Automated flowsheet synthesis is an important field in computer-aided process engineering. The present work demonstrates how reinforcement learning can be used for automated flowsheet synthesis without any heuristics or prior knowledge of conceptual design. The environment consists of a steady-state flowsheet simulator that contains all physical knowledge. An agent is trained to take discrete actions and sequentially build up flowsheets that solve a given process problem. A novel method named SynGameZero is developed to ensure good exploration schemes in the complex problem. Therein, flowsheet synthesis is modelled as a game of two competing players. The agent plays this game against itself during training and consists of an artificial neural network and a tree search for forward planning. The method is applied successfully to a reaction-distillation process in a quaternary system.

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Automated Synthesis of Steady-State Continuous Processes using Reinforcement Learning.
Q Göttl, DG Grimm, J Burger
Frontiers of Chemical Science and Engineering, 2021