March 12, 2020

Industrial facilities such as refineries and chemical processing plants rely heavily on the use of compressed air for a variety of purposes, such as actuating valves as materials flow through vessels, reactors, and pipes. Compressed air is also used in these facilities to purge enclosures housing electronic equipment of hazardous vapors. The financial and safety risks associated with failure or malfunction of these pneumatic devices are substantial.

An instrumentation and controls engineer for ExxonMobil, Zain Sheikh has designed the Instrument Air Monitoring & Control System (IAMCS) to support industrial compressors by providing sensing, control, anti-surge protection, and equipment health-monitoring capabilities to optimize a facility's instrument air production.

Part of my responsibilities as an engineer supporting an operating facility include working through reliability improvement initiatives; these initiatives are broken down into annual identification, planning, and execution efforts. I thought this particular problem would be an interesting case study to work through the systems engineering methodology, said Sheikh, of Beaumont, Texas, about his final Systems Engineering project.

To design the IAMCS, he leveraged a variety of resources, including model-based systems engineering tools that provided tight integration between requirements and functions and components, as well as risk management tools to track mitigation activities and credits.

His solution comprises a variety of subsystems to maintain safe operation, prevent dangerous surge conditions, and monitor overall system health. For instance, the IAMCS's safety subsystem interfaces with various sensors and controls the compressor's valves through startup and steady-state operation, he says.

The system's true value stems from how it was designed. More often than not, typical project execution can miss details such as interfaces, physical components, and quantitative performance criteria. The robust and thorough design of the IAMCS is its defining characteristic which provides a competitive advantage and potential for further development, he explains.

The Systems Engineering program at Johns Hopkins Engineering regularly highlights the design projects and in-depth thesis research of its students. We will continue to make these presentations available so that they can benefit the entire systems engineering community.