Process engineering

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Process engineering focuses on the design, operation, control, and optimization of chemical, physical, and biological processes. Process engineering encompasses a vast range of industries, such as chemical, petrochemical, agriculture, mineral processing, advanced material, food, pharmaceutical, software development and biotechnological industries.

Process engineering involves translating the needs of the customer into (typically) production facilities that convert "raw materials" into value-added components that are transported to the next stage of the supply chain, typically "packaging engineering", but some larger volume processes such as petroleum refining tend to transfer the products into transportation (trucks or rail) that are then directed to distributors or bulk outlets. Prior to construction, the design work of process engineering begins with a "block diagram" showing raw materials and the transformations/unit operations desired. The design work then progresses to a process flow diagram (PFD) where material flow paths, storage equipment (such as tanks and silos), transformations/Unit Operations (such as distillation columns, receiver/head tanks, mixing, separations, pumping, etc.) and flowrates are specified, as well as a list of all pipes and conveyors and their contents, material properties such as density, viscosity, particle size distribution, flow rates, pressures, temperatures, and materials of construction for the piping and unit operations. The process flow diagram is then used to develop a process and instrumentation diagram (P&ID) which includes pipe and conveyor sizing information to address the desired flowrates, process controls (such as tank level indications, material flow meters, weighing devices, motor speed controls, temperature and pressure indicators/ controllers, etc.). The P&ID is then used as a basis of design for developing the "system operation guide" or "functional design specification" which outlines the operation of the process. From the "P&ID", a proposed layout (general arrangement) of the process can be shown from an overhead view (plot plan) and a side view (elevation), and other engineering disciplines are involved such as civil engineers for site work (earth moving), foundation design, concrete slab design work, structural steel to support the equipment, etc.). All previous work is directed toward defining the scope of the project, then developing a cost estimate to get the design installed, and a schedule to communicate the timing needs for engineering, procurement, fabrication, installation, commissioning, startup, and ongoing production of the process. Depending on the needed accuracy of the cost estimate and schedule that is required, several iterations of designs are generally provided to customers or stakeholders who feedback their requirements and the process engineer incorporates these additional instructions and wants (scope revisions) into the overall design and additional cost estimates and Schedules are developed for funding approval. Following funding approval, the project is executed via project management.

The application of systematic computer-based methods to process engineering is process systems engineering.

Significant accomplishments[edit]

Several accomplishments have been made in Process Systems Engineering:[1]

  • Process design: synthesis of energy recovery networks, synthesis of distillation systems (azeotropic), synthesis of reactor networks, hierarchical decomposition flowsheets, superstructure optimization, design multiproduct batch plants. Design of the production reactors for the production of plutonium, design of nuclear submarines.
  • Process control: model predictive control, controllability measures, robust control, nonlinear control, statistical process control, process monitoring, thermodynamics-based control
  • Process operations: scheduling process networks, multiperiod planning and optimization, data reconciliation, real-time optimization, flexibility measures, fault diagnosis
  • Supporting tools: sequential modular simulation, equation based process simulation, AI/expert systems, large-scale nonlinear programming (NLP), optimization of differential algebraic equations (DAEs), mixed-integer nonlinear programming (MINLP), global optimization

History of process systems engineering[edit]

Process systems engineering (PSE) is a relatively young area in chemical engineering. The first time that this term was used was in a Special Volume of the AIChE Symposium Series in 1961. However, it was not until 1982 when the first international symposium on this topic took place in Kyoto, Japan, that the term PSE started to become widely accepted.

The first textbook in the area was “Strategy of Process Engineering” by Dale F. Rudd and Charles C. Watson, Wiley, 1968. The Computing and Systems Technology (CAST) Division, Area 10 of AIChE, was founded in 1977 and currently has about 1200 members. CAST has four sections: Process Design, Process Control, Process Operations, and Applied Mathematics.

The first journal devoted to PSE was "Computers and Chemical Engineering," which appeared in 1977. The Foundations of Computer-Aided Process Design (FOCAPD) conference in 1980 in Henniker was one of the first meetings in a series on that topic in the PSE area. It is now accompanied by the successful series on Control (CPC), Operations (FOCAPO), and the world-wide series entitled Process Systems Engineering. The CACHE Corporation (Computer Aids for Chemical Engineering), which organizes these conferences, was initially launched by academics in 1970, motivated by the introduction of process simulation in the chemical engineering curriculum.

Roger W.H. Sargent from Imperial College was one of the pioneers in the area. PSE is an active area of research in many other countries, particularly in the United Kingdom, Germany, Japan, Korea, and China.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Research Challenges in Process Systems Engineering by Ignacio E. Grossmann and Arthur W. Westerberg, Department of Chemical Engineering at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, PA

External links[edit]