Project Synopsis

Troubleshoot and recommend improvements to increase throughput through an MSM distillation trane.

Project Summary


The client produces a Neutraceuticals dietary supplement Methylsulfonylmethane (MSM - also known as Dimethyl Sulfone) at a US based production facility.  The MSM distillation section of the process was only achieving 60% of the design nameplate capacity.  The causes of the capacity shortfall were unknown. The client contacted and commissioned Process Engineering Associates, LLC (PROCESS) to perform the following work:

  • Develop a base-case process simulation, using CHEMCAD software, of the distillation section using plant data provided by the client and gathered by PROCESS during a field walk down.
  • Analyze the simulation and compare it to the plant data to identify plant modifications which would allow the plant to operate at nameplate capacity.
  • Using the base-case simulation, prepare a simulation for a new plant to produce nameplate MSM product.  The main objective for the new plant simulation was to estimate the required heat exchanger duties at the higher product rate.

A lack of process information, equipment drawings, and discrepancies among the plant data prevented PROCESS from conclusively determining why nameplate capacity could not be achieved.  Despite this, a reasonably accurate simulation model was developed.  Using the simulation, along with informed engineering judgment, PROCESS provided the following information to the client:

  • The lack of overhead pressure and temperature control on two of the vacuum columns was most likely, but not conclusively, the cause of the capacity shortfall.  It is also possible that the overhead condenser systems did not have enough cooling capacity.  Due to absence of required information, PROCESS could not determine existing equipment capacity potential.  PROCESS suggested a more robust control scheme be considered.
  • A discrepancy in the client’s calculation estimate for product production existed.  Product flowrates that were calculated based on a condenser heat balance did not match those based on water balance measurements.  PROCESS discovered the cause of the discrepancy, corrected it, and provided an improved heat balance calculation method which agrees with the water balance.
  • Identified potential causes for the wide variability in the measured feedrate to the plant.
  • Identified plant measurements which were inconsistent and suspect.
  • Identified process areas where MSM product was not recovered and was lost to wastewater.  PROCESS suggested operational changes that could reduce these product losses.
  • Determined that one of the four (4) distillation columns currently used was not necessary to produce a water-free product.  The client has since shutdown that one (1) column and is still able to produce a pure product but with substantial energy and utilities savings.

Based on a new plant simulation, and the analysis of the existing plant operation, PROCESS made fourteen (14) recommendations for improving the design and operation of a new plant including the following:

  • Improved process control schemes
  • Verification of the high temperature physical properties for MSM
  • Design criteria to improve equipment design.

PROCESS proposed two (2) project options for engineering some of the recommendations to improve their existing plant operations.  They are currently evaluating both proposals.

Industry Type

  • Neutraceuticals manufacturing

Utilized Skills

  • Distillation troubleshooting
  • Process improvements identification
  • Design of engineered process enhancements.

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