Simulation as a Key Tool in Plant Optimization

Plant optimization
Digital manufacturing is here. Digital industry needs better products made by smart machines, consuming less energy and reducing production costs. But first, above all of these, it needs plant optimization, needs smart plants able to run smart industrial processes.

This article will show a few of the most important factors that should be considered in plant optimization and modernization.

5 Key Factors in Industrial Design and Plant Optimization


  • Smart energy buildings, able to use alternative energies like geothermal and solar-power systems for all purposes of industrial buildings
  • Optimized utilities systems, being in close relation with pollution regulations and ecosystem integration
  • Having a smart HVAC system is essential for industrial ecosystems based on energy savings, thermal comfort, air quality and noise standards
  • For process engineers it is critical to have a clear vision of plant building infrastructure in relationship with utilities, structural behavior of industrial halls, industrial machines and specific tools, industrial process, flow of materials and logistic operations.
  • Composition and design of individual processes are very important planning steps and will decisively influence the functional efficiency, execution time, investment, and operating costs.

A Permanent Need for Optimization

In different stages, process engineers should be ready to optimize material flows, resources utilization and logistic operations for all levels of plant structure, from long-time global production facilities to specific lines of local plants. Looking at specific industries, we can speak about:

  • Oil & Gas process plants and refineries
  • Chemical Processes factories
  • Metals & Heavy Industry factories
  • Nuclear power plants
  • Shipyard buildings
  • Consumer Goods factories
  • Pharmaceutical factories

Regardless of their nature, all these industrial buildings share the need to manage complex engineering information to speed up project completion and ensure operational efficiency. The permanent need for better industrial processes, larger units, complex installations or industrial equipment is pushing for innovations that can speed up the engineering design process.

Engineering Simulation as Main Plant Optimization Tool

Enabling plant engineers and industrial designers to virtually test and optimize their designs, SimScale is contributing to the development of a more efficient production supporting plant optimization efforts. Using the SimScale simulation platform, designers could validate experimental results, running parametric studies and mixing different simulations methods.

Let’s see a few plant specific simulation examples available in SimScale Public Projects showing various projects for industrial buildings pollution, specific indoor behavior of different halls and better design of heat exchangers.

Pollution Control with Airflow Analysis

As discussed, key factors in plants design are pollution factors. In this chimney pollution analysis, the gases diffusion into the atmosphere through a chimney of a plant was simulated. For simulation purposes, the fluid volume around the plant has been extracted via a local CAD software and was uploaded as a STEP file, consisting out of a single solid.

For the simulation setup, a steady-state turbulent fluid flow analysis type in addition to a passive scalar model for the exhaust gases was used. This assumes that the gas itself does not have an impact on the fluid flow but is transported with the flow. Also molecular diffusion effects are accounted for – depending on the velocity field of the flow, it is however often very small in comparison to the convective transport effects. The simulation results show the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. This way, we can see how the gas is distributed within the environment and to take the better decisions related to plant chimney location, optimal high and other airflow characteristics.

Chimney analysis

Simple Hall Airflow Simulation

Many times in plants design, the simple indoor configuration should be analysed. In this airflow analysis of a simple hall with open doors, the airflow domain including the inner part of the hall as well as a part of the environment around it has been uploaded in STEP format to the SimScale platform.

The simulation was set up using the analysis type for steady-state, natural convection flow. Different fixed temperature as well as zero-gradient boundary conditions have been assigned to simulate the heated hall during winter while the outside environment is cold. The simulation results enable the early visualization of the pressure and velocity field, of the volume flux as well as the resulting temperature within the hall.

Airflow Simulation of a Hall

Heat Exchanger Thermostructural Analysis

Many plants are using different exchangers systems in their heating or industrial processes. In this SimScale project, a thermostructural analysis of a shell and tube heat exchanger is demonstrated. The model assumptions are:The model was prepared in a way that only volume elements could be used for the simulation what serves as a first estimation of the resulting thermostructural behavior of the model.

  • The model was prepared in a way that only volume elements could be used for the simulation what serves as a first estimation of the resulting thermostructural behavior.
  • For a more detailed analysis, a shell element model of the heat exchanger would be appropriate.
  • Average temperature of the cold section was established at 50°C.
  • The hot pipes were set to 95°C.
  • Additionally a temperature of 20°C was assumed at the outer wall.
  • A pressure load was defined for the outer wall, the hot section, and the cold section.

The results provide a first assessment of the heat exchanger under the defined thermal and pressure load. The simplifying assumptions of average temperatures as well as the volume element model introduce sources of inaccuracy but the quickly generated results provide the design engineer with a fast way of roughly investigating the thermostructural behavior of the design and allow for fast and iterative improvements. The figures below show the von Mises stress and the displacement of the model.

Heat Exchanger Thermostructural AnalysisThermostructural Analysis of a Heat Exchanger


All the projects presented in this article can be imported into your own workspace and used as templates. If you want to learn more about the benefits of using engineering simulation in Plant Engineering and plant optimization, you can find more information here.

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