Use of Piping Simulation Software in Refineries

An engineering plant design process developed using excel spreadsheets that once took hours to set up and at times days to debug is now done using simulation software which is now built in minutes with Engineered Software’s’ platform, PIPE-FLO®.

Thousands of engineers in the mining, power generation, and oil and gas industries are using the PIPE-FLO® software.  Piping system simulation software provides refinery plant personnel with a powerful tool to help them safely design, manage, and troubleshoot plant systems while reducing plant operating, maintenance, and capital cost. 

What makes up all the systems in an oil refinery?  To use piping simulation software one must understand all of the components and how they interact. An oil refinery is a collection of thousands of piping systems all working together to convert crude oil to refined products. Products such as liquefied petroleum gas, gasoline, kerosene, jet fuel, diesel oil, and fuel oil are all sourced from refineries. Refineries consist of three groups of piping systems, which are known as Process, Terminal, and Utility systems.

Process piping systems are associated with crude oil distillation units, along with a variety of process units based on the crude oil supplied and the mix of distilled products produced. These process units involve a large number of pumps, tanks, process equipment, and interconnecting pipelines.

Terminal piping systems are used to bring crude oil into a refinery from pipelines, rail cars, or barges and tankers for storage in a tank farm.  From a tank farm crude oil is supplied to a Process system for the making of a final product.  Once the final product is manufactured it is sent to a tank farm where it is stored or prepared for shipping to its destination.

Utility piping systems provide important services needed to refine the crude oil.  Utility systems provide cooling water, steam distribution, compressed air, hydrogen generation and distribution, and industrial gas storage and distribution.  Additionally, there are extensive wastewater collection and treatment systems involved in the Utility piping system used to make water suitable for reuse or discharge. All of this is taken care of within the plant environment.

All piping systems within a refinery, regardless of the application, are made of three basic elements: the pump, process, and control elements.  The pump elements include the pump, its driver, and auxiliary equipment used to provide all the hydraulic energy needed by the piping system.  The process elements include the process equipment, tanks, vessels, and interconnecting pipelines used to manufacture the product or provide a service.

Finally, the control elements include the control valves, associated control loops, and variable speed drives that maintain the quality of the product or service being delivered within plant or system operations.

A simulation or modeling software uses these components combined with the manufacturers operating specifications such as pump curves, control valve data, and heat exchanger performance data when first setting up the model.  This ability allows Plant Mangers, Engineers, and Operators to reflect the operation accurately as new information becomes available and throughout the life of the facility.

The model below shows how engineers are able to visualize that a terminal system has multiple sources of fluids, pumps, filters, and interconnecting piping along with multiple possible storage tanks. Notice that the terminal system handles a wide variety of fluids including crude as well as refined products that vary with temperature.  Using the PIPE-FLO® simulation software, one can easily simulate the conditions of new fluid and evaluate how it will affect the existing system.

Process systems within a refinery involve a limited number devices.  In the model below, we diagramed a large number of interconnected systems consisting of supply and product tanks, pumps, heat exchangers, control valves, and a distillation column.  The interconnection of the various process loops makes it difficult to understand how the system operates. The strength of the simulation software is that the model shows how an individual plant system operates and responds to changes before they are implemented. The ability to model how a change affects plant operations or a new design is an extremely powerful advantage to Plant Managers, Engineers, and Operators.


Figure 1:  Interconnected piping system within a refinery are much easier to understand using a piping system simulation program.

In summary, a variety of service systems are found in a typical refinery.  Because piping systems are hydraulically connected what happens in part of the system is going to affect conditions in another part of the operation. For example, it may be difficult to find bottle necks that limit production rates without understanding the interaction of the various components in the system.

With PIPE-FLO® one can easily adjust the conditions within the model to evaluate and find optimal operating performance.  Plants running with solid engineering design and properly sized and selected equipment realize energy savings, improved maintenance, and a solid return on the bottom line.