Extracting value from a concurrent engineering model

Examine all portions of a plant’s lifecycle to determine its efficiency.

By Sandy Levy, AspenTech March 27, 2018
It’s critical for companies in capital-intensive industries where there is considerable market volatility to consistently find new ways to reduce costs and create new efficiencies. When it comes to engineering and plant design, moving from sequential simulation to concurrent engineering environments can save companies millions of dollars every year. Through analytics and activated and integrated workflows, this approach optimizes plant assets simultaneously across all portions of the engineering lifecycle.
In order for concurrent engineering to be successful, engineers must not only adopt a true understanding of the key differentiators between a sequential model and a simultaneous model, but also learn how to extract the greatest value and benefits from this kind of environment.
Defining “concurrent engineering”
Traditionally, companies have used a sequential approach to engineering modeling which involves a lot of back and forth with a variety of specialists to determine if a model works within their particular domain. If it doesn’t work, then process engineers must go back to the drawing board, extending the time required to develop the process model and soaking up more specialist resources. Additionally, compartmentalizing elements of the process design leaves engineers blind to alternative efficiencies, roadblocks, savings,, and more. 
By integrating a simultaneous or concurrent approach, organizations can save both time and resources. For example, when designing or improving an asset, engineers must take all of the dimensions—safety, capital, energy, and environmental, among others—into account and address them simultaneously. By understanding how the assets perform across all the dimensions at the same time, companies have the tools to achieve capital savings, energy savings, and ultimately the most profitable and sustainable design.
A concurrent engineering approach enabling more collaboration amongst disciplines. While process engineers are not working closely with the experts like they would in a sequential environment, the concurrent approach, in effect, still provides them the ability to collaborate with the other disciplines. This is because they are able to pre-optimize without needing to actually work alongside the various SMEs who are involved in the plant lifecycle, such as the cost-estimators, planners, and energy specialists. 
According to ARC Advisory Group, “The most significant opportunity to positively influence the process design is in the early conceptual stages of the project, but more importantly, in managing the iterations between conceptual design, pre-FEED (front-end engineering design) and during FEED or detailed design. Projects that allow more agile collaboration across engineering disciplines have the highest chance to optimize the design.” 
The concurrent approach infuses that expert knowledge into design by factoring in all of the ways in which experts define standards and create templates and calculations. Additionally, simple dashboards allow engineers to view and change aspects as needed, making it easier to analyze them for economics, safety, energy, etc. Engineers can determine within the simulation environment how far they are from ideal production and what they need to change in order to meet goals. They can do this by activating specialist workflows within the process simulation to optimize the design—reducing iterations needed with experts.
Extracting more value
Plants are getting larger and generally involve greater integration across the value chain. Concurrent engineering simply expands the scope of what one can optimize offering a bigger-picture view. By integrating concurrent engineering, engineers can use the improved accuracy of production planning that this model offers to make better decisions. These decisions can in turn lead to a great deal of savings:
1. Time Savings
Use of activation and economics within simulation, as well as concurrent use of cost estimation software, helps with faster decision-making. Process engineers and managers can use knowledge from previous projects to develop a new concept quickly, which can take months of design planning off the calendar, even cutting time in half. Additionally, the ability to see all different dimensions at the same time enables faster selection of the design and helps the entire process get up and running much more quickly. 
For example, Genesis, an oil and gas consultant firm, was able to reduce time to evaluate new assets from three months to three days by modeling topsides, hydraulics, and gathering systems together. Additionally, S & B Engineers and Constructors, Ltd., an integrated engineering, procurement, and construction company, reported reduction in estimating man-hours using advanced cost estimating software instead of traditional methods. 
2. Energy Savings
The analysis of energy in the design process enables process engineers and managers to identify opportunities in the design that could reduce energy consumption dramatically, as the design overview often can lead to system and design revamps previously not caught. The concurrent model also provides organizations with the ability to uncover weak points in the operations process, design a new piece of equipment, or target locations in design that would open up new savings. 
LG Chem, the largest chemical enterprise in Korea, for example, increased capacity by 15% and saved significant energy by integrating advanced energy analysis into operations. 
3. Safety Savings
If plants are not safe, they cannot operate. Through the combination of concurrent modeling and safety analysis, engineers can identify safety roadblocks or identify where they might be overcompensating with unnecessary safety precautions. One of the bigger safety threats is the buildup of pressure because of misuse or overheating. Concurrent approaches, through overpressure analysis, let engineers effectively release pressure from safety scenarios in a complete way—from equipment to flare.
4. Increased Profitability/Capital Savings
Activated modeling improves product planning which in turn increases operational efficiency. Simulation environments are designed to include activated economic analysis, energy analysis, equipment analysis, solids analysis, reactor modeling, safety analysis, operability analysis, and environmental analysis (all from a central modeling environment). Companies such as Technip, a global leader in project management, engineering, and construction for the energy industry, reported reducing capital in an ethane recovery unit while Petrofac, a global oilfield services company, increased gas plant capacity by 20% using rigorous heat exchanger models.
With increasing pressure for engineering firms and EPCs to find more productivity gains, due in part to staffing shortages, there’s much value in finding better quality designs that will produce more return on investment (ROI) of capital expenditures. 
Organizations must find more efficiencies during the conceptual design of the asset in order to realize savings that were previously impossible to achieve within the project schedule. If engineers don’t generate high ROI at the conceptual level, they’ll never be able to realize it, because from the conceptual level onwards, the general plant design is frozen.
Additionally, the biggest value to extract from any concurrent environment depends on a companies’ objectives. Better planning decisions save more on operational costs. Once a plant has a better-quality process in place, process engineers and managers can then extract the benefits, depending on which business objectives they have in mind. 
Moving forward, it will be the companies who follow simultaneous models that will improve ROI ultimately become a leader in their market.

Sandy Levy, Ph.D., is director of engineering business consulting for AspenTech.