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Download November 09, 2009

Capture and exploit corporate knowledge using process simulation

It is critical for engineering and operating companies to capture internal technical knowledge and ensure that it can be accessed and exploited for future projects. In addition, the ability to disseminate this knowledge to a wider audience can be of significant value.


For many companies, it can be difficult to retain and re-use this corporate knowledge, particularly if there is no centralized group able to perform this function. Information can be scattered in various places and often never documented. In the case of process simulation, an important first step is to document and make available for re-use:

  • Commonly-used preferences (such as unit sets)
  • Physical properties
  • Property packages with fitted parameters
  • Simulation template cases


A simulation tool such as HYSYS enables this level of information-sharing by allowing preference sets and property packages to be saved and exported for use in other simulation cases; additionally template cases (or simply a starter HYSYS case) can help ensure that a consistent starting point is used for commonly-modelled processes.


Beyond this, there are often specialized or proprietary functions which are conventionally performed using another application (such as Microsoft Excel) which could have substantially greater value and longevity by incorporating into HYSYS using extensibility (i.e., extensions). There are three types of extensions in HYSYS – unit operations, kinetic reactions and property packages; of these, unit operations are typically of most interest and most accessible to most HYSYS users.


There are numerous applications where unit operation extensions could be used; some include:

  • Specialized design and rating algorithms (such as for separators)
  • Proprietary operations such as reactors or specialized separation
  • In-house methods for predicting specific phase behaviour (hydrates, precipitation or freezing of key components)


An additional benefit to incorporating technical knowledge in extensions is the fact that integrating the calculation with the main process simulation can often ensure a more comprehensive and efficient analysis of the overall problem.


A related challenge is to make process simulation capability available to a wider audience within the corporation; this can be accomplished via automation, or the ability to control the simulation from more familiar applications such as Excel. Many of the simulators have this capability; in HYSYS it is possible to achieve this with knowledge of the HYSYS automation protocols or via Aspen’s Simulation Workbook application.


Automation provides different benefits from extensibility; applications include:

  • Distribution of specific well-defined applications to non-HYSYS users (e.g., prediction of key parameters for preliminary design such as compressor horsepower and cooler duty based on a specific refrigerant and process conditions)
  • Enabling plant engineers or operators to run scenarios for their plant within a familiar interface and look for opportunities to improve operations
  • Extraction of key information from a process simulation case which can be presented in a form usable for other applications (e.g., KPI summary, risk management, cost estimation). Depending on the external application, that capability could also be brought into HYSYS via an extension.


In short, extensibility and automation address two challenges associated with capturing and exploiting corporate knowledge:

How can more information be retained and conveniently accessed: extensibility achieves this by integrating corporate knowledge into the process simulation.

How can the corporate information be made available to a wider audience: automation achieves this by bringing capabilities into familiar applications.


While the actual implementation needs to be carefully evaluated and executed, the extensibility and automation capability of today’s process simulators can bring significant benefits to operating and engineering companies.


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By James Holoboff, M.Sc., P. Eng.

James has over 25 years of experience in process engineering and emissions management for the chemical and petroleum industries. He brings a strong background in the development and application of computer simulation models to oil & gas industry challenges. James worked for Hyprotech/Aspentech for almost 10 years in various capacities including Global Technical Support Manager and Business Development Manager for the Project Services Division. He then spent 5 years providing process engineering and simulation consulting to a number of operating companies and engineering firms. James has been a Managing Partner for Process Ecology for 10+ years, during this time providing process engineering services, emissions reporting, project management, and software development support. James is a Chemical Engineering graduate from the University of Calgary and holds a MSc in Chemical Engineering from the same institution. In his spare time, when he’s not playing ice hockey or cycling, he is recovering from injuries incurred from those sports.

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