Advancing Unit Operations Knowledge in Academia

As I mentioned in an earlier “itchy publish button” post, it’s always dangerous to include a blogger on your email distributions for upcoming items. I saw an advanced copy of a 2009 American Control Conference paper prepared by Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology‘s Atanas Serbezov and Ronald Artigue and Emerson local business partner, Cornerstone Control‘s Ron Knecht. The abstract for this paper, Bridging the Gap between Academia and Industry is:

This presentation describes the deployment of an industrial Process Automation System (PAS), in the Chemical Engineering Unit Operations (UO) laboratory at Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology and its incorporation in the undergraduate curriculum. The UO laboratory has over a dozen of pilot-scale process units (skids) and creates an environment very similar to a typical chemical, petrochemical or pharmaceutical plant. Students learn how to maintain their process under control, take it safely from one operating condition to another, collect and analyze data using a process historian, respond to process alarms and remotely troubleshoot their experiments with limited process information.

Rose Hulman’s Chemical Engineering department’s UO lab is 6500 square feet, includes process operations such as heat exchangers, pumps, a distillation column, chemical reactors filtration units, and a fermentor. The DeltaV system on which the students learn process control is physically separated from the campus local area network. The students do have remote access to the engineering stations and operator stations and wireless access within the Chemical Engineering building.

The units are outfitted with various measurement technologies. For example, flow is measured with Coriolis, vortex shedding, and orifice/differential pressure technology. Level is measured with ultrasonic and differential pressure instruments.

Three upper division courses are available which teach process control through experiment, data analysis, report writing, and oral presentations. Here’s an example of one of the experiments described in the paper:

…in the tubular reactor experiment, the control system can maintain the flow rate through the reactor at set point very well, but the process will become unstable if a set point change from laminar to turbulent regime is executed in automatic mode. In this situation students have to switch from automatic to manual mode and move the system manually towards the new operating conditions.

The paper describes the professors’ work with the collaboration of many industrial partners, including Cornerstone Controls and Emerson. In addition to equipment, they received technical advice from the control system architecture to the design of experiments and its associated documentation. Additional work is being looked at to bring virtual plant capabilities into the curriculum.

I was very impressed with the paper and what’s being done at Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology to prepare the next generation of process control and automation engineers. The paper will be presented June 10-12, 2009 in St. Louis, Missouri, USA.

One comment so far

  1. I believe construction of such projects requires knowledge of engineering and management principles and business procedures, economics, and human behavior.

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