Exxon, energy, visionary, 2019, 2021

What Does a Practical Visionary Do for an Encore?

May 07, 2021

Don Victory, ExxonMobil Upstream Chief Process Engineer, came to OPTIMIZE 2017 in Houston, Texas with an idea. It was actually more than an idea, it was the realization of an idea, backed by a lot of innovation and hard work by his Upstream Process and Risk Engineering team.

His presentation had a modest title, “Optimizing New Assets.” He talked about best practices and innovative ways of using AspenTech’s Capital Cost Estimating software (ACCE), leveraging a range of supporting tools and workflows. At the end of his presentation he shared a summary of what his team could do today, what parts could be done but required some heavy lifting, and areas where the industry needed technology development. Always a good conceptual thinker, Victory presented an idea he introduced as “visual estimating.” What if you could see immediately the impact of a front end design decision, both in terms of cost and spatial impact?  Of course when designing petrochemical and gas process facilities like LNG, the inefficient use of plot space almost always results in more capital investment cost. The approach he presented at that time, very new in the industry, was the idea of integrating simulation optioneering, integrated cost estimating, and further integrating conceptual 3D layout, to exploiting the opportunity for design re-use and speeding the cycle of iteration to achieve the best use of space to optimize cost and performance.

At that highly attended session at OPTIMIZE 2017, he closed with a simple slide, titled “Wouldn’t it be nice if …?” which listed several digital technology advances he wanted the audience (and Aspen Technology) to think about such as:


Wouldn’t it be nice if…
  • We saw the intensity of costs earlier in conceptual project definition
  • When we added or deleted a piece of equipment or moved its location we could immediately “visualize” the cost impact


This technology call-to-action highlighted improvement opportunities that he felt would advance capital decision-making for the upstream and process industries.    

AspenTech was listening. And in the intervening time, AspenTech has worked on several of these ideas. 

Ultimately that presentation and that list resulted in action by AspenTech to meet these industry needs. One outcome has been the development of Aspen ACCE Insights, released in Aspen Engineering V12, an exciting way of visually presenting costing information to a FEED team and capital planning executives. Yet pursuing that digital thread further would take integrating new capabilities into the Aspen Technology Engineering Suite.

So in December 2020 Aspen Technology acquired the company OptiPlant! The ambition is to further strengthen the company’s solutions for owner-operators and EPC companies in the process industries. AI-driven 3D conceptual plant layout with parametric asset models and automatic pipe routing enables closer collaboration between owner-operators and EPCs to improve accuracy, reliability and speed of cost estimates from the earliest project stages. We have now mapped out a path to further tie together OptiPlant 3D, ACCE, Process Modeling, and Aspen Basic Engineering to address much of the list on Don’s last PPT slide in 2017. 

Don Victory will be presenting again this year at OPTIMIZE 2021 along with Alex Farwell, ExxonMobil’s Right Surface Concept Advisor.  

Be there (online) on May 18 at 11:00AM Eastern Standard Time, to hear them present, “What a Concept! A Front-End Digital Twin - Visualizing Design, Execution and Cost.” If past is prologue then Don and Alex may be coming with a few new more ideas and advancements in the field of concept select, conceptual layout and a list of digital innovations they’d like to see happen over the next four years.


In 2017 the conventional thinking was challenged about how conceptual engineering is and should be performed. What are the odds that such may happen again? That what you hear at OPTIMIZE 2021 can determine how you perform conceptual engineering in the near future? Registration for his session, and all the other OPTIMIZE presentations, is free. Why wait? Register now.

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