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Tower Doctor: A Quick Diagnosis Makes a Short Assignment

By Henry Z. Kister |

Henry Kister shares lessons learned from troubleshooting distillation towers On an assignment to troubleshoot a vacuum tower for a petroleum refinery, my team was tasked to “run simulations to determine why the heavy vacuum gas oil (HVGO) has a very dark color.” We traveled to the site and met with the plant personnel in a large meeting room. The plant’s process engineers carried in large volumes of computer output. I was not sure what additional simulations they wanted us to do that they had not already done. During the meeting, we discussed the tower, the plant engineers’ experiences and their analysis. They had already performed a very extensive simulation study. The afternoon agenda focused on contract discussion. The project manager could not make it, so I had to fill in for him. I was traveling with a young engineer, and did not need him to attend the contract discussion. So, I dreamt up something for him to do, to help answer a question that I had raised during the meeting, which had not been fully answered. “Why don’t you go with the unit engineer to the unit. On the wash stream going to the tower, downstream of the filter and the control valve, the P&I [process and instrumentation diagram] shows a pressure…
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