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An Introduction To Process Simulation For The Capstone Design Course

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2001 Annual Conference


Albuquerque, New Mexico

Publication Date

June 24, 2001

Start Date

June 24, 2001

End Date

June 27, 2001



Page Count


Page Numbers

6.181.1 - 6.181.9



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Paper Authors

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Tony Rogers

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David Miller

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Bruce Barna

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The use of process simulators during the capstone process design course has become an expected part of most chemical engineering curricula. Unfortunately, the mechanisms to teach students how to use these tools have often been ad hoc or completely lacking. Ideally, students would gain familiarity with process simulation throughout the curriculum so that when starting senior design, they have a good understanding of the benefits, limitations, and general functionality of the process simulator. In practice, most students arrive in their senior design classes without knowing how to use a simulator to help solve open-ended problems. In general, their experience has been with small, well-defined problems. To help alleviate this problem, a short-term design project has been developed to teach the basics of process simulation within the context of analyzing an existing plant and suggesting process improvements. Specific goals of this project include (1) learn how to simulate a wide variety of unit operations, (2) learn benefits and limitations of different thermodynamic models, and (3) understand system-wide effects of changing process variables (as part of the process improvement aspect). The project, based on the synthesis of maleic anhydride from n-butane, involves several important unit operations that will often be encountered in the capstone project. The students are given a set of equipment specifications and process data from which they are supposed to develop a simulation of the process as it currently exists. Strategies for simulating the process are discussed in detail and the course instructor is available in the student computing laboratory to help with issues as they arise. The project includes a reactor (PFR) with kinetic models, absorption column, vacuum distillation column with vent, atmospheric distillation, and recycle (of absorber oil). The students can start with the simple distillation column, and proceed to add more complicated pieces of equipment. This incremental approach allows them to quickly achieve some success to build confidence before confronting them with the difficulties of catalytic reactions in a PFR. Some additional complications in the simulation help to stress that the simulation is just a model and that some aspects of the model are best dealt with outside of the simulation program. For example, the maleic anhydride will continually react with residual water throughout the process (i.e., in pipes, columns, condensers, reboilers, etc.) to form maleic acid. After completion of the simulation, the students then seek out non-capital process improvement opportunities. They approach this issue by varying process parameters and understanding the system-wide effects of the changes. For most students, this is the first opportunity they have had to see how different unit operations interact within the context of the overall system. Thus, although increasing the absorber oil flowrate may increase the recovery of the product, it has the undesired effects of increasing the utility requirements to separate and recover the products from the absorber oil. The following sections describe the maleic anhydride introduction to process simulation and process improvement project in detail and our recent experience with it at Michigan Tech.

Rogers, T., & Miller, D., & Barna, B. (2001, June), An Introduction To Process Simulation For The Capstone Design Course Paper presented at 2001 Annual Conference, Albuquerque, New Mexico. 10.18260/1-2--9479

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