(48g) Working with Industry in Rowan’s Engineering Clinic Program
AIChE Annual Meeting
Monday, November 14, 2022 - 9:50am to 10:08am
Lubricant manufacturing and processing facilities produce a variety of lube oils. These lube oils are often processed in batch on the same line. In order to remove the residual oil a process of pigging, draining, and then flushing is conducted. The flushing oil is normally the next oil being processed in the line. The result of this flushing process is that it results in two co-mingled oils that no longer meet the product specifications. This co-mingled oil is then downgraded to a lower value oil and is often sold for much less than the original oils, leading to losses for the manufacturer. The focus of this project is to optimize this process and minimize the losses from producing downgraded oil.
Through Rowanâs clinic program, our team worked closely with a prominent industrial lube oil producer. An abundance of industrial experience was gained by interacting with industry engineers and scientists through regular meetings over the course of the semester. In addition, we also had several visits to the plant in order to understand and model the industrial process. In order to understand this process, we observed the flushing operation several times and developed a process flow diagram of the process which was refined and improved over several meetings. We also were given data on the flushing operation and even helped to collect some of the samples at the plant. Collaborating with an industrial partner gave us the opportunity to gain an understanding of the real-world applications of our learning alongside an early introduction to chemical engineering outside of academia.
One of the unique features of our clinic education is the ability to learn about an industry that is not normally covered in our classes. So to start on this project we had to search the literature to find out about the flushing problem in this industry and to find potential solution strategies. We generated a number of possible solutions and then discussed these with our industry partners. In these discussions with industry we were exposed to considerations that are important to the company that professors didnât put at high importance. We also received training from the industry in a Lube 101 course that they presented to us. In this presentation we learned the petroleum lube oil terminology and classifications. These classifications introduced the concept of âfamiliesâ of oil which represents the various sets of desired properties that exist for different applications. We were more directly exposed to daily operations through plant tours with safety training that helped us understand the industry standards for employee safety. Additionally, these trainings and tours have allowed us to develop an understanding of industrial culture through interactions with operators, industry liaisons, and operations managers. This has shown the dynamics at play within the chemical industry giving us a heads up over those students who have not had this experience.
The application of a learned skill can be one of the most difficult lessons to impart on a student. The work we performed in this engineering clinic taught us how to apply what we have learned throughout our time as students. We have used fluid dynamics to mathematically model the forces at play during the mixing of oil. The mathematical modelling of the situation was the basis for the scale down calculations that designed the size of our pilot plant under construction. All this work was done in Excel spreadsheets. Excel is a powerful data computation tool which proved essential to the work performed in this clinic. Developing a greater understanding of the program and how to build spreadsheets for real world applications gives us a great advantage moving into industry.
Good communication is one of the most important traits needed in a good engineer. The ability to communicate results and ideas with a wide audience is an important skill. This project has given us the opportunity to communicate and give many presentations for various audiences including professors, technical industry contacts, and managerial industry contacts. In normal coursework we have mainly given technical presentations as our professors and fellow students are all from a technical background. However, in many cases members of an audience will not come from a technical background. Presentations need to be tailored to fit a specific audience, while still conveying the same results and ideas. This project has given us experience presenting to an audience of all backgrounds (chemists, engineers, managers, technicians) and has really helped develop our communication skills.
Our team has investigated many creative solutions of reducing oil holdup in piping systems such as air blowing, coated pipelines, and pigging. The challenge is how to test these solutions to determine their potential impact. In order to determine that, reliable methods were needed to determine oil purity. The primary method used in industry to determine the kinematic viscosity is the ASTM D445. This process requires that a sample be taken and then sent up to an analysis lab and an automated measurement is made. Then the result is communicated to the operator who either flushes for more time if the sample failed and if the sample passed then begins to fill the bottles or drums. Since this is a time consuming process we decided to investigate alternative methods to determine if we were done flushing. We investigated alternative ways to make this measurement without stopping the process. One method that has shown some process is a light absorbance measurement and another method is to make an online viscosity measurement.
One of the biggest benefits of our clinic project is it allows us to work on a real-world problem. In most classes our time is spent solving problems from a textbook that always have a clearly defined solution. This project allows us to really use our creativity to create and test solutions the problem. Not only does it enable us to be creative, but it allows us to apply the knowledge we have gained from our coursework. It giveâs us a chance to apply our knowledge and previous education in a way that prepares us for future jobs.
The project has also given us insight into how companies approach problems and how they search for solutions. For example, this project has a big focus on reducing financial losses by solving this issue. This has really changed how we as a team have approached the problem and given us more to focus on. The real-world work and insight into industry gives us great experience and a real advantage after graduation.
In this project we learned that we needed to know more information that we could by looking at the data provided by industry. So we designed and developed simple experiments has helped further the teamâs knowledge of research-based learning. For example, how much oil sticks to the wall of a pipe? Can oil be trapped in a filter housing? How long does it take for the flush oil to replace the residual oil? Along with many more questions. Working closely with an industrial partner has given the team excellent real-world experience, and a better understanding of the lube oil processing industry. Using modeling and computer software to aid data analysis helped further the teamâs understanding of useful skills and made connections from classroom to real world learning. Frequent technical presentations advanced the teamâs communication and soft skills. Creating these connections from industry and classroom knowledge has strengthened the team as engineers and helped prepare them for future endeavors.