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Blog series: Using Simulation Models to Support Plant Operations

January 17, 2017 by Tami Okano / 0 Comment
Tami Okano

Dare to Make Positive Changes to Your Chemical Plant in 2017

How is 2017 getting you closer to your life goals, business or personal? 

Your Personal Resolutions vs. Your Business Resolutions

What are your new year’s resolutions? Maybe you did not set them yet, but do not worry, it is not too late to start.

I am determined to move forward in 2017 and specific and targeted goals give me direction. These resolutions are important to me, both at work and in my personal life. Last year’s personal resolutions were mostly unfulfilled. As BJ Fogg advised at TEDx Fremont, the key to lasting change does not lie in planning big, monumental changes, but in thinking really, really small. Inspired, one of my resolutions was to develop a series of tiny habits that stick (didn’t happen). It’s so easy to let a year or even two years slip by without moving toward your resolutions.

Still figuring out your resolutions for 2017?

This year, I’m breaking my resolutions down into smaller, more achievable targets. One of my resolutions is to wake up consistently at 6AM every morning by the end of the year. I am not a morning person, so this is going to be quite challenging. I have had many failed attempts in the past to reach this goal. Instead of changing my wake-up time from 7:30AM to 6AM in one go and hoping for the best, I am going to take it in 15 minute increments every couple of weeks. Sounds so simple, yet I know it's going to be hard.

Did you come up with new resolutions for work, too? Maybe your goals were set a few months ago after your annual performance review or maybe your performance review is coming up soon and you need to start thinking about your new goals. If you work at a chemical company, your goal is likely tied to business-level or production-related objectives. In particular, for large, complex chemical plants, every second of uptime matters. Just a few incidents of unplanned downtime can result in unmet production goals. No matter how well you do your job, there are many things which are out your control such as equipment malfunction, human error, hurricanes, and more. However, there is no use trying to control things that are not within your control. What are some things that might be in your control?

A Change in Outcomes Requires Change in Actions

Resolutions or goals are useless without a specific action plan. One of my 6-year old’s resolutions last year was to help set the table every day. Altogether, she probably did this 10 times last year(not bad, but nowhere close to the original goal). We need a new tactic this year, so I created a daily chart with stickers to track her progress. So far, so good.

If you want to excel in your current role and receive glowing performance reviews, what will you do differently than what you’ve done in the past? 

A Secret Weapon

My gift to you this year is to let you in on a secret--a secret weapon that top chemical companies around the world don’t want you to know: they rely on a specific set of tools to help them. I’m talking about deep process knowledge that goes even further than the most experienced operators would know. I’m not saying these tools can replace operators, far from it, but what I am saying is that they uncover knowledge about your plant that will help you in ways you only imagined were possible. It's certainly something worth considering.

This weapon is called Online Models. Whether you are trying to optimize controllers, utilities, operating costs, or just get your column back up and running, models that connect directly to plant data are powerful tools. If we focus on, say, a process simulation model like Aspen Plus, connecting it to plant data essentially gives you a virtual copy of your plant so you can easily identify all of the complex interdependencies and bottlenecks that are preventing you from meeting production goals. Your attempt to model a real-life situation becomes much closer to real-life when connected to plant data.

There are many, many types of online models: ab initio, stochastic, and now virtual reality just to name a few. As the world moves towards the digital age where we are used to having information at our fingertips, plants will also evolve in this direction. Do you think your plant will ever get there?

If you’re like me, you aspire to be the next Elon Musk. But short of that, I dream of owning the Tesla Model S. However, priced at $100,000, I know it’s more realistic for me to own the Model 3 with a starting price of $35,000. Not many of us can spend $100,000 on a car, but $35,000 may be possible. If your plant is large and complex, or if profit margins are tight, dare to explore these types of options for your plant. All resolutions need to be looked at from the perspective of what is actually feasible and then broken down into smaller chunks. It will take time to get there, but don’t give up. Change is slow in most organizations.

Identify the biggest issue in your plant, and start looking for solutions to drive change in your organization. Stop getting lost in the maze, go straight to the root of your problem. If you find process simulation models helpful, think about the benefits you may get from connecting them to plant data by starting with a spreadsheet and then moving on to process monitoring or real-time optimization… it just might help you and your business move closer to your goals this year.


  • Tami Okano
    November 10, 2016 by Tami Okano / 0 Comment

    Do You Dream of Saving Your Plant Millions? Make it a Reality with Aspen Plus®.

    With increasing pressure to improve the bottom line, more efficient and improved plant performance is crucial for any chemical or energy company to stay at the top. How do best-in-class companies accomplish this?

  • Tami Okano
    February 09, 2017 by Tami Okano / 0 Comment

    Searching for Tips on How to Accelerate Column Design? Look No Further!

    Distillation columns are the most common pieces of equipment used in the chemicals and energy industries to separate components. The separation in a column is based upon differences in volatilities. Though columns are prevalent in the industry, designing and rating columns is no easy feat.