Design Considerations for Equipment and Piping Layout: Guidelines for Vessels

Design Considerations for Equipment and Piping Layout:  Guidelines for Vessels

This is the first in a four-part series on equipment and piping layout. This article provides guidelines for equipment that includes tanks, horizontal and vertical vessels, cooling towers, and compressors.  The second article will discuss layout considerations for pumps. Guidelines for piping layout and pipe racks will be discussed in the third article.  The series concludes with the special requirements that process engineers apply to heat exchangers, valves, and instrumentation.

Where are you going to put that tank?

In real estate, the most important thing is location, location, location. When planning the layout of process and industrial equipment, every component’s exact location is important for many reasons. Some primary considerations are safety, maintenance, industry practices, costs, and ease of operation.

Many plants have their own specifications that can influence equipment layout. Industry-accepted guidelines must be considered, such as those from API, the Hydraulic Institute, and Global Asset Protection Services LLC.  Equipment suppliers may also have requirements that must be met for warranties.

Here are some general vessel and equipment layout guidelines to keep in mind:

  • When practical, align the equipment and piping symmetrically to provide an organized appearance. For example, tanks and other vessels can be located in rows that allow pipe racks to be placed between rows.
  • Consider arranging equipment to align with the process flow. This can optimize piping runs and even take advantage of gravity.
  • Take thermal expansion into account. Make sure that vessels containing hot materials have room to grow.
  • Provide enough space between each piece of equipment to provide appropriate access for operations and maintenance. A minimum of 3 feet of clear space is often sufficient.
  • If mobile equipment is required for maintenance and servicing, make sure that it can move safely without hitting other equipment or piping that is on the ground or in the air.
  • Make sure that access is available for emergency response and fire-fighting.
  • Provide clear access at grade level for vessels with removable internals, or that require regular loading and unloading (such as catalyst, resin, desiccant, salt, etc.). For example, fired equipment must have clear access for the removal of tubes, burners, fans, and other related components.
  • Furnaces should be located upwind and away from the processing equipment. Related towers should be located near the furnace to minimize alloy piping lengths.
  • Vessels may have elevation requirements to provide proper pump performance.
3D Software Tools provide realistic renderings of the layout

Different Vessels Have Different Needs

Vessels are key components in refineries and chemical processing facilities. Chemical changes occur in reactors. Separation takes place in fractionators and accumulators. Piping engineers may need to interface with process engineers to make it all fit together.

Vertical Vessels

Towers, columns, and fractionators are all vertical vessels. They have some common design needs:

  • The first ladder from grade should be on the pipe rack side for easy access by the operator.
  • Coordinate the platform and ladder locations with the piping and the clear-drop area.
  • Provide davits and crane access for towers over 50 feet tall.

Horizontal Vessels

 Drums, receivers, and accumulators are examples of horizontal vessels:

  • If the vessel elevation does not have pump performance constraints, then the elevation is determined by process requirements or piping layout.
  • Blowdown and flare knockout drums should be located in a separate area of the unit—at least 25 feet from other process equipment, and 50 feet from fired heaters—to avoid fire-related problems.
  • One end of the vessel will be designed as fixed and the other end as sliding so that foundations and piping saddles can be designed properly.
  • Inlet and outlet nozzles should be located on opposite ends of the vessel.

Cooling Towers and Compressors

Cooling Towers should be installed with the short side facing the prevailing summer winds. This allows the long sides of the cooling tower to intake an equal amount of circulating fresh air. Also, they should be located so the spray is kept away from buildings other and equipment.

Cooling towers should be located near an access road for maintenance of pumps, chemical addition equipment, and screens. If made of combustible materials, they should be a minimum of 100 feet away from process units.

Compressors take relatively low-pressure vapors, compress them, and discharge them at a higher pressure. Compressors typically have auxiliary equipment such as intercoolers, knockout drums, lube and seal oil consoles. Compressors require platforms at operating levels, and are sometimes installed in a shelter.

Next time, we will look at layout considerations for pumps.

Matrix Technologies is one of the largest independent process design, power systems engineering, industrial automation engineering, and manufacturing operations management companies in North America. To learn more about our manufacturing operations management capabilities and manufacturing process control solutions, contact Jeremy Runk, Department Manager of the Process & Electrical Design Department.

© Matrix Technologies, Inc.

Food Packaging Changes – Part 2: Preliminary Engineering Assessments

Food Packaging Changes – Part 2: Preliminary Engineering Assessments

Even a “minor format change” in food product packaging can have a major impact on a capital project’s cost and the final cost of goods.

Our three-part series on preliminary engineering methodology explains how preliminary engineering assessments help food manufacturers investigate alternative packaging specifications and project scopes before spending time and money on plans that will never achieve an acceptable internal rate of return (IRR).

Part 1 in our series explained the risks of minor packaging changes and shared an example of a preliminary engineering assessment by Matrix Technologies that helped a large food manufacturer reduces its capital project budget by 50%.

Part 2, below, details the benefits of preliminary engineering and the steps of an assessment.

Our next post, part 3, will share a preliminary engineering case study profiling a food manufacturing packaging project.

How Linear Project Flow Locks In Capital Costs

Capital projects often follow a linear flow that begins with a new package specification, a budget appropriated, and a race to get long-lead time equipment on order.

Typical linear flow of packaging specifications driving capital project costs.

This approach to project execution has its place when the business risk tolerance is high due to high margins, available white space, low existing equipment utilization, low product SKU mix, and an equipment infrastructure with highly flexible modern machines. However, few projects have the luxury of one, much less all, of these conditions, which often leads to unanticipated challenges.

For example, the full scope of the project may not be completely understood and it may not be feasible to meet all the project requirements while remaining in budget. Changes such as carton and case count reductions mean that packages shrink while overall production levels remain constant. Thus, the number of units flowing through the entire system increases. An increase as small as 10% can create serious downstream bottlenecks and prevent the complete system from achieving the committed production rate.

Even if a project’s complete scope is understood and within budget, is it really the best alternative? Installing all new equipment drives up capital costs and delays time to market, while retrofitting existing equipment may bring partial or full capacity online quickly and at a fraction of the cost. Perhaps a combination of the new and retrofit provides the best return.

Understanding the intent of packaging specifications and considering possible alternatives that match this intent can save hundreds of thousands or even millions of dollars while providing a faster response to market demand.

How then can marketing and supply chain teams recognize these challenges early and collaborate on a packaging specification that will reduce costs while still meeting customer needs? The answer is a preliminary engineering assessment.

The Preliminary Engineering Assessment

Successful companies recognize that responding to customer demands is not just about speed, but also about promptly executing the right project for the business as a whole. The wrong scope with unexpected technical and financial challenges can stress already limited margins and engineering staff.

A preliminary engineering assessment of a capital project can help you identify the right project with the right scope that can be executed efficiently.

Project scope vetted through Preliminary Engineering Assessment.

A preliminary engineering assessment creates a communication loop that diagnoses challenges, generates, and evaluates solutions, and delivers a well-honed scope, schedule, and budget.

Matrix Technologies has in-depth experience performing these assessments for food and beverage manufacturing projects. We begin by working closely with the manufacturer’s Capital Project Team to reach out to and engage stakeholders in Supply Chain Planning, Packaging R&D, and Operations. We use a multi-disciplinary team approach to quickly gather local stakeholder input and perform infrastructure assessments at multiple manufacturing sites simultaneously to keep projects on schedule.

A Matrix Technologies Preliminary Engineering Assessment engages stakeholders across the organization.

The preliminary engineering assessment follows a methodology of assessing feasibility, options development, and scope refinement, to arrive at a definitive cost estimate. Each stage is designed to efficiently develop and communicate the scope across a large group of stakeholders to root out previously unknown requirements and limitations.

Early stages of the assessment develop only a few preliminary engineering deliverables with the purpose of identifying and communicating feasible options, with just enough information for the stakeholders to choose a single path forward. This is often the opportunity for leadership to revisit the parameters in the original project charter to better align the project with the needs of the business, prior to significant time and capital investments.

Later stages of the assessment incrementally introduce new engineering documentation and refine previously developed deliverables as the group of stakeholders is broadened and the discussion focused. Focus groups of stakeholders outside of the core project team often include safety, quality, maintenance, lean manufacturing, environmental and sustainability, production scheduling, logistics, commissioning and training leads, as well as potential vendors and contractors.  As the investigation progresses and input is received from more stakeholders, the true scope, schedule and costs required to achieve a vertical startup are understood across the organization.

Since every organization is different, Matrix Technologies is able to tailor the preliminary engineering assessment process to each client’s unique schedule requirements and risk tolerance.

The Matrix Technologies Preliminary Engineering Methodology controls project risks.

Early Collaboration Leads to Bottom-Line Results

Recently Matrix’s Packaging Services team worked closely with a client’s Supply Chain Planning group to assess the impact of a carton count reduction affecting multiple packaging legs at two manufacturing sites.

Using the preliminary engineering assessment method, Matrix assessed the existing equipment infrastructure and equipment utilization requirements of over 100 SKUs. Production models illustrating new and retrofitted equipment utilization and cost estimates were developed for the proposed packaging specification, as well as less capital-intensive alternatives to the specifications.

The assessment provided bottom-line results: The project was re-chartered with alternative packaging specifications, reducing capital project costs from initial projections of $15-$20MM to below $8MM.

Matrix Technologies is one of the largest independent process design, industrial automation engineering, and manufacturing operations management companies in North America. To discuss a project, or learn more about our food and beverage engineering services, including packaging services, contact Brandon Grodi, PE.

© Matrix Technologies, Inc.

How to Use 3D Laser Scanning for Industrial Plant Design: An Engineer’s Guide – Part 3: Estimating Scanning Costs

How to Use 3D Laser Scanning for Industrial Plant Design: An Engineer’s Guide – Part 3: Estimating Scanning Costs

The cost of performing 3D laser scanning is largely based on the area of the scan needed and the proximity of the job site to the location of the scanning technician. But ensuring a complete and accurate estimate of the scanning effort usually requires additional information.

Here are the relevant topics that should be addressed by your scanning professional before estimating a fee for 3D laser scanning services.

More than a Data Point Cloud: How the Data is Used

Just as engineering is more than providing construction drawings, three-dimensional scanning is more than just providing a data point cloud. The scanning consultant should not be a one-dimensional solution provider. Although the data point cloud can be considered a commodity to be purchased at the lowest cost, there is a significant value-add from engineering consultants who can integrate the 3D scan with the proposed new work.

The value of 3D laser scanning lies in how the data is used after the scan. If a data point cloud is used only as an image of the proposed work area, the advantages of laser scanning have been lost. Once again, if your laser scanning consultant does not integrate an engineering solution directly into the point cloud, then the technology has not been used to its greatest advantage.

Refinery FCC Unit
Proposed Refractory-lined Duct Routed to Refinery FCC Unit

When an engineering services provider proposes a 3D scanning solution, it’s important to have a pre-proposal discussion so the consultant and customer better understand the project size, complexities, and project boundaries. It is also helpful to this discussion to have existing drawings or photographs of the work area available for reference.

Following are some of the common topics that may be discussed during the initial conversation between the scanning consultant and the customer.

10 Questions to Define Project Purpose

Understanding the purpose of the 3D laser scanning project will set the tone for additional conversation related to the project. Several common questions are:

  1. Is the 3D scanning to be used to as-built an existing process or facility?
  2. Is the 3D scanning needed for a future project where the scope is still being defined?
  3. How large is the area to be scanned?
  4. Is an existing process or structure being modified?
  5. Are there specific interest points, such as tie-points or other critical information, that need to be captured?
  6. What level of detail is required for the 3D scan?
  7. Is the area to be scanned electrically classified?
  8. Is the work inside or outside?
  9. Does information related to exterior building walls or elements located above the roof need to be captured by the 3D scan?
  10. Are there multiple levels that require scanning?

Point Cloud Usage

The most important reason for 3D laser scanning is to collect data on the existing process or facility.

There can be significant advantages to having the Engineer of Record provide scanning services rather than “scanning only” companies. The engineer can integrate the proposed design directly into the point cloud to create an augmented reality model showing existing information and new work sharing the same space.

As the project develops, the 3D model/point cloud is very useful for coordination and communication between the engineer and owner. Once the model is developed, plan and elevation drawings can be automatically created, with annotation of the drawings to be completed by a designer.

Boundaries of Work

Existing drawings and photos of the project site can be very helpful in understanding the general size and complexity associated with the scan. These documents can be used to better determine the level of difficulty in moving the scanning instrument around existing plant equipment, utilities, and other obstructions. General obstructions include line-of-sight limitations due to tall equipment or stored materials, congested spaces, stairways connecting multiple levels, or multiple smaller rooms.

Since scanning effort is directly related to the area of the scan, providing a drawing or sketch that includes overall dimensional information of the area is needed to determine the duration of the scanning procedure. The time required to scan a project is directly related to the fee for the scanning service.

Areas to be Scanned
Examples Showing Highlighted Areas to be Scanned

Access Requirements

Access limitations can also play an important role in estimating the time required to perform scanning. Multilevel processes and highly congested areas can add significant time to scanning. Areas that are difficult to reach, including elevated areas accessible via ladder only, can complicate the scanning effort. For safety reasons, Matrix Technologies prefers to scan areas that are accessible via stairways.

Highly congested areas, including heavy process and mechanical areas, can also add time to the scanning effort. Since the scanner is based on line-of-sight technology, congested areas will require additional scans to fully develop the point cloud.

Environmental Factors

Interior facility scanning generally can be performed with little regard to environmental factors and their effect on the scanning efficiency and quality of data collected.

However, the efficiency of outdoor scanning can be heavily weather-dependent. Modern scanning equipment can be rated for water intrusion, but scanning during a rain event will produce undesirable amounts of noise in the data. Scanning during snow events has the same effect. Other process conditions, including steam plumes, can affect the efficiency and quality of data collected on site. When scanning outside, it is critical to understand the environmental conditions, including weather and process emissions prior to starting work.

Point Cloud Noise
Point Cloud Noise Caused by Snowfall


Since the laser scanner operates on laser technology, the point cloud is unaffected by lighting conditions. However, the active 70-megapixel color pictures that are generally provided with the point cloud as a deliverable are affected by lighting conditions.

To provide quality photos, it is important to provide sufficient lighting. Exterior scanning is generally limited to daylight hours, which can vary greatly between summer and winter months.

In cases where photos are not needed, scanning times are decreased, which reduces data collection time in the field.

Survey Control

Some facilities require an established local coordinate control system. This helps ensure that all firms and parties performing work at that facility locate items such as foundations and buildings using the same geometric basis or control. By tying the laser scan into these existing control systems, the data can be easily communicated to construction contractors and engineers.

Survey control is established by using surveyor benchmarks and monuments to assist in tying the scanning point cloud into a known control system. If a facility requires that a point cloud be tied into existing control, the scanning technician will require additional time to determine the location of the survey monuments and traverse the scan from the monument to the area to be scanned. In some cases, a survey crew may be required to extend survey control to the area of interest if existing benchmarks are located a large distance away from the area to be scanned.

Point Cloud
Tying Point Cloud to Existing Survey Control

Matrix Technologies is one of the largest independent process design, industrial automation engineering, and manufacturing operations management companies in North America. To learn more about our 3D laser scanning services and multidiscipline engineering solutions, contact Mark O’Connell, PE, Associate Director of Capital Project Planning.

Click here to read Part 1: Using 3D Laser Scanning in Industrial Plant Design

Click here to read Part 2: Crucial Benefit Drivers

© Matrix Technologies, Inc.