Introduction to Aspen Basic Engineering (Zyqad) and Database-Driven Design

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Trouble with Aspen Basic Engineering,  formerly known as Aspen Zyqad? This post will help the new user get acquainted with the program.

What is Aspen Basic Engineering/Zyqad? What is Database Driven Design?

Aspen Basic Engineering is one of those database-driven productivity tools that are starting to enter the workplace, somewhat along the lines of Intergraph SmartPlant, Bentley Axsys or ConcepSys.

The basic idea of these database-driven programs is great: it’s something I’d thought about and wanted years before I even realized that it already existed on the market! The idea is your drawings, lists, datasheets, and other documents are all connected and linked together, sharing a single set of information from a single database.

So for example, you draw a Process Flow Diagram and add a pump. The pump now exists in the database. You create the pump datasheet and input some data. Now, when you go back to the PFD, the drawing’s equipment label reaches into the database and the extracts title that you wrote into the datasheet, displaying the datasheet's title on the PFD. The equipment list will also pull the info you just typed from the database. This means that after doing datasheets, a properly programmed equipment list is basically automatic! And because the documents are all linked, if you redesign the pump, you can update all three documents by making the change once in just one place. Saves you time and prevents errors.

Aspen Basic Engineering, specifically, is geared to Front End Engineering Design (FEED)1 . Because of this focus, Aspen Basic Engineering allows you to import a process simulation, generate a Process Flow Diagram (PFD), equipment and instrument datasheets and lists, early cost estimates and heat exchanger designs, and preliminary P&IDs and plot plans. You can link it to SmartPlant if you want to keep using the database driven approach for further work.

The upside is huge potential gains in consistency and productivity: all your deliverables in the system “talk” to each other.

The downside is a big increase in complexity. The users have to learn new software and templates for their deliverables. A new IT team may be required. This post is intended to help you soften the downside.

Let’s shorten the name of Aspen Basic Engineering/Zyqad to "ABE." That will save us some time.

Disclaimer to My Aspen Basic Engineering/Zyqad tips

First, I want to warn you with a disclaimer: I am no expert in ABE. Far from it. I barely had the chance to get acquainted with ABE, and now am back in a position where I am not using it. So frankly, there are big gaps in my knowledge, and this post might have an outright mistake or two. Furthermore, I have only ever used Aspen Basic Engineering V7.1. I haven't used V7.2.

Nevertheless, I still wanted to write this post. Why? For one very simple reason: outside of Aspentech’s own site, there is literally no help I can find on the Internet for Aspen Basic Engineering. My own troubles filled me with a desire to help the total beginner in ABE find their footing. Therefore I will proceed with this article, despite being on very shaky ground as an author here.

OK, enough preamble, let’s get started with the meat of the article. I will assume that you will read this post in conjunction with the program manuals.

Help from Aspentech’s site

If you have an Aspentech support account, click here for the main Aspen Basic Engineering Page. Here are the highlights for learning ABE:

What are the sub-programs that make up ABE?

  • Administration: Set up and manage a “workspace,” a database that contains a project or group of related projects. Administration also controls who can view a workspace and what rights they have to view or modify documents
  • Explorer: Similar to windows explorer. View the equipment, streams, and other files in a workspace. You can use it to open datasheets, modify stream data, find drawings, rename equipment, etc. A few important tasks are done here to set up the overall project.
  • Drawing Editor: Create and view engineering drawings. Most useful for PFDs. You can also make Preliminary P&IDs, Plot Plans, and Utility Drawings.
  • Datasheet Editor: Create and edit equipment datasheets and equipment lists (and similar documents like instrumentation lists/datasheets)
  • Class Library Editor: A “class” is a collection of “attributes” (data) that the ABE model holds together. E.g. a pump class holds a set of pump attributes like capacity, rated flow, etc. By default, ABE comes with many classes, and ways to let programs like Hysys, Datasheet Editor, etc. talk to the classes. You can use the editor to make new classes or edit existing classes. You can add things like new units of measure, referenced sub-libraries of data, etc. Basically, the CLE determines what elements exist inside of ABE for you to use.
  • Excel Datasheet Generator: The Datasheet Editor can export a filled-out ABE datasheet as a series of ABE files, so that you can pass it to other users of ABE who cannot view your workspace. Using Excel Datasheet Generator, you can turn these ABE export files into a single filled-out Excel file to share to people who may not have ABE at all.
  • Datasheet Definer: Use this to build new datasheets or modify existing ones. You use Excel to do some of the work.
  • Graphics Definer: Use this to set up custom symbols, labels, borders, and tables for your engineering drawings. Required to customize material balance tables
  • Rules Editor: ABE has “rules”, which are Visual Basic programs. The rules can be automatic or be special routines that one calls on manually. In future versions of ABE this will use the programming language VB.net.
  • Symbols Replication: It seems like this lets you download an ABE drawing symbol library from a server to make a copy on your local computer? I couldn’t find it.
  • Bridge Interface: The Bridge tool lets ABE talk to MS Excel and MS Word. One possible use: instead of writing ABE “rules,” you can use the Bridge tool to leverage an Excel calculation sheet. You can have ABE pass data to Excel, do a calculation in Excel, and then pass the calculation results back to ABE.
  • Costing Interface: Pass data to and from ABE and Aspen Economic Adviser (aka Aspen Icarus). I don’t have Icarus and so I never tried the costing interface. Based on the V7.2 patch notes, it sounds like it used to be difficult, but Aspentech is improving the ease of use?
  • Simulation Importer: Use this to map data from an AspenPlus or Hysys or PRO-II simulation into the streams and equipment in your ABE model.
  • Thermal Design: Link to Aspentech or HTRI heat exchanger design programs. You can import data from ABE to start a design, or export a design to ABE to fill in a datasheet. This worked really well for me.
  • SmartPlant: There are tools to link ABE with a SmartPlant database via SmartPlant foundation

Training

Everyone working with ABE ought to learn explorer, datasheet editor, and drawing editor to be able to make and view documents. Simulation importer is a must for simulator people. Someone (or a small group) needs to be able to get into the guts of the database and run the other tools, to set templates up for the average users.

Personally, I think a company starting with ABE should bite the bullet and pay for the training of a core group of user(s) with programming ability. The core team could be engineers or dedicated programmers who know the engineering business, or a mix of the two. The core team should learn all of the programs. Also, templates need to be set up for a company, which could be done by the core group or a consultant company.

After that, once a template is set up and the core team is trained, probably the core group can train the average users in-house.

Expect growing pains and grumbling on the first project or three.

Aspen Basic Engineering Installation Concerns

On blank computers, install Microsoft Excel before ABE.

Some companies like to host ABE on a few computers, and have people use remote connections like Citrix to “dial in” to the ABE host computers. This lets everyone in multiple offices see the same project files and template files. If you do this, host the referenced files / library files in the same physical location as the computers running ABE. If you try hosting the ABE project in one office and the reference files in another office, you may get bad lag (delays in program operation).

My steps for a new project

Probably not optimal, but this is how I created new projects when I was learning the program:

  1. New project workspace in Administrator Tool.
  2. Create the plant breakdown structure: get the various plants and their units into the new project workspace
  3. Open Explorer, go to Edit>BEDD and fill up your BEDD sheet. Set up site/plant/area/unit data. Optional: Use Edit>Project Management if you intend to set up new sub-projects.
  4. Draw PFDs with equipment and streams in the Drawing Editor. Use the graphics definer if necessary to make new symbols. Drop a border onto the first drawing, and on that border double-click on the project number and client name to set those.
  5. Rename steams and equipment the way you want, either through the drawing editor or the explorer tool
  6. Make a Hysys or PRO-II simulation of your process. Use the simulation importer tool. Map your simulation streams and equipment to ABE streams and equipment, and set the material ports to describe how streams connect to equipment.
  7. Go to Explorer and use Edit>Component Management to map your simulation components to ABE components
  8. If you have a heat and material balance table, go back to the drawing tool and make sure it filled in correctly. Use the graphical designer as necessary to customize your table.
  9. Create datasheets of the equipment in your project. If necessary, use the datasheet definer to customize datasheets. Can also create equipment lists at this time.
  10. Create P&IDs, Utility Drawings, Plot Plan drawings if desired.
  11. Use the submit, check, and issue tools to control the status of drawings and datasheets
  12. Send project to SmartPlant for detail design (if applicable)

Company Logos

If you are going to re-use the default ABE datasheets, you may want to just replace the logo files that the datasheets already point to with your company’s logo. This could be faster than re-routing the image link in every datasheet to a new file.

New Workspaces

When creating a workspace, select the library set and database type that fits with your other I.T. procedures and tools. I understand that Library Set = TEF has the most rules for Smartplant database. Database type = ODBC is the Open-Source Database Conversion, which may be a good choice if there are several database programs used throughout your company. (It is a format designed to be read by several programs). I found that Database type = Access was the least temperamental to set up.

User Roles

In the Administrator program you can add new users and assign their roles. Use this to determine who gets read or write access to what documents.

Copying and backing up workspaces

How to recreate identical workspace on different Aspen Basic Engineering server? Solution ID: 127247

Disabling folder security

This could double access speeds if it's safe to do it: Solution ID 127582(scroll down to the section "Performance Improvement by disabling folder security")

Software License / Token Use

Many companies have a set number of licenses or tokens, which allow a limited number of users to use Aspentech software at the same time. For ABE, the official line is:

In Aspen Basic Engineering, licenses are checked per workspace/ per user/per client machine basis.

Which I think means:

One user connected to one workspace from one computer will use up one license, no matter how many ABE programs they use in this single workspace. (The user must login as the same user identity in all of the ABE programs). For example, this user could have the drawing editor, graphics editor, and administrator tool all open on their computer for a single project, and still use just one license.

However, if the user connects to a second workspace, they check out a second license.

If a user tries to connect to the same workspace from two computers at once, they check out a second license.

If a second user tries to connect to the same workspace as the first user, they will check out a second license.

Drawing Editor

View the following:

How to Work with Aspen Zyqad Diagrams -- Part 1 Getting Started

How to Work with Aspen Zyqad Diagrams -- Part 2 Configuring Connectivity

How to Work with Aspen Zyqad Diagrams -- Part 3 Completing the PDF

A few tips:

  • I’m not convinced that this program is adequate for anything other than PFDs

  • Use the view option to turn on the stockpile to find equipment and drawing items. Inside the stockpile, use the organise by… dropbox to make the stockpile show useful items

  • Can show gridlines and also specify lines snap to gridlines. However, sometimes you must turn off snap to gridlines to do precise drawing.

  • It is better to add equipment, page-to-page connectors, and other features onto your drawing in blank white space. After all objects and connections are on the drawing, grab and drag the endpoints of connector lines (streams) onto the equipment to manually link steam connectors to equipment. Do not try to drop equipment directly onto the connections that you have already drawn in an attempt to save time. Often the connections and equipment won’t connect properly. Even though it looks OK, the program does not register the connection.
  • Left-click to make bends/dog-legs when drawing a connection line

  • Suggest you draw all of your connections first, and THEN worry about renaming them

  • Optional: use View>Watermark to add status watermarks (draft, submitted, etc.)

  • Borders and heat and material balances are found in the Labels folder. They may need setting up with the ABE graphics definer before they work

  • The program will automatically save changes as you make them, so be careful. Create a duplicate copy before doing anything risky

  • On my version (V7.1) I found that plot plan symbols in the miscellaneous folder could not be found from the drawing editor. I had to move the symbol files to a different folder before the drawing editor detected the symbols

  • Use the document set function to create copies of a drawing, that use the same underlying drawing but have different labelling. (For example: a PFD and a Material Selection Diagram)
  • You must to think from a database perspective as well as a drafting perspective

Simulation Importer Tool

If you have multiple versions of a simulation program installed, the importer tool may try to use the wrong version when interpreting files. For Hysys, I used the Restore File Associations program in my Hysys start menu folder to fix this.

When you import you have the option to map simulation streams to one or more ABE streams. This is why I find it easier to draw the PFD before you import a simulation.

You are supposed to be able to automatically generate a "SIM" type drawing from your simulation. As of V7.1 it does not work for all supported simulators.

Component management

When you import a simulation, go to explorer tool, component management. You need to map the simulation components to ABE components.

Why do they make you do this? Well if you just have steam and methane in your process, you’ll probably just map H2O to H2O and CH4 to CH4 and be done with it. But if your simulation has used pseudo-components to model complex refinery oils, you can use component management to group the pseudo-components into meaningful names like “C7+.”

Cases

You can set up cases, which are alternate stream flows. A Global case applies to the whole project, while a restricted case applies only to certain equipment. For example, I may have a global design case, a global turndown case (plant at 60% flow), and a special purge case for some equipment I occasionally purge with steam.

When stream data is imported from a simulation, the simulation importer lets you assign it to a specific case.

Datasheet Editor

Used to fill out datasheets based on an existing template.

Use datasheet>dimension set to select a set of dimensions, to minimize the number of dimensions you must change manually.

Pages can be inserted or deleted into datasheets. Useful pages to insert include AZ Notes Sheet, AZ Nozzle Sheet, AZ Sketch Sheet

It is possible to have datasheets automatically import data from streams they are connected to. However, this takes customization/programming. In ABE V7.1, without customization I found that only heat exchangers did this to any significant degree.

Datasheet Definer

Use datasheet definer to make new datasheet templates. It crashes, so save your work often. To understand which “class views” to pick, and how to link to database attributes, your best bet is to open up an existing datasheet similar to your needs and then study the coding. Then duplicate the coding and experiment outward as necessary.

  • Use the Value and Browser commands to create entry points for data on the datasheet. Value tells datasheet definer you want some kind of value to appear in this field, and browser tells it which specific database attribute you want
  • You can create UOM (unit of measurement) and Revision cells. Then use the Link command to link UOM/Revision cells to value cells. That way, the UOM will control the value cell’s units, and the Revision will track when changes are made to the Value cell
  • To merge cells, make sure to delete their contents with the special ABE delete command. Then merge the cells, and then create a brand new link. Don’t try to merge cells while retaining a pre-existing ABE link, or the coding of the link can get screwed up
  • Reload the workspace after creating a new template, so it is available immediately. If you don’t reload the workspace your new template may not be available right away

Graphics Definer

Use to make new graphical symbols. See the tutorial in the administrator guide (Chapters 7 & 8). The tutorial is pretty good and will guide you in how to use this tool.

Border labels are covered in Support Solution ID 127272

Creating Material and Energy Balance tables for your PFDs looks quite involved. I wasn’t able to master it, and it sure didn't work "out of the box."

Bridge Tool

Link ABE attributes to Excel cells or MS Word bookmarks. The most common use is to automate calculations by linking ABE inputs to Excel inputs, and Excel outputs to ABE outputs. You can also convert the units using the Bridge Tool: that way you can write an Excel file in SI units, and if any ABE values are not in SI, you have the Bridge Tool convert them to SI just before it passes the numbers to Excel.

To start, go to Application > Add a file. (Or add a linked file, which adds a file in a specific folder location, letting you update the Excel calc). Once the excel file is inside, the main feature you will be using is the “Linkset” that tells the Bridge Tool exactly what data to link and how.

When trying to find the entry to link on ABE’s side, you can look in the datasheet definer to help you find out which class views are relevant to your links. For example: I want to link the pressure vessel design pressure. Where is it? My best bet is to open the pressure vessel datasheet in the datasheet definer program, and study the class views used there.

Class Editor, Rules Editor

Sorry, I didn’t learn these tools. Some resources that might help a little:

Classes: Customizing object mapping to transfer data from an UO block to a Zyqad equipment object

Classes: How does one display new attributes on a datasheet?

Rules: How to populate the PFDNumber attribute on equipment object

SmartPlant Links

My understanding is that ABE has routines that make data available in .xml format. Then, you have to custom-configure SmartPlant to reach out and grab the .xml data, and put it into the SmartPlant database. ABE comes with Knowledge Base (KB) file ZySPInterface.azkbs. This is an example rule that you can add to your library set, and then you get a method (a program) that you can run. The ZySPInterface.azkbs method will generate some very simple data in a format that SmartPlant can pick up and understand. Very simple. It’s only a proof-of-concept level program.

Conclusion

If you are having problems, Aspentech Support is your best contact point. There are also a few consultants who specialize in Aspen Basic Engineering.

Updates

2010-09-10 - Minor rewrites for clarity

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  1. Front End Engineering Design (FEED) is a phase of plant design that begins when you have the basic outline of the plant. For example, knowing what sub-units will go together and having some idea what flows each unit will produce for the subsequent units. But at the start of FEED, there is still very little engineering done for any discipline. FEED continues up until process design is largely complete and there is some idea of the cost and design of all equipment and aspects of the plant. After FEED, it’s time for the other disciplines to take the lead on the next phase, called detailed design []
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One Response to Introduction to Aspen Basic Engineering (Zyqad) and Database-Driven Design

  1. ANAND says:

    Nice post!

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