Process optimization

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Process optimization is the discipline of adjusting a process so as to optimize some specified set of parameters without violating some constraint. The most common goals are minimizing cost, maximizing throughput, and/or efficiency. This is one of the major quantitative tools in industrial decision making.

When optimizing a process, the goal is to maximize one or more of the process specifications, while keeping all others within their constraints.

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Fundamentally, there are three parameters that can be adjusted to affect optimal performance. They are:

  • Equipment optimization

The first step is to verify that the existing equipment is being used to its fullest advantage by examining operating data to identify equipment bottlenecks.

  • Operating procedures

Operating procedures may vary widely from person-to-person or from shift-to-shift. Automation of the plant can help significantly. But automation will be of no help if the operators take control and run the plant in manual.

  • Control optimization

In a typical processing plant, such as a chemical plant or oil refinery, there are hundreds or even thousands of control loops. Each control loop is responsible for controlling one part of the process, such as maintaining a temperature, level, or flow.

If the control loop is not properly designed and tuned, the process runs below its optimum. The process will be more expensive to operate, and equipment will wear out prematurely. For each control loop to run optimally, identification of sensor, valve, and tuning problems is important. It has been well documented that over 35% of control loops typically have problems.[citation needed]

The process of continuously monitoring and optimizing the entire plant is sometimes called performance supervision.

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