OPEN SOURCE TOOLS FOR CHEMICAL ENGINEERING PROCESS SIMULATION SUPPORTING VIRTUAL LEARNING
The disruption of face-to-face activities in the universities during the COVID-19 pandemic has led to concerns about its consequences for students’ learning. Several limitations have grown up during this period and it has been necessary to search new tools to cover these deficiencies. Even though these tools were initially applied for the emergency that we were facing up, some of them have stayed and being incorporated to the teaching.
In the context of an undergraduate on engineering course, it is habitual that the students learn the use of chemical engineering simulation programs in order to design an industrial chemical plant. Hence, the universities have the licences for several simulation softwares that are available for the student in order to work on the simulation processes inside their universities facilities. However, during COVID-19, in which the activity in the university was cancelled, an issue appeared due to the lack of access to the usual softwares. Therefore, the development of several subjects requesting these simulations tools caused their redesign in order to achieve the competencies established in the teaching guide for students.
The existence of free and open source chemical process simulators (e.g. DWSIM) is an interesting alternative for carrying out such work. This tool can be installed on the students' computers without restrictions, avoiding the dependence on the place where they are and with a significant calculation capacity that allows the development of the simulations proposed. Using an open-source simulator is primary to any university’s development and makes the future better by making students independent and aware of their responsibilities.
The main benefits of the use of open source chemical process software are:
i) library management,
ii) use of rigorous thermodynamic and unit operations' models,
iii) create real-word like simulations,
iv) understand the behaviour of their chemical systems, and
v) to test the features and performance of a product before the manufacturing process.
Although many virtual environments for teaching are available, the accessibility and possibilities of using free open-source software make this tool an excellent platform as teaching support and its combination with remote access technologies (Teams, Zoom and other similar resources) facilitate the support to the students even in no face to face situations such as tutorship.
The obtained results have been very satisfactory with the performance of the programmed activities independently of the place where the students develop their learning activity and achieving the objectives and competences designed in the program of the engineering subjects. The high level of satisfaction among the students (evaluated by means of surveys) and the results of the exams qualifications encourage us to widen the present methodology in the future.