Our speaker on Tuesday, August 15th was Dr. Chris Swartz. Chris is a colleague of Phil Wood in the Department of Chemical Engineering at McMaster University. Chris holds the Dofasco Chair in Process Automation and Information Technology and is the Director of the McMaster Advanced Control Consortium (MACC). He lives in Dundas with his wife Jacquie and children Philippa and Helen. 

The theme of Chris’s presentation was optimization or “determining the best amongst alternatives” He gave several simple examples of optimization from daily life – for example: planning our optimum shopping route, planning our investment strategy or even for children planning their trick our treat route. 

The MACC is a consortium of several member companies (e.g. Corning, Dofasco), 5 faculty members and 20 or so graduate students. 

Chris gave some real examples of the type of work they do. One project is sponsored by Praxair a company that separates air into its components (mainly nitrogen and oxygen) by cooling it and then boiling it. The process is a huge user of electricity which is extremely expensive these days so they need to optimize their process in response to the demand for the products and the cost of electricity. Ideally you would like to do all of the separation when the cost is lowest but that isn’t always when the demand is highest.

Another project is one he is working on with Dofasco. It involves an electric arc furnace which is used to melt scrap metal down. Again, electricity is a major expense as is oxygen. Chris’s group is preparing a mathematical model of the process to guide the process engineers at Dofasco who are working with the actual process.

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