. This can be a complex task which needs to explore great number of options and is not possible without the usage of mathematical models and process simulation.
Research and development
Chemical engineering is like a fountain of challenges producing a continuous inspiration for researchers on their projects. No research project is possible without certain amount of mathematical modeling and process simulation involved. Thus, it can minimize the amount of experimental research. There are certain parts of the process which continuously need evaluation and improvement. Reactor sections are very often that particular part of the process, especially if the catalyst is involved in the reactions. For this purposes, continuous monitoring of performance is done in order to change reactor's conditions at the proper time. Engineers working with research and development are involved with detailed mathematical models which include a huge number of physical and thermodynamic properties to help them evaluate current or improved process conditions.
Production planning and scheduling accompanied with economic calculations represent important discipline which is placing a chemical process or industry on the market. Ones the process is running, its profitability becomes one of the most important tasks for a chemical engineer. Process profitability is explored and defined through production planning and scheduling models which are used to provide the answers to the questions how to define optimal production and operation.
Change of market, change in feeds and products need constant evaluation in order to guarantee profitability. Mathematical models are used for simulation of all the possibilities as the guidance on the way to the optimum solution. This is done in order to help management to make the right decisions.
Dynamic simulation is analyzing an optimal process operation, safety, environmental constraints and controllability to help define control strategies, goals and control parameters.
Dynamic simulation is first used during process design phase to help define control strategies. When the process is in operation, it is used to analyze, test and optimize operating conditions. This type of analysis can give answers about process bottlenecks and how to resolve them. Because the „time“ as a variable is included, dynamic simulation is focusing on the problems of control that steady state simulation cannot comprehend.
Training and education
Simulation is of great support to enable training and education of engineers and operators. It is present in the form of the Operator Training Simulator. As education of operators and engineers is becoming more and more important challenge due to modern and more complex technologies, OTS is the powerful learning tool which enables natural feeling of a process control in the virtual reality. Training of defined scenarios, process start-up and shut-down is representing the enormous impact on process safety and competence of operators to be able to handle unexpected conditions. It is also giving them more knowledge to deal with daily operation challenges.
Dynamic models are enabling chemical engineers to continuously run the unit with defined optimization strategy, having the process knowledge transformed in the shape of the mathematical model hidden inside the control algorithm, called Advanced Process Control (APC). This approach is giving engineers and operators the ability and operators to almost run the unit such as operating the plane on auto pilot, constantly taking care of economical benefits.
Decision-making process supported by different kinds of calculations, models and simulations is far more efficient one than the one built on assumptions. There is a whole formulation of how different models can support the decision-making process to make it less exasperating and difficult.
In conclusion, the short survey about process simulation is giving us a message: there is almost no discipline of chemical engineering that can afford to ignore the importance of process simulation. It is the inevitable part of chemical engineering and engineering in general. Process simulation is like a flashlight in the hands of a chemical engineer guiding one to the best engineering solution.