Downstream Advisors (DA) is a professional consulting firm specializing in the technical, commercial and financial aspects of the downstream petroleum industries, such as refining, marketing, transportation, petrochemicals, and electric power. When companies are interested in buying, selling, or optimizing their oil and gas refineries, Downstream Advisors and its expert consultants are asked to evaluate and simulate various refinery functions.

The most important aspect of their analysis is the flow rate between various processes and determining what needs to go where. For example, they may determine how and where to route crude products depending on fractionation and processing requirements.

DA consultants use Analytic Solver to make these decisions in their proprietary Smart Refinery software package. Consultant William Peltier remarks, “With more than 50 interlocked process units, determining which products need to move from one place to another gets pretty complicated. Solver is the engine that runs it all.

Consultant Ward David adds, “Analytic Solver is used around the company to evaluate refineries. Its optimizer is always there to get the right products in the right place.

DA builds highly sophisticated data models and runs them through Analytic Solver’s optimization engine to make decisions about production and distribution.

Building Data Models to Simulate Refineries

“Smart Ref is a refinery model we created. If you take a refinery, we can build it from the most basic units on up,” says Peltier. “We can model the refinery a company wants or the one they already have.” Using Smart Ref, DA’s consultants can process crudes and run a virtual refinery just as it would in a real-world context.

It took a decade to build Smart Ref and has been used on client work for several years. Consultants like Davis and Peltier can run multiple use cases and model outcomes based on a range of probabilities. All simulations and optimizations are completed by Analytic Solver.

These types of modeling exercises are exactly what investors need when they consider purchasing refineries and pipelines. Smart Ref enables these investors to understand their investment during the due diligence process. Downstream Advisors also has the capability of comparing existing refinery performance to other refineries for competitive analysis, or for understanding tax scenarios.

Solver allows us to make recommendations to an investor. They may want to spend more or less money for different benefits, or they may have an approval process depending on where they’re investing.”

Linear and Non-Linear Models at Global Scale

Simulating and optimizing a refinery is just one component in the complexity of a DA consultant’s work. Ward Davis says, “All the crude in the world has to balance. They make a certain amount in the world and we can't use more than there is and we don't want to waste. We’re currently using Analytic Solver for a competitive study to understand what the world is doing. It takes a lot of iterations to balance everything.”

Analytic Solver has allowed Davis and Peltier to build and automate data models they’ve worked on for decades, even for small projects. “We've been using Solver in Excel for 30 years for small things. We have it built into a few products that we occasionally use, like gasoline blenders. Without the Analytic Solver or something equivalent, we couldn't have built Smart Ref.”

Though the free Solver for Excel is useful for DA consultants, there are much larger problems to solve using Analytic Solver. “There are two kinds of models commonly used in the refinery industry: a linear programming model that’s very specific and tries to do what we do, and a process model that’s much more detailed,” notes Peltier. “It’s hard to change the linear model and we have a lot of nonlinearity—sometimes in ways that we don't know how to automate.”

The process model operates at the molecular level and is used for designing new equipment. Smart Ref’s use of Analytic Solver enables this type of work and at high speeds. All refinery modeling is run on each consultant’s own computers. Davis is impressed with the performance of Analytic Solver in these non-linear modeling situations. 

Solver does everything in seconds. We don’t even touch the limits of Solver, but it finishes in 5-10 seconds.”
The biggest application with the most variables is the distribution decision making. Davis continues, “Solver figures out what goes where. We know Linear and Non-Linear Models at Global ScaleLinear and Non-Linear Models at Global Scalewhat products will meet which specifications, like viscosities or boiling points.”

Solver Enables Downstream Advisors to do Business

Downstream Advisors has a significant competitive advantage with its innovative Smart Ref application. Peltier says, “There was nothing like this before we developed it. We wondered about 20-25 years ago if it could even be built. So we experimented with a process to build a model and got serious about making it useful for many things. And Solver is what makes that product possible.

What started as a hypothetical concept in the 1980s and 1990s has become a robust simulation of real-world physical processes with optimized results delivered in seconds.

If you have complex plant operations considerations and need software that goes beyond basic recommendations, consider Analytic Solver for your simulation and optimization problems.