Abstract The efficiency of manufacturing systems can be significantly increased through diligent application of control based on mathematical models thereby enabling more tight integration of decision making with systems operation. In the present paper analysis of optimal operation of an energy integrated distillation plant is investigated more closely with the purpose of elucidating essential decisions behind planning experiments, which are suitable for identifying models and constraints. The basis for analysis of optimal operation is the type of operation upon which an application focuses. In this paper the attention is on achieving close to optimal economical benefit of a continuously operating plant. The optimal operation region for the plant is visualized by the profit landscape of the example process. The nonlinear dynamic behavior within the optimal operation region is studied through bifurcation analysis. Thereafter a series of decisions have to be made concerning the experimental design for revealing the plant steady states and dynamics within the optimal operating region. However in this paper the focus is upon revealing the possible nonlinear behaviors around the optimal operating region and their influence upon the further decisions behind the experimental design. An energy-integrated distillation column, which may exhibit fold bifurcations, is used as a relevant example process.