Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Top 5 reasons to consider SimCentral by Dhaval Dave, Schneider Electric

Guest post courtesy of Dhaval Dave, Schneider Electric

In my professional career, I must have used dozens of simulation software applications for conceptual design, detailed design, steady state heat and mass balance, real time optimization and dynamic simulation.

Recently, I was tasked to work on the simulation software application SimCentral. In my 20 years of simulation experience, I have not seen a better tool than this. I am very excited and would like to share my experience with you.

In this post, I would like to mention top 5 reasons you should consider SimCentral for your simulation needs.

1. User Interface and Workflow

All the simulation software applications that I have used in the past have required at least a couple of days of training and often I would travel to Houston or New Jersey to be trained. With SimCentral, I was able to build my first professional simulation in a week without expert training.

The SimCentral user interface exposes relevant information to the user at the right time. The help is available in form of videos and at the right place. Most of the equipment detail information is available right on the equipment user-interface. And I could verify equations right away.

I did not have to learn any new programming language. The equation writing was as simple as it would be in Microsoft Excel.

The experience felt like changing investment options in my retirement savings plan using an app. Where I am working on important stuff but I did not take any training to use tax software. It was that easy!

2. Equation Oriented Platform

SimCentral is based on equation oriented platform. The first time I was exposed to equation oriented platform was almost a decade ago. But such a platform was not very user friendly. Hence these tools were mostly used for critical online optimization applications and the cost of building and maintaining such application is still very high. On the other hand a sequential modular application is more user-friendly but inefficient in computational time. Where a sequential modular solver with many recycle and adjust/controller aid could take 10-15 minutes to solve, an equation oriented platform would solve in 15-30 seconds.

The important quality of equation oriented platform is ability to “flip” the specification. For example, you can calculate the heat exchanger heat transfer coefficient when you specify the temperatures and flow rate. Once the heat transfer coefficient is determined, you can flip the specification and can calculate the temperatures for another set of data. There possibilities are endless with this functionality.

SimCentral is different from the other commercially available process simulation applications that are equation oriented platforms because the user does not need to learn a programming language to issue a command to “flip the specification”. It is as simple as selecting/un-selecting checkbox.

SimCentral keeps track of degrees of freedom in the equation oriented platform. The user is guided at every step to help decide the specifications to add/remove.

For Equation Oriented (EO) simulators, the convergence troubleshooting is one of the key activities. With the SimCentral, one does not need to master the mathematical jargon such as step length, residual, major and minor iterations, and so on – for the square simulation problem (No of variables = No of equations). Sim Central suggests why the problem may be infeasible for the input data and recommends the remedy. These features and workflow saves a user a lot of valuable time, time the user can spend in formulating the problem and analyzing the results.

3. Process – Fluid Flow and Dynamics Mode interoperability

Many (most) times these other simulation tools have the ability to communicate with each other. For example one would make the conceptual design using the process mode, but then the detailed design would happen in fluid flow mode and finally the operations are evaluated in dynamics mode. And for each one of these modes, there would be a separate simulation tool with a data transfer mechanism of some sort, ranging from manual to Excel/csv files import/export to the two simulation tools having a direct data transfer capability. However, having multiple versions of a simulation would cause the transfer to fail. Another problem with this workflow is the models for the same equipment would be different in different tools – generating suboptimal and inconsistent results. For example, many times the design tools for pipelines may use proprietary correlations for pressure drop and velocity calculations. If the same correlations are not used in the dynamic simulation tools, different results are obtained that may lead to un-intended conclusions related to control and safety.

SimCentral enables the transition between different modes in an smooth manner, via a single click. One set of equations are used in different modes, eliminating inconsistencies. Also you have the ability to move from process mode to the dynamics mode as frequently as you need to.

This is the power of this simulation platform. The user can now have the higher level view of the problem. In the past, I have seen one manager overlooking two or more engineers working with two different tools – to ensure the consistency. Being one of these engineers, I can see this tool empowering engineers to take more responsibility in less time.

4. Custom Equipment Models

Working in simulation software development, I know how costly it is to fix a defect/bug in the program or to even update/add simple equation in the equipment models. For example, a simple code change would cost 300-500 hours between writing the specification, coding, compiling, quality management, and releasing and customer delivery.

With the SimCentral, the model is created by the user just-in-time. There is not much that a programmer can do that a casual user cannot do. The user can write custom equations – just like one would write in Excel. The beauty is when one model is updated, say pressure drop equation in pipe – the change is readily available in all the places i.e. Process mode, Fluid Flow mode and the Hydraulics mode.

The cost of adding new or proprietary features has gone down so much. And this will promote user research on the equipment models because the cost of experimentation have gone down. With this, I am hoping that the chemical engineering community will really solve exciting engineering problems. The future is here.

5. Agile Model Development

In my experiences, I had to work with plant engineers, operators, EPC contractors and subject matter experts. Historically, the work flow was to make sure that we all use the same version of the software tools. And we would exchange the big files on the shared drives and work iteratively. This would generate a lot of time from each one of us on model development.

SimCentral changes the workflow by promoting collaboration, it allows user to work concurrently on the same model across departments with regional time zones between different companies. And yes, SimCentral is available on cloud platform.

I am really glad to tell - the future of simulation is already here.
Please visit the SimCentral website for more details and customer testimonials.