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Adaptability Is the Key — for People and Process Control

"The only thing that is constant is change" – Heraclitus

 

In anticipation of our upcoming biennial Advanced Control and Optimization User Group (ACOWUG) meeting, I have been thinking about my growth at AspenTech and what I have learned since the last meeting. (Hint: I’ve learned a lot!)

 

When I started working for AspenTech, I received an invitation to participate in a career development workshop. Eager to succeed, I signed up. As part of the workshop there was a test to determine each person's top five strengths. When I first got my results (includer, positivity, harmony, empathy and adaptability), I must admit I was a bit disappointed. I wasn’t sure how these would help me with my career at an engineering software company.

 

Five years into my career, I have learned to appreciate the value of these strengths. Owning and accepting them has greatly impacted me and how I work with others. Adaptability is particularly relevant, as AspenTech is always innovating. As an example of this trait, I have lived in a small town (hello, Panama City!) and some of the biggest cities in the world (Houston and Los Angeles). I have been happy in all these places, adapting to my surroundings. I don’t fear change; I have adapted and embraced it!

 

In my position at AspenTech, I focus on advanced process control, aka multivariable model predictive control. Our software collects data about every variable aspect of a chemical plant (temperatures, flows, pressures, etc.) and models the relationship between each variable. This technology provides immense benefits, until changes occur, and they will occur! Inevitably, equipment wears down, ambient conditions fluctuate, chemical processes change, you will revamp and upgrade, suppliers will vary in feedstock quality — and without a doubt, the economy (costs, prices, demand and competition) will also change. This is where adaptability comes in!

 

Adaptive Process Control (APC) in Aspen DMC3™ collects data about current plant conditions, while also controlling set points so the plant is operating at optimal limits and keeping the plant safe and environmentally sound. This data is used to update models, meaning the models reflect any new changes in the plant. Future changes no longer represent impending doom! To change, we can now say "Bring. It. On."

 

Using this tool, a single engineer in China with limited experience updated an FCC main fractionator unit model in a very large refinery (distillation capacity of 10 million tons per year). As a result, the refinery saved an estimated $2.23 million USD per year. In the past, advanced process control technology had only been accessible to those who had extensive training and many years of experience. Adaptive Process Control relieves those constraints, so newer engineers can start learning, working and earning faster.

 

One thing I’ve learned is that there isn’t just one way of doing something. We work with a lot of creative engineers, and I think it would be impossible to learn everything there is to know about this technology, no matter how hard I have tried. There is always going to be someone with an innovative technique or creative approach. The upcoming ACOWUG user events are a perfect way to share ideas and learn from peers. The sharing of these thoughts is crucial to growth — when we all work together, we can achieve much more than we could if we were working alone.


I invite you to join me, and other AspenTech APC experts for one of two ACOWUG meetings: in Terneuzen, Netherlands, on Tuesday, 15 May; and in Houston, Texas, on Friday, 1 June. These exclusive events are free for AspenTech APC and optimization users and will feature presentations from experienced practitioners across various industries who will share best practices, tips and tricks.

 

This is a great opportunity to promote your company, and yourself, as thought leaders in the APC optimization space. I look forward to some lively conversation about adaptability — both human and machine! To learn more about the event and to register, visit the event website.

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