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Optimize Distillation Column Design for Improved Reliability in Operation and Maintenance

Karl Kolmetz, Dr. Wai Kiong Ng

Siang Hua Lee, Tau Yee Lim

Daniel R. Summers

Cyron Anthony Soyza

Phoenix Training & Development Centre, Johor Bahru, Malaysia

Prepared for,

Univeristi Tecknologi Malaysia

2nd Annual Conference on

Best Practices in Process Plant Management

Nikko Hotel, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

March 14-15, 2005

Pictures of Conference


A distillation tower design is normally made in two steps; a process design, followed by a mechanical design. The purpose of the process design is to calculate the required stream flows and number of required theoretical stages. Required steam flows could include reflux rate, side draws, and the heat duties (number of pump arounds and the condenser and reboiler). The purpose of the mechanical design is to select the tower internals, column diameter and height.

The process and mechanical designs can be completed very quickly utilizing “cook book” procedures that many Engineering Procurement and Construction (EPC) firms have established. Often the “cook book” designs can be optimized for improved profitability, operations and maintenance.

The best way to review profitability is the life cycle cost, which is the initial capital cost of the plant along with the first ten years operating and maintenance cost. The life cycle cost includes a reliability factor, which is very important in designing any process plant equipment. Improved reliability has a very large impact on return on investment (ROI).

Several factors should be considered when designing distillation equipment;

  1. Correct distillation equipment for process conditions
  2. Correct equipment selection for expected run length
  3. Correct process control strategy to achieve stable operations
  4. Fouling / corrosion / polymerization potential
  5. Thermal stability, chemical stability and safety
  6. Maintenance reliability, accessibility and simplicity of repair
  7. Evaluation of the most cost effective solution for minimum life cycle cost

This review will include general distillation design guidelines applicable to any process along with specifics for the natural gas processing, refining, petrochemicals, and the oleo chemical’s industries.

Link to Paper

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