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Question about usage of Mathcad in chemical industry, especially in process engineering

ptc-4735478
1-Newbie

Question about usage of Mathcad in chemical industry, especially in process engineering

I am wondering what company in petro refinery or chemical production industry (CPI) or consultants for these industry utilize Mathcad in their engineering calculation. On what problem do they use mathcad for?

While there are many process simulation software package for the chemical industry such as Aspen hysis, pro/II, chemcad and many other, what is the role of mathcad in these industry? I do not think mathcad function overlap with those simulation packages, but I would like to know how mathcad complement with these software.

In the chemical industry, is mathcad mainly used for calculation such as equipment/instrumentation design or a detailed calculation on a particular unit in the entire process train. There must be many other uses, please enlighten me.

I have none of the above experience and would really appreciate if any users can share their experience using mathcad in their work. It can be from any industry although I am particularly interested in chemical engineering especially around the San Francisco bay area. Most of all, I would really like users who work as consultants contribute to this topic in the hope that they have a great variety of problems solved in their data base.

I know my question is too general. But please be kind enough to share anything. Thank you very much.

8 REPLIES 8

Thanks Henry for the interest for Mathcad and Chemical Engineering.

Some examples you can find in this book

http://www.springer.com/chemistry/physical+chemistry/book/978-3-7091-0530-6

Now we (Victor Korobov and me) have a new same book for students but not in English "Chemical calculation with Mathcad":

See the cover

http://twt.mpei.ac.ru/TTHB/1/Chem/ChemMathcad-Titul.png

Note also that there is a separate Chemical Engineering group for Mathcad here on PTC Community. I know it's not exactly what you were asking, but you might be able to find other like-minded individuals and network with other peers.

http://communities.ptc.com/community/mathcad/chemical_engineering

I hope this helps.

-Alan

I can't answer your question regarding which companies use Mathcad, but I will address how Mathcad is used in the process industry. As I said in my blog "Mathcad's Bread and Butter", it's used for "...calculating whatever you need that doesn't fit into the domain of specialized software." From my experience with Phillips Petroleum (process development and process engineering and pipeline consulting), an engineer needs a good general purpose mathematical tool in addition to the large process simulation packages you mentioned. I had numerous problems that could not be solved by those packages. I think one reason I survived multiple large layoffs was because I solved any problem. This required a good knowledge of the fundamental science, but also a knowledge of mathematical methods and a good math program.

Rather than enumerating examples, let me generalize and say that most of my Mathcad use involved more detailed, "microscopic" analysis of processes or physical phenomena that the "macroscopic" simulations cannot provide. Look at a good book on transport phenomena, such as Bird, Stewart and Lightfoot's book, and you will see numerous examples of theses types of problems.

One example that does overlap with the process simulation software is reactor modeling. The process packages do not simulate tubular reactor with heat exchange at the wall, so I built my own models. Originally I used Fortran. When Mathcad came along, I abandoned Fortran and started using Mathcad. I still used Aspen, Hysys, etc, for simulating the process, but the reactor was designed with Mathcad. I never linked Mathcad with the simulation package, but it probably is possible. See a writeup of my book "Advanced Chemical Reactor Modeling (with Mathcad)" on my website, harveyhensley.com.

One reason Mathcad is so great is that you can assemble multiple calculations into a single working document. The worksheet can be written to show how the results of one calculation feed into the next. When you are through, you have both a document of your work as well as a template for a similar problem in the future. If you try that in Excel, you probably have to really work hard to show how the calculations were made so that even you will be able to use it again in a few years.

There were times when it would have been nice to include the non-ideal solution behavior in some of my "microscopic" models. With the addition of Prode Physical Properties, I will be able to do that more easily for many compounds. This physical property link opens up even more opportunities for Mathcad in the process industry.

I know this doesn't give you many specific answers, but I hope it helps.

Thank you all for the response and the relevant references.

I have a different question, do the majority of engineers use mathcad, ( I guess the answer varies with the field)? Or most of them know multiple software such as maple, Mathematica or even language such us fortran or java. I mean how important is it to be able to know multiple software package in today's job market? Of course the more you know the better, but for what kind of job would require engineer to be able to program in fortran or java for process engineering? Or is a general purpose mathematics software like mathcad is good enough for the majority of the problems? What kind of computer/software knowledge will be the most lucrative for young engineer?

BTW, is there any moment in your career you have the thought: Good that I know mathcad, it saved my job while poor Joe sitting next door have to go! Well, that's probably exaggerated since it is too good to be true.

Thanks

Henry

In my experience, the large companies don't pick one general purpose math program for all. They do like to get quantity discounts, but they can still get those and have Matlab, Mathcad etc available for their employees to choose. These programs are not as expensive as the big Aspen's, Hysys etc. The latter programs do get "standardized" in a company, somewhat for the cost but more often for universal exchange between users. Problems solved by Mathcad tend to be unique so they don't need to be reused by others. That's been my experience in the process industry. In industries that make parts, Mathcad programs do get passed around and become a standard part of the design process.

For getting hired, the more software you know the better. For staying hired, my recommendation is keeping your math skills proficient. There are many engineers that never want to see a differential equation of any kind. Therefore, they are limited to the package process software. When that doesn't apply, they just take a guess...called "shooting from the hip". It doesn't take long to see that they have limitations.

I had the good fortune to get experience with both Maple and Mathcad at Phillips. I solved a fairly complicated problem with Maple before setting it aside. There were two problems. First, it still looked like most program languages. Yes, you could ask it to show the equation in a symbolic form, but that was imbedded in the other cryptic code. Second, plots were extremely difficult to produce. I finally figured it out, but the next time I needed a plot it was a long relearning process again. I don't have that problem with Mathcad. From what I've seen of Mathmatica, it is very similar to Maple with respect to the code nature...I'm not sure about the plotting difficulty.

That's one view. I hope others provide their view.

Good morning,

It is not an easy answer but let me try: I have been working for EPC companies (oil, gas and mining) during the past years, and I must say MathCAD (and in general Math Software) is not included in the basic package that all Chemical (Process) Engineers have in their computers. However, this doesn’t mean that you cannot use it. Normally, you need to show why do you require the software and ask your manager for the approval. Do you think you can prove MathCAD is required in your daily job?

At this point let me explain something: Normally, the use and type of software must be approved for every project you are working with, and, depending of the task, you use only one or two packages. Obviously, this varies form company to company and depends on the license management. Each of these programs has its advantages and restrictions, so part of our job is to identify which tool is better for the job and ask for it before starting a new project. It is also a normal practice to report the time you spend with each software (project budget & control) so you don’t want to use more time than required.

Whit this context, we can review the question: “Do you think you can prove MathCAD is required in your daily job?” Yes, you can. For me it is more convenient (and faster) to develop a MathCAD worksheet to make preliminary calculations (preliminary, but usually accurate), than start from zero using the software and spend some time ($$$) identifying key parameters or the best region to work. My worksheet also lets me verify the equations I’m using (I really don’t like the “black box approach”), the restrictions I must consider and moreover, the worksheet provides me a basis to evaluate if the “specialized software” results are within expected limits.

Please note I’m not mentioning here all the calculations that in my opinion require a Math program (e.g, Transient Models, Matrix operations, etc), I’m referring here of MathCAD like some kind of engineering support program.

Just to finish: “do the majority of engineers use MathCAD?” Well, it is not mandatory, but if you know how to use it and if you can create engineering models on it, certainly you have an advantage over other engineers.

Best regards,

Oscar J.

Thank Oscar for his elaborate response, especially the comment on how to convice managment to approve the use of mathcad. I look forward to reading comments from other professionals

I am wondering did anyone run into a situation where you and your co-worker uses different general math program, for example, 1 uses mathcad, 1 uses mathematica and 1 uses maple. How do you manage to communicate between different platform? Or how do you and your co-workers settles on what program to use? I would think this is a fairly common problem since a general math software is not included in the basic package of many processengineers/ or company. Although mathcad, mathematica and maple all have their pros and cons, it is hard to imagine the choice differs projects from projects. I believe the engineering team has to settle on 1 choice. I would really love to hear stories on such decision process.

Thank you

Henry

The answers to your questions will vary some with the type of work involved and the core business of your company. In my case, I worked for an integrated oil and chemical production company. My work within that company was primarily concerned with consulting within the research and development department and then consulting in the engineering department toward the end of my employment. In both capacities, my modeling work provided answers that could be reported, but there was no need to pass the model on to another engineer. The documentation capability of Mathcad made it easier for me to "show my work" and the results than other programs. However, the nature of the work was essentially a series of unique problems so the work flow was not standardized.

The type of work that could require people to use the same math program is EPC (engineering, procurement, construction) project work. The more repetitive and standardized a work process becomes, the more standardized the computing tools become.

My answers are also based on the timeframe of my work. I started using Mathcad early in it's commercial life. At that time, general math programs were just becoming available. Thus, the companies hadn't developed any standard for their use. However, last I checked, my former employer still allows Mathcad, Matlab and Excel to be used. It is possible that within the company, say in an engineering projects group, one program will be chosen by the group.

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