Published 08-09-2020
| Article appears in August 2020 Issue



Large-scale industrial plants are becoming more complex and more tightly integrated.

Both equipment implemented and workforce hired during the boom years of the 1950s and 1960s are coming up to retirement. In commodity markets or with differentiated solutions, companies have to innovate to stay competitive.

To reduce the costs of units produced in commodity markets, one solution is larger plants with even more ambitious technology. And often engineering departments around multi-geographies must respond to changing conditions while incorporating a new generation of engineers.

Legacy process simulators are ill-suited to these challenges.

Many companies are driving Digital Transformation projects, but often, they’re focused on their operations, not their asset lifecycle processes.

Process simulation tools are irreplaceable tools for every process engineer. Since the 1970s, process simulators have found widespread adoption within operating companies in oil and gas, refining and chemical industries, as well as in the engineering companies and equipment manufacturers that service these industries.

The tools available in the market today have incrementally improved over the years to provide more features and functionality. However, they trace their origins to legacy architectures, operating systems and aftermarket user interfaces, which create inherent limitations.

They cannot support the full plant lifecycle as they are limited by their single-purpose architecture, such as steady state process simulation, dynamic simulation, optimisation or flow network analysis for which they were originally designed.

Extending their functionality can be performed by a very small number of software developers with chemical engineering knowledge, software programming skills and/or knowledge of that particular specialised program.

They’re also often based on decades-old programming code that cannot leverage more recent technological developments within the software industry.

Seven ways lifecycle simulation platforms can help transform plants

1. A process model that can be used in design, training and operations with the capability to switch back and forth.
2. Insights to improve process operation, start-up procedures and relief system safety through unified dynamic situation.
3. Better collaboration between modelling and control experts by early understanding of process controllability through unified dynamic simulation.
4. Debottlenecked process utility systems by fluid flow network simulation.
5. Better allocation of expert engineering resources through the use of the same toolset with an easier learning curve.
6. Delivery of models for OTS systems for demographic changes in plant staff causing personnel shortages.
7. A single tool to support process design, operator training and equipment performance monitoring.

Staying innovative and aligned to changing demands

Global competition, pricing pressures and the need to innovate are all factors driving the need for a new approach. The next generation of workers also expects a modern, scalable and easy to use solution with technology they now take for granted - high speed internet access, mobile devices, touchscreens and virtual reality.

New concepts like the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT), Industry 4.0 and artificial intelligence have created greater opportunities with a new next generation platform that provides a Digital Twin of the plant through the process lifecycle that cannot be provided by today’s tools.

Today’s simulators typically only support a single phase of the lifecycle and are often based on thermodynamics of different simulation vendors and calculation methods.

This not only leads to a lack of trust in the results, but causes substantial rework by having to build a new simulation model in each new tool.

The results are hard to compare.

Unified Lifecycle Simulation means that one process model is extended throughout the entire lifecycle of the plant, from concept to operations.

Valuable insights for smarter decision making

In many plants, each simulation activity requires an individual point solution. Although each piece of software is in itself justified, companies struggle to maintain these models adequately before they become outdated.

According to McKinsey Global Institute, 53 per cent of the capital projects greater than $1 billion are behind schedule, and 37 per cent have cost overruns; results of not being able to control variability and complexity.

The opportunities to be gained through accurate insights are significant. McKinsey sees a 50 per cent efficiency potential around seven dimensions, including reshaping regulations, collaboration and contracting, rethinking design and engineering savings, improvement in procurement and supply chain, improvement on site execution, infusion of technology and innovation, and helping to resell workers.

Digital solutions are here and available today. A simulation platform can be performed in the same master simulation, otherwise known as the Digital Twin of your process. For example, this could include scenarios such as a heat tube rupture, changes in production capability, process development, or even complex specifications associated with detailed steam balances.

Lifecycle process simulation has been a vision for process simulation providers and their customers for a long time. However, today’s simulators cannot leverage the rapid developments occurring in the software industry due to legacy architecture.

Luckily, simulation platforms designed from the ground up to enable the next generation of engineers and deliver the process side of the Digital Twin are now a viable option for organisations looking to transform digitally and to reduce risks and failure in their systems.

People are at the centre of digital transformation

Two thirds of all companies lack a clear vision and strategy to support digital transformation and culture. Only 27 per cent of employees have the required qualifications to master the digital future. The reality remains that people are at the centre of digital transformation - and the barriers to technology adoption.

Digital transformation merges the latest innovative tools and processes with your in-house domain expertise. This enables not only the contextualisation of new and existing data but also delivers actionable insights and information.

Covestro is among the world’s largest polymer companies. Its business activities are focused on the manufacturing of high-tech polymer materials and the development of innovative solutions for products used in many areas of daily life.

Faced with the challenge of using several tools that did not integrate effectively across the process lifecycle, Covestro turned to AVEVA to implement a Simulation Platform. This implementation enabled Covestro to standardise process engineering on a single platform across the plant lifecycle and freed up its engineers to focus on innovation and solving complex problems.

Early results included successful implementation of replacement tools, positive feedback from users, reduced cost, time, risk and delay, and freeing up engineers to focus on innovation.

While Digital Transformation is impacting all companies in some form, the process engineering discipline has by and large been excluded from this trend so far. Consequently, legacy simulators are not well suited to accurately simulate processes, nor ideal to serve the entire plant lifecycle.


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