Integrated Process Modeling and Data Analytics for Optimizing Polyolefin Manufacturing

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Virginia Tech

Polyolefins are one of the most widely used commodity polymers with applications in films, packaging and automotive industry. The modeling of polymerization processes producing polyolefins, including high-density polyethylene (HDPE), polypropylene (PP), and linear low-density polyethylene (LLDPE) using Ziegler-Natta catalysts with multiple active sites, is a complex and challenging task. In our study, we integrate process modeling and data analytics for improving and optimizing polyolefin manufacturing processes.

Most of the current literature on polyolefin modeling does not consider all of the commercially important production targets when quantifying the relevant polymerization reactions and their kinetic parameters based on measurable plant data. We develop an effective methodology to estimate kinetic parameters that have the most significant impacts on specific production targets, and to develop the kinetics using all commercially important production targets validated over industrial polyolefin processes. We showcase the utility of dynamic models for efficient grade transition in polyolefin processes. We also use the dynamic models for inferential control of polymer processes. Thus, we showcase the methodology for making first-principle polyolefin process models which are scientifically consistent, but tend to be less accurate due to many modeling assumptions in a complex system.

Data analytics and machine learning (ML) have been applied in the chemical process industry for accurate predictions for data-based soft sensors and process monitoring/control. Specifically, for polymer processes, they are very useful since the polymer quality measurements like polymer melt index, molecular weight etc. are usually less frequent compared to the continuous process variable measurements. We showcase the use of predictive machine learning models like neural networks for predicting polymer quality indicators and demonstrate the utility of causal models like partial least squares to study the causal effect of the process parameters on the polymer quality variables. ML models produce accurate results can over-fit the data and also produce scientifically inconsistent results beyond the operating data range. Thus, it is growingly important to develop hybrid models combining data-based ML models and first-principle models.

We present a broad perspective of hybrid process modeling and optimization combining the scientific knowledge and data analytics in bioprocessing and chemical engineering with a science-guided machine learning (SGML) approach and not just the direct combinations of first-principle and ML models. We present a detailed review of scientific literature relating to the hybrid SGML approach, and propose a systematic classification of hybrid SGML models according to their methodology and objective. We identify the themes and methodologies which have not been explored much in chemical engineering applications, like the use of scientific knowledge to help improve the ML model architecture and learning process for more scientifically consistent solutions. We apply these hybrid SGML techniques to industrial polyolefin processes such as inverse modeling, science guided loss and many others which have not been applied previously to such polymer applications.

polyolefins, polymers, process modeling, Machine learning, data analytics, hybrid Machine learning, science-guided Machine learning