As the booming oil and gas sector in Canada faces constantly growing demand, the sophistication of engineering technology and innovative software is helping to speed up the other side of the coin – plant design.
Precise calculations that used to take hours to complete can be computed in a matter of seconds, reducing human error and allowing oil and gas companies to better allocate their time and resources.
Andrew Belletti, a Process EIT at Equinox Engineering in Calgary, is part of the next generation of engineers tasked with utilizing these new technologies for plant design. “The use of simulators has improved plant design by increasing the speed at which multiple tedious calculations can be performed,” says Belletti. “Verifications and repeat calculations can be performed in minutes or seconds compared to hours of hand calculation.” The programs give engineers a chance to try out their design concepts in a 3D environment without wasting valuable resources.
The pacing of plant design has also improved as a result of design software. Belletti points to active models which can be “constantly updated as changes in design occur,” creating symbiosis between the work being done by all parties.
One of the key programs in the oil and gas industry is Intergraph’s SmartPlant 3D. The program – used by EPCM giants like Fluor and SNC Lavalin – pushes aside traditional design technology by allowing designers to track changes as the design process is ongoing. It also stores models to be reused at later dates to speed up design.
Peter Moore, Fluor’s vice president of Project Execution Services credits the automation capabilities with improving plant design for the company. “The SmartPlant Enterprise suite and automation capabilities help us to maximize a distributed project environment by enforcing consistency in the project set-up and execution processes,” said Moore in a statement.
At Equinox, Belletti works with HYSYS by AspenTech, another popular design software within the industry. HYSYS “was one of the first simulators developed so most engineers are familiar with its interface and capabilities,” says Belletti.
The competition between the programs is fierce but some companies use several programs to get the work done.
Towards the Future
As the oil and gas industry evolves, the programs introduce new functions. For example, HYSYS has a comprehensive thermodynamics foundation for accurate calculation of physical properties, transport properties, and phase behavior for the oil & gas and refining industries.
Developing industries like the liquid natural gas sector can use the program to simulate gasses’ effects within the process. But it’s an ongoing process and you’d be hard-pressed to find a program that calculates how natural gas will behave with the process – a feature of HYSYS.
Like the industry itself, the programs continue to evolve.
As for the retro look to some of these programs, Belletti thinks it could be improved. “The programs have been under development for quite some time, the user interface of many of these programs could definitely use an upgrade.”