Computer simulation ofa chemical plant can provide students with a different learning environment, where they can investigate and understand the plant by changing the values of variables and observing responses. The Amoco Computer Simulation Model is a computer-based simulation ofthe Amoco Resid Hydrotreater that has been used as the final assignment for the chemical engineering design course taken by third year students at the University of Canterbury. This project allowed students to further develop their problem solving skills, implementing some of the techniques taught earlier in the course. Students investigated the chemical process by gathering data, performing data analysis and validating their results on the pilot plant. A control strategy was developed and tested to simulate the start up ofa single reactor, controlling the operating conditions manually to reach steady state, and then ceasing control ofthe system, noting time elapsed before automatic shut down after 40 hours. Another important aspect ofthe project was that students worked together in groups ofthree, which the majority of students enjoyed. A questionnaire administered at the end of the course measured student responses to this learning experience. Tests, before and after using the simulation, assessed the learning outcome, and showed a significant improvement.
Design has been taught to our Chemical Engineering undergraduates for many years using a traditional case studies approach which involved dissecting the design process into its various elments, imparting relevant knowledge by formal lectures, and demonstrating how experienced engineers have designed successful systems. It was hoped that this approach would imbue students with sufficient knowledge and skills to become confident designers.
These efforts to teach design led to the realization that competence in design seemed to be caught by only a handful of students who rose to the challenge and were able to apply skills, knowledge and other personal attributes, often with outstanding results. The recipe for success seemed to combine such ingredients as organization, lateral thinking, computation, practical experience in workshop skills, and an ability to think in abstract terms. The special talents, possessed by every student, need to be developed and honed to a sharper edge.
In recent years, a problem solving approach, similar to that of Woods,1 has been adopted for the teaching of third year engineering design.2 A problem solving foundation to engineering design provides students with the necessary skills and confidence to be able to tackle any problem, design or otherwise, without feeling hindered by lack of direct experience in the particular topic.
The importance of communication in problem solving was emphasized, using the concept and practice of working in pairs.3 Problem solving techniques taught in the first nine weeks covered the McMaster 6-step strategy, blockbusting of mental obstacles which hinder problem solving,4 the Kepner and Tregoe method,5 trouble shooting in industry, and problem sets. Computer modules using these problem solving techniques reinforced lectures.6
This design course embraces a wide spectrum of engineering topics: mixing and pumping of liquids, flowsheeting, column design and operations, heat exchanger design, pinch technology, process reliability, separation processes and properties of engineering materials. Finally, the Amoco computer simulation project provided a practical design example for students to apply their problem solving techniques.
Computer-based instruction has the potential to stimulate teaching and learning. Engineering courses, in particular, can be enhanced by computer simulation and computer-assisted instruction. Seader7 commented:
The microcomputer is the most powerful learning device since the printed textbook. Ifthe computer is used …