Friday, August 15, 2014

A New Blog Series: Did you know . . . ?

We’re starting a new series of topics here on the blog, which will highlight some of the more useful applications and features of CHEMCAD. Some of these will be high-level, powerful ways to use the program, and some of them will be day-to-day, quick methods to get useful information and analysis. Beyond that, we’ll cover some of the things you may not know about CHEMCAD licensing and support. We’re rolling out our first few topics today, and will be adding content on a semi-regular basis.

Be sure to watch for these blog entries! In the meantime, you can read on to discover why we’re doing this.

When I first got into the process simulation business 20 years ago, software was used in a slightly different way than it is today, mostly owing to the speed of computing and available software development tools back then. Large simulations took a long time to run—often they were left to run overnight. (Those of you who remember coming into the office in the morning only to find that your simulation failed to converge sometime after midnight, I sympathize!) Also, because of the perceived complexity of the software, simulations were often run only by in-house experts.

When graphical user interfaces came along, users could finally do simple calculations easily, to get quantitative and qualitative process data and display it in graphical form. I remember, for example, when CHEMCAD users found they could quickly calculate bubble and dew points using the simulator to get insight into their processes without having to build an entire flowsheet.

Nowadays, of course, this type of work is taken for granted. Many of you regularly connect simulations to spreadsheets, math solvers, plant data historians, SCADA systems, and more. Computing power has advanced to the point where incredibly complex simulations can be run multiple times per day (or even left to run at multiples of real-time for operator training and advanced process control). And today, simulations are run by people with a wide array of job functions within an engineering group.

Let me get back to the point: process simulation has developed a wealth of features beyond simple heat and material balance calculation, yet we find most users only use about 20% of the power available to them. Some of this is due to the complexity of features; if you think of the additional equipment geometry data required to run a rigorous dynamic simulation, it’s often regarded as “too much effort,” despite the potential benefit! Other times, users simply don’t realize that a feature is available. CHEMCAD has a wealth of features and power just hidden from view—in some cases on purpose, as we strive to keep complexity from hindering your day-to-day workflow.

Our staff can easily communicate about these features when we have one-on-one conversations with customers. Our sales, technical support, and training staff are always on hand to explain and walk through applications of the program, but it isn’t every day that we get a chance to speak with you. If we tried to make a brochure or set of documents to cover everything we want to showcase, we’d end up with hundreds of pages for you to navigate.

What we hope to accomplish, then, is to spark some ideas here with short descriptions in blog format. They’ll be quick reads which you can compare to what you’re trying to accomplish in your role as a chemical engineer. We hope that some of them will be immediately useful, and maybe you’ll store one of them away in your brain and use it later for that “aha!” moment.

We encourage you to jump in with your comments—let us know which of these topics are new to you, how you might see them helping in your simulation tasks, or what else you’d like to see covered in future blog entries.

Did you know that CHEMCAD is great for modeling utilities?

Steam. Cooling water. Thermal fluids. Air. Nitrogen. Fuel. Almost every facility has them, and they can represent a great opportunity to improve your processes’ efficiency and reduce costs. Knowing if your equipment (pumps, compressors, cooling towers, heat exchangers, piping, etc.) is properly sized and your maintenance regimen (water treatment, equipment cleaning, etc.) is properly timed can represent both capital and operating cost improvements. This topic is covered in some detail in our training courses, and I’ve seen the “idea bulb” above trainees' heads when they realize the ease with which they can chase down significant process improvements.
One example we cover is the use of a distillation column UnitOp to model a cooling tower. You can add as much or as little complexity to the simulation as you like, and in our training course, we even go into details such as aqueous electrolytes and blowdown. We’ve also helped customers with models of incredibly extensive piping networks that deliver steam and cooling water throughout large facilities. Again, depending on your needs, the level of detail can vary, but we’ve seen everything from simple heat and material balances all the way to rigorous piping pressure-drop calculations, control valves, dynamic response, and even reverse flow (more on reverse flow and hydraulic balancing in a future post here--stay tuned).

Just remember: don’t let the process side dominate your thinking about how and when to use process simulation software. The utility side can be just as important and valuable!
If you need some help getting started, contact our technical support group, and we can direct you to an example or discuss your specific questions.

Did you know that you don’t have to commit to a long-term contract for CHEMCAD?

Think process simulation is only available on long-term contracts? Well, depending on your particular situation, you may only need CHEMCAD for a short duration, so a multi-year contract may not be right for you.  That’s why we offer a wide variety of contract terms to fit your needs and your budget.

CHEMCAD is certainly available with one-, three- and five-year contracts if you have longer-term needs, and there are discounts available as the contract term increases. There are even discounts for prepaying the entire contract term up front. However, if your needs are shorter-term, we offer monthly contracts that allow you to align your simulation needs with your projects. And if you decide to convert to a longer-term contract, we’ll credit some of what you’ve paid on past monthly contracts.

What if you have a longer-term project but with limited needs for simulation during the workflow? We’ve got you covered with our hourly usage contracts.  We’ll load your licensing device with a pool of hours that can be used over the term of the contract, to lower the cost of simulation versus our unlimited-use contracts.

And remember, if you need multiple simultaneous users, you can take advantage of reduced prices for multiple licenses on any of our contract types.

Don't hesitate to get in touch with one of our sales staff or distributors around the world to discuss your situation. Whatever your simulation needs, we’ve got a solution to fit!

Did you know that CHEMCAD is an OPC Server?

As you probably know, OPC (see more at the OPC Foundation, here) is a standard for exchanging data in industrial automation. Commonly used in the process industries by DCS, SCADA, and data historian systems, it also has some very interesting benefits when combined with a process simulator.

Because CHEMCAD is an OPC Server, it appears to OPC Clients as a data source, just like plant sensors, control valves, and so forth. You don't need a multi-headed piece of middleware to connect CHEMCAD to your SCADA system, and because of our system design, an OPC Client can easily push data into CHEMCAD, tell CHEMCAD to run steady state, run one time step, or even run dynamically, and pull results from CHEMCAD, all through the OPC interface.

You'll need to spend a little more effort to ensure that you have a validated model of your process (the simulation matches your plant performance within a tolerance you're comfortable with, and it reacts to process changes correctly). Many of you already go to this level of detail with your "offline" use of simulation software.
You can build a virtual plant in CHEMCAD and connect it to a SCADA system for control system checkout or operator training (OTS). You can even connect it to a SCADA system that's also connected to your operating facility, to compare simulated (as designed) values to actual performance (PPM), using either a steady-state or a dynamic simulation. 

Imagine having alarms built into your SCADA system that can alert operations staff to deviations in plant performance versus design specifications! There are even installations of advanced process control (APC) using rigorous CHEMCAD simulations to improve process efficiency by linking SCADA systems, simulations, and economic optimization engines.

We’ve helped many customers do all of the above and more, so give our support team a call if you’re thinking about a project and want to understand CHEMCAD’s OPC Server capabilities.

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Happy Halloween! (a hint at CHEMCAD version 7.0)

Aaron, our resident mad scientist, hard at work on version 7.0!

Great news: we're in limited beta testing for the new version.  Our focus has been the flowsheeting tools (symbols, streams, look and feel), and you'll still see a number of engineering improvements (a gas membrane UnitOp is coming, for example).  We are incorporating a much more modern toolset with an eye toward (1) fitting in with other drawing/flowsheeting tools standards, and (2) addressing the 6 years of feedback from the 6.X versions. Nothing too scary, so stay tuned here for more information.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Competitive Comparison - A Rebuttal

Quick summary:  Recently, a document being circulated by our competitors purporting to compare CHEMCAD to Aspen Plus came to my attention. I'm going to address the document in general, and then correct some of the misinformation contained in the document. If you are in the market for a chemical process simulator, or thinking about switching, read on:

I suppose we should feel flattered that our competitors feel it necessary to address us directly in the marketplace, and I do understand the need for comparison. Often customers ask us, "What's the difference between CHEMCAD and the others?" Here's the bottom line: rarely, if ever, will one simulator company know enough about the others to offer a truly useful comparison, and it would be expecting too much to believe that you're getting an unbiased comparison.

If you want to compare, don't hesitate to ask for a comparison, but do your own evaluation by asking for a trial license.  I can't stress that enough. Use the trials to simulate your processes with any and all software packages you're considering. Test drive the customer support facilities. Call the hotlines. Send emails. Search the customer portals. Yes, it will take longer than asking the sales groups at each competitor to compare themselves, but it's critical and time well spent.

So, here's the document:

"~14,000 (without support)
Also sells an hourly usage rate of $15-25/hr in some geographies"
Jumping right into the CHEMCAD side of things: CHEMCAD is a suite of several modules (see here), so this price appears cherry-picked to be close to a 1-year commitment for just our CC-STEADY STATE module. Longer commitments and prepaying can significantly discount that amount. Oh, and support (and upgrades) are included in our license fees. We do offer multi-year, yearly, monthly, and even hourly options. Again, any price comparison ought to be done using the specific modules and licensing terms you want. Contact us- it's a painless process to have our teams come up with a price for you.

"840 Customers
3.3% Market Share"
We do have over 800 active organizations using the software, however, this comparison is a bit misleading.  For our industrial customers, a single license is shared by an average of 5-6 users. At academic institutions, there may be as many as 200 users. Yes, our competitors dominate the largest CPI organizations, and we too have licenses at many of those same organizations on the desktops of engineers who prefer our products.  According to Aspen Technology's most recent annual report, they claim 1,750 customers. Regarding market share, I'm not sure what to make of these numbers. What I can say is that Chemstations had approximately $7M in revenue for the 12 months ending Sept 30, 2013. They have a lot more. If that's a metric you want to use in your decision making, just make sure you understand that Chemstations only does simulation software. It's our passion, and it's our focus.

Physical Properties
"2000 or so 'standard components' (DIPPR database)"
We are a licensed DIPPR distributor, and we offer over 2,200 components to our users. In addition, we have over 10,000 binary interaction pairs for a variety of our thermodynamic options. However, I would again like to point out the importance of trying out the software(s) to see if your chemical components are available. Talking about 2,200 or 24,000 components isn't relevant if (1) both software packages have your components, (2) neither package has them, or (3) the data is sparse and/or inaccurate.

User Interface
"Microsoft 2003-style User Environment"
I'm not sure what "Microsoft 2003-style" is, and I'm not sure it means the same thing to all people. Our interface is currently undergoing a complete overhaul (watch for a coming blog post about version 7.0!), but the 6.X versions were built using a very involved process of face-to-face interviews with a cross section of our user base to identify core workflows. And it's built with 25 years of history and our reputation for ease of use. I'm sounding like a broken record, but you ought to put this to the test with a trial.

Customer Support & Training
"Personal user support, not available 24/7
3 or 4 Workshops held a year
3 or 4 daylong 'CHEMCAD Essential' online workshops available every year"
Again, I don't know what "personal user support" is, so I'll describe our system. We have trained engineers, who are CHEMCAD experts, available by phone and email throughout the business day in both Houston, TX, USA and Berlin, Germany. We provide a customer portal which tracks customer support tickets and allows you to follow the progress of any issues requiring a high level of interaction (file exchange, etc.) and a knowlegebase of common support issues. We do provide workshops around the US, webinars throughout the year, and importantly, we offer on-site training. Finally, our 'Essentials' videos are available on demand at our YouTube channel.

"Link between CHEMCAD and excel is complex and difficult to use"
Put our Excel Data Map to the test. It's very powerful and you can create a lot of value with it. If you think it's "complex and difficult to use," don't hesitate to tell us. Here is a recent paper which includes an application of our Data Map.

"CHEMCAD uses sequential modeling so it doesn't scale up well"
We use a sequential modular solver by default, and we offer a simultaneous modular solver. Scale-up to large numbers of unit operations, in steady state or dynamics, is not an issue. Here is a paper detailing a very large, dynamic model where CHEMCAD "scaled up well." And while we are on the topic of "modeling," we can also do a momentum (pressure) balance across the flowsheet at the same time we are doing the heat- and material- balances.

"Some solids handling, limited properties for solids"
We have particle size distribution calculation, solids unit operations, and you can declare any component in your flowsheets as a solid to remove it from phase equilibrium calculations. Solid properties for many components come from DIPPR, and we also provide solid-liquid equilibrium (SLE) calculations.

"Batch capability with CHEMCAD Batch"
CC-BATCH is a batch distillation specific application. With our CC-DYNAMICS module, you can model dynamic, batch, and semi-batch processes (including tank reactors with reaction kinetics and heat transfer calculations with a jacket, a coil, or both).

"Standard distillation columns"
We provide equilibrium stage SCDS and Inside-out (TOWR) unit operations. We have reactive distillation within the SCDS. We also have mass-transfer-based models for trays, random packing, and structured packing. We can run these in steady state or dynamics (including dry startup and shutdown).  Oh, and we have incorporated "years of feedback and ideas" also. Twenty five years as of 2013, if you're counting.

"Very limited equipment costing available; not proven in the market and not trusted by users"
Equipment costing is not our business. We provide a tool which does a good job of relative costing (one process versus another).  We do not sell on the idea that we provide accurate, absolute costing. We do provide a variety of unit operation sizing algorithms that can be sent to rigorous costing packages or to equipment vendors. Finally, the code for our costing is user-accessible, so you can edit it directly and use your costing code.

"CC-Dynamics available"
CC-DYNAMICS, our dynamic process simulation module, is available as an add-on to CC-STEADY STATE or as a standalone package.

Heat Exchangers
"CC-THERM available for add-on and standalone"
CC-THERM, our heat exchanger rating and design tool, is available as an add-on to CC-STEADY STATE or as a standalone package. You can even run a flowsheet using the actual performance predicted by the geometry of the exchanger for a more rigorous simulation (we call this "simulation mode").

"No Equivalent software available"
We don't have software that makes any attempt to automatically optimize energy use. We provide an optimization routine (which can handle integer values), and we use a variety of software protocols (OLE, COM, OPC, CAPE-OPEN) if you would like to connect an external optimizer.

We have a large number of customers in the biofuels business, from folks who design the facilities to those who operate them. Test drive us if you want to see whether your process is supported (I'd bet it is).

To sum up- it's best to take a comparison written by a vendor (even us!) with a large grain of salt. For a true comparison, ask for a trial. Use customer support. Ask for, and call, references. We certainly want your business, and we want to help you create value for your organization.

Thanks for reading,

Steve Brown
Chemstations, Inc. 

Friday, August 10, 2012

The greatest (chemical industry) show on Earth!

Have you ever visited a European city on the river with 167,000 members of industry and academia?

Welcome to ACHEMA! Every three years the city of Frankfurt hosts this week-long chemical industry show, which is so large it has its own daily newspaper. The show boasts more than 1,000 exhibitors, spread among several exhibit halls--most of which have three floors of exhibits.

Several members of the Chemstations team spent the week visiting customers, prospects, and colleagues at our booth in exhibit hall 9.

Chemstations Europe has been coordinating our presence at ACHEMA for many years. We enjoyed the opportunity to visit with our European staff, talk with existing customers, and meet with prospects. We demonstrated electrolyte flowsheets, custom rate expressions for kinetic reactor models, rigorous heat exchangers--in fact, in those five days we demonstrated most of the features of CHEMCAD to visitors who wanted to know, "Can CHEMCAD do this?"

It's common for university classes to tour the exhibit as a group; having twenty students and a professor 'stop by' for a quick demonstration is always interesting!

The culture of ACHEMA is exciting. You can't see the entire exhibition, as it's simply too large. Some vendors will have artistic displays, some have projectors, while others have functional equipment. I once saw a stainless steel forklift in the hall, with a sign that proclaimed "Entire unit can be sterilized" in several languages. Some exhibitors will even have operational process equipment in their booths.

You'll see fun attempts to lure visitors to booths, such as "free foot massage in this booth." At the end of the day, many exhibitors will start serving alcohol and snacks to their visitors and neighbors. During the week there are receptions and dinners related to the event, and several restaurants and halls that stay open late, serving excellent German beer. When you leave Frankfurt, you will remember this event for the rest of your life.

Many of the exhibitors recognize each other from previous shows; several exhibitors have the same location and neighbors in the hall. Our booth was next to Infraserv Knapsack, a longtime CHEMCAD user. They'll be co-hosting the 3rd Symposium on Computer Aided Process Optimization in Germany, February 2013 (more information).

The next ACHEMA takes place in spring of 2015, and we hope you'll stop by our booth and say hello! Of course you can also see us at other meetings, such as the AIChE Spring and National meetings each year.