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Process Design and Why It Is Important

In 1979, a leading chemical executive observed that his firm derived one-third of its income from products that were less than ten years old. He predicted that companies would not thrive over the long run unless they continually developed new ones.' Not only has a host of new products appeared in the years since, but new, smaller companies have proliferated, and many larger ones have downsized. One student of change (Sciance [1987]) noted that his firm hired half as many engineers in the mid-1980s as in the mid- 1970s. This trend was also accompanied by internal restructuring+ssentially the elimination of middle management. As a result, more power shifted to engineers involved in technical functions, i.e., those "working at the bench." At the same time, engineers began finding more jobs outside traditional chemical and petroleum industries. New opportunities came in electronics, materials, health services, food processing, consulting, and so forth. This trend continued through the 1990s and into the twenty-first century. One observer noted that the average engineer today might hold seven different jobs in his or her career, compared with two per career in the 1960s and 1970s (Ellis [1994]). This emphasis on new products and processes and a shift of people from the "command tents" to the "trenches" is compounded by one sobering fact. More than ten new processes are proposed for every one that succeeds. This means that engineers not only have more power, those who can quickly separate lucrative future projects from worthless ones are worth their weight in gold. This book is designed to help you become one of them.


It is important to define, as quickly as possible, projects that have promise, because research and pilot plant expenses can be wasted otherwise. Typically, economic evaluation begins with the conception of a new product or process and continues through fundamental research, pilot studies, plant design, and final construction. Process development is, in fact, a series of action and decision steps-steps that lead to manufacture of a profitable product on one hand or abandonment of a nonviable proposal on the other. Evaluation costs, along with other expenses, balloon as a project approaches maturity. This is illustrated in Figure 1.1, where the cost of making an economic estimate is plotted against its accuracy. This graph shows how prolonging a project, securing more detail, and increasing the precision of its estimated cost

Shapiro [1979].


m 1 Process Design and Why It Is Important

FIGURE 1.1 Precision of a cost estimate versus the expense of preparing the estimate itself. (Patterned after and Uppal [2002]. Cameo is the same plot with linear abscissa.) Nichols [1951] using data of Dysert [2001]

become more and more expensive. (The cameo in Figure 1.1, upper right, reflects this exponential dependence more forcefully.) Cost engineers2 have defined five classes of estimating sophistication, denoted by labels in Figure 1.l. Ranges overlap, with Class 1 being the most accurate and Class 5 the least. Classes 1, 2, and into 3 are definitive estimates. Predesign estimates continue from Class 3 to encompass Classes 4 and 5 (Dysert [2001], uppal [2001]). Class 5, an "order-of-magnitude" or "capacity-factor" estimate, the most rudimentary, requires little more than identification of products, raw materials, and ~tilities.~ Such evaluations are usually made by extrapolating or interpolating data for similar existing processes using the six-tenths rule.4 They can be done quickly at a cost of about $2000 for a $lM to $5M plant (less than 0.2% of total project cost). The range of uncertainty is broad, however-typically more than +50 to -30 percent. Class 5 estimates are usually used for screening potential projects. A Class 4 "equipment factored" estimate represents the next level of sophistication and requires a preliminary process flow sheet with approximate definiAssociation for Advancement of Cost Engineering International (AACE) and Association of Cost Engineers (UK-ACE). 3 Also known, informally, as a "rule-of-thumb"or "back-of-envelope"estimate. See Chapter 5.

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m 1 Process Design and Why It Is Important

fails to perform according to specifications. A good process designer knows how to strike the correct balance. To develop this skill, you should continually ask yourself, "What are the most important assumptions I have made? Where are major uncertainties? Is more accuracy needed or justified?" This book should help you answer those questions.

Unlike many homework problems, there is no absolutely correct solution to a chemical engineering design problem. One answer, however, is usually better than most. In storing a cryogenic liquid, for example, one engineer may choose to bury the storage tanks in the earth to minimize seasonal variations of temperature and moderate capacity fluctuations in the refrigeration equipment. Another might specify tanks having extra-heavy insulation and located above ground for easier maintenance. Depending on circumstances, one alternative will be safer than another. Either design, properly executed, will function satisfactorily, but one will usually prove superior in a given situation. Issues other than cost and safety affect process decisions. These include location and political climate, aesthetics, pollution, noise, intensity of lighting, traffic impact, and number of employees. While such humanitarian/social -considerations color the whole project analysis, they are irrelevant if one does not have a viable project to begin with. Assessing technical and economic viability, although approached differently by different people, usually involves the six major steps listed in Table 1.1. (As a rule, steps 1 through 5 are repeated many times, with the economic analysis refined in each c y ~ l e . ) ~
TABLE 1.1 Steps in the Design of a Chemical Process
1. Conception and definition 2. Flow sheet development 3. Design of equipment 4. Economic analysis

5. Optimization 6. Reporting

Step 1 may be partially completed in advance by a supervisor, or it may evolve through a series of discussions between the engineer and others. An engineer must know the bases and assumptions that apply, plant capacity, and the time allotted for design. Project philosophy must be defined. For example, how "tight" or precise must the result be? How much, if any, extra capacity is desired? What
9Social factors are vital, of course, from beginning to end of project. Section 3, on safety, pollution prevention, and ethics, comes toward the end of this book-not because of priority, but because students need to understand technical and economic aspects of process design to fully appreciate the tools presented there. All readers should skim Section 3 now, however, to gain insight into what is coming. This material will influence an experienced designer's approach to all steps in Table 1.1.

Steps in Process Design are the design "trade-offs"? Should initial capital be minimized, or should it be higher to produce a more trouble-free startup? Should expensive materials of construction be employed to reduce corrosion and subsequent maintenance costs, or vice versa? Some of the answers will be obvious from past experience. Several matters of conception and definition must be reexamined for each new project. Often, a designer is asked to explore several alternatives in search of the best. In many cases, questions answered tentatively at the beginning of a project must be reconsidered as more information becomes available. For the novice, it is important that uncertainties at this stage do not frustrate or impede progress. It is always possible to refine assumptions later and quickly revise the calculations, but assumptions of some type must be made. Information discussed later in this chapter and in Chapter 2 will help you to make them.

After the problem has been conceived, defined, and assigned, the mode of solution is seldom obvious. Many possibilities and alternate assumptions exist. Even so, it is generally possible to construct a process flow diagram. You should take this step early for several reasons.

1. In generating a flow sheet, you are forced to make assumptions that can reduce the complexity of the problem. 2. In executing material and energy balances, the most important process variables are exposed. 3. It is an efficient way to become familiar with a process.
A flow sheet draft will identify where information is lacking. Properly executed and completed, a flow sheet will contain data required for design bf individual equipment items. Generally, even if there are later modifications, the flow sheet can be corrected and design calculations repeated with relative ease. When students don't know where to start on a new project, I tell them to begin the flow sheet, confident that a potentially fruitful approach will be revealed by that exercise. Mechanics of flow sheet preparation are described in Chapter 3.

Equipment cost is an important element in process economics. Partial design, at least, is necessary before such costs can be established. Estimating precision is dictated by the desired accuracy of an estim@e.,For predesign estimates, equip ment must be specified quickly and without &eat detail. This is necessary because of the limited budget that can be devo* to @e work. Chapters 4 and 5 describe .., . rapid and approximate methods for determining qujpment specifications and ; : . costs, Even with short-cut techniqpes, however, capital,estimates often agree to , within *20% when executed by different engineers having equal competence. This is adequate for deciding whether to p r o c ~ d with a project or not.loO
I0If the p h i n a r y evaluation is positive, a detailed project control or contractor'sestimate (outside the scope of this book) w i l l usually follow. To prepare it, fine details such as tube or tray layout, bf Vessel specifications, and shop drawings must be prepared to thesxtent that a vendor's quote can 1r be obtained.

m 1 Process Design aiid Why It Is Important

Most process feasibility studies lead to the same question: "How much money will this venture make?" To obtain an answer, raw material, labor, equipment, and other costs must be combined to provide an accurate economic profile. Inflation, taxes, availability of money, and other factors influence profitability. These must be considered and evaluated in a manner that is meaningful to management. Although detailed manipulation of economic parameters is the province of economists, not engineers, the economist generally is not qualified to design equipment, define raw materials, and evaluate other processing costs. In practice, it is easier for an engineer to bridge the communication gap by learning elementary economic techniques than for an economist to learn engineering. Basic economic principles are presented in Chapters 5, 6 , and S.

Optimization, a combination of economics and engineering, is necessary in any project where alternatives exist. In fact, optimization is usually employed many times in a design project. Often, the optimum can be obtained from charts or nomographs prepared by others. A graph for determining the most economical pipe size is one example. In some situations, the optimal choice may be a simple matter of common sense. Occasionally, as is frequently true in reactor specification, the optimum must be determined uniquely for each particular process and configuration under examination. With the engineering and economic principles of Chapters 3 through 6 under your belt, optimization becomes a matter of converting common sense to a mathematical equation. Details are explained in Chapter 7.

A design report may represent the only tangible product of months or years of hard work. An effective report cannot be prepared from a poor engineering effort, but a poor or mediocre report can, and often does, obscure otherwise excellent engineering. This is another interface between engineering and humanity that must be crossed, and crossed well, by the engineer. Guidelines for effective report preparation are presented in Chapter 12.

It is technically possible to design and build a plant that is unsafe, ugly, polluting, and inconsiderate of its community or surroundings but still produce the desired product. The days are past, however, when one can actually site and build such a plant in advanced society. Today, a single factor such as pollution, safety, aesthetics, or social acceptance may make or break a project. In fact, unfortunate violations of trust in the past make new chemical manufacturing projects "guilty until proven innocent" in many communities. A single book cannot teach all of the social, ethical, cultural, and life skills necessary for you to be an effective advocate for a new project, but it can be a

Process Simulation/OptimizationlModeling start. That is the purpose of Section 3. An honest, responsible design and a truthful presentation of it to the public should be paramount in the mind of any advocate. Expertise in the arts, humanities, social sciences, and communication skills, and a life dedicated to social, cultural, and intellectual growth, are certain to enhance the quality of your work.

Computer games represent one interesting facet of the electronic revolution. Flight simulators are an important nonrecreational application of the same technology. These "black-box cockpits" subject a pilot to the sensations of flying a real aircraft while never leaving the ground. They allow a novice to "fly" an airplane without risking life, limb, or equipment. Even experienced pilots learn from simulated emergencies in the black box and thus become more skillful when faced with a real crisis in which lives and an expensive machine are at risk. Similar powerful software that models manufacturing plants has been created for industry. These programs go far beyond training plant operators, however. They also allow users to create alternate flow sheets, test various process control strategies, minimize pollution and off-quality product, estimate plant capital and operating costs, and isolate the most promising design alternatives. In short, these packages do most of the things described in this text. Who knows when they will write reports and make decisions? When and if that day comes, will it still be essential to study chemical engineering process design and read books like this one? The answer is "yes," for reasons discussed below. As long as people are involved in any aspect of designing or operating a process, they must be able to think independently and creatively. Powerful software in the hands of ignorant users is dangerous. It would be irresponsibld to train an aircraft pilot by simulation alone, without including study of mechanical and theoretical concepts that support flight. Simulation is not a substitute for a basic understanding of chemical and physical phenomena. Simulation can handle only models for which it has been programmed. Although sophisticated software has been written for conventional unit operations involving mass transfer, heat transfer, and fluid flow in the chemicallpetroleum processing industry, programs are not always available to handle new technology and nontraditional operations where future opportunities await chemical engineers. Even when the appropriate software exists, Seider, Seader, and Lewin [I9991 point out that the time and money required for a complete simulation usually cannot be justified until engineers launch into detailed design. Simulation programs sometimes produce incorrect results. Schad [I9981 and Agarwal et al. [2002] emphasize that a competent user must know the sources of data and basic correlations used in a program. This was demonstrated by Sadeq, Duarte, and Serth [1997], who used three different simulation packages to solve the same azeotropic distillation problem and obtained three different stemmed from faulty vapor-liquid equilibrium data. Seider, answers. E ~ o r s Seader, and Lewin [I9991 found similar but less severe problems in ethanolwater distillation. They also warn readers against using economic results from a simulation package without checking them against a more transparent printed

m 1 process ~esign'and Why It Is Important

source. Simulation data banks can always be improved, but this requires a sophisticated and vigilant user." Within these limitations, simulation is a powerful modem tool. In a survey found some firms able to reduce of industrial practice, Crabb and Kamiya [2000] construction capital by almost 30% through the use of simulation programs. Design software made it possible to evaluate many more alternatives than one could afford to analyze by hand. Once equipment was identified, it could be designed much more tightly; that is, with less excess capacity. Meanwhile, the software produced design documents in half the time required by older methods. Simulation not only improves the design of new equipment but can make operating plants more efficient (Dimian [1994]). When production capacities are large, efficiency improvements of 1 or 2% can translate to millions of dollars in added profit per year. If and when you work intensely with one production process, you should learn or write software to simulate it. To do so, you must be grounded in the fundamentals of process design and economics. You should also be conversant with short-cut techniques to check the software and confirm that it is yielding reasonable answers. This book, or one like it, is an excellent place to begin building that background.

Many readers of this text12 own the skills necessary to develop a successful process design, but few will have focused them on a single project. Some material in this book will reinforce what you already know. Other topics, such as flow sheet techniques, economics, and optimization, may be new. During your study of following chapters, and as you execute segments of selected design problems or prepare the solution to a major case study, you will more fully appreciate the power of the tools you possess.


Agarwal, R., Y. K. Li, 0. Santollaui, M. A. Satyro, and A. Vieler (2001). "Uncovering the Realities of Simulation," Chem. Eng. Prog., pp. 42-52 (May). Bandel, F. and J. Lawson (2002), "Working the Kinks out of Piping Design," Chem. Eng., pp. 56-64 (September). Crabb, C. and T. Kamiya (2000), "Front End Engineering and Design Frenzy at Engineering and Consulting Firms," Chem. Eng., pp. 4143 (January). Dimian, A. (1994), "Use Process Simulation to Improve Plant Operations," Chemical Engineering Progress, pp. 58-66 (September). Dysert, L. (2001). "SharpenYour Capital-Cost-Estimation Skills," Chem. Eng., pp. 70-81 (October).
l 1 A valued adviser and friend (Fisher [1999]), who has followed simulation technology closely for years, predicts that defects in software will virtually disappear within the lifetime of this book and that simulation programs will manipulate chemical design calculationsas easily as spreadsheets handle mathematical calculations today. When that happens, however, we agree that understanding what the software is doing will be important for its successful use. Even with a spreadsheet, 1 run a set of calculations by hand-not because of defects in hardware or software, but in how I may have programmed a cell. l2 Chemical engineering seniors, for example, or scientists trained in other disciplines.

Ellis, R.A. (1994), "At the Crossroads," Eng. Workforce Bull. No. 130, as quoted by Cussler, Edward L. (1999), "Do Changes in the Chemical Industry Imply Changes in Curriculum?" Chem. Eng. Educ., 33, pp. 12-17 (Winter). Fisher, Robert E. (1999). Personal Communication (November 9). Flach, Lawrance (1999), "Experience with Teaching Design," Chem. Eng. Educ., 33, p. 158-1 61, (Spring). Nichols, W. T. (1951), Ind. Eng. Chem., 43, p. 2295. Also reproduced in Perry and Chilton (1973). Sect. 25, p. 15. Perry, J. H., and C.H. Chilton (1973), Chemical Engineers'Handbook, 5th ed., McGrawHill, New York. Perry, R. H., D. W. Green, and J. 0.Maloney (1984), Perry's Chemical Engineers' Handbook, 6th ed., McGraw-Hill, New York. Perry, R. H., D. W. Green and J. 0.Maloney (1997), Perv's Chemical Engineers' Handbook, 7th ed., McGraw-Hill, New York. Pikilik, A., and H. E. Diaz (1977), "Cost Estimation for Major Process Equipment," Chem. Eng., pp. 107-122 (Oct. 10). Sadeq, J., H. A. Duarte, and R. W. Serth (1997), "Anomalous Results from Process Simulators," Chem. Eng. Educ., 31, pp. 46-51 (Winter). Sciance, C. Thomas (1987), "Chemical Engineering in the Future," Chem. Eng. Educ., 21, p. 12 (Winter). Schad, Ryan C. (1999), personal communication (November 1). Schad, Ryan C. (1998), "Make the Most of Process Simulation," Chemical Engineering Progress, pp. 21-27 (January). Seider, W. D., J. D. Seader, and D. R. Lewin (1999), Process Design Priizciples, p. 59, p. 352, and pp. 693-698, Wiley, New York. Shapiro, Irving S. (1979). speech quoted by C. S. Cronin, "Unleashing Innovation," Chem. Eng., p. 5 (December 3). Uppal, K. B. (2002), "Project Cost Estimation: Scope-of-Work is Vital," Chem. Eng., pp. 72-76 (September).