While greater efficiency and productivity will always be goals in manufacturing, there is currently increased demand to optimize processes in chemical manufacturing.

A general lack of growth in the industry –– with the rare exception of certain specialty areas and new materials –– is forcing manufacturers to look beyond volume to drive growth. Manufacturers looking to increase efficiency and reduce costs must be open to new approaches to process development and associated equipment, engineering and business models.

1. New technologies

Chemical manufacturers, particularly those working in the specialty chemicals segment, have traditionally sought to develop most processing and production technologies in-house. However, there has been a recent shift among major manufactures to instead seek to leverage technologies created by smaller, innovative developers. Technology developers can assist manufacturers from feasibility studies and pilot testing through extensive process development, reducing the risks and complications that have made companies resistant to adopting new, external technologies.

2. Continuous processing

Chemical manufacturing companies are increasingly using modularized continuous-flow process approaches to overcome the disadvantages of batch processing and reduce the development time from initial idea to commercialization. Continuous processing approaches offer a suite of advantages over traditional batch processes: reduced process cycle times, lower operating costs, smaller equipment and facilities, reduced ecological footprints and greater and simplified quality control. In continuous chemical processing, the products of one reaction flow directly into the next in small-volume pipes, allowing for reactions not feasible in batch processing, such as reactions that are highly exothermic, have high kinetics, are driven by UV impulses or require tight control of temperature or pH. Adoption of continuous processing approaches not only promises to increase efficiency and reduce cost but can also potentially open up new fields in industrial chemistry.

3. Modular Plant Systems

Fully realizing the potential of continuous manufacturing requires the restructuring of entire production facilities. However, the higher outputs typically needed in the specialty chemicals industry may not be best served by the micro-structured reaction systems being adopted in other industries, like pharma and biopharma. A better approach seems to involve constructing plants from pre-configured standard modules, which themselves are constructed from individual components that are integrated and multi-scalable. Taking a modular approach to manufacturing laboratory equipment can simplify scale up by guiding the design of the final production facility along the same modular principles, allowing for concurrent planning and engineering of production at different scales. The modular approach to process engineering has clear benefits in increased efficiency and reduced time to market.

4. Quality by Design

Another manufacturing trend already in wide use in many manufacturing industries, including the chemicals industry, is the concept of quality by design (QbD). QbD is a systematic approach to development that emphasizes predefined objectives, understanding and control of processes, and quality risk management within a framework of defined science to optimize the quality of the process and, ultimately, the supply of product to the customer. Adopting a QbD approach to process development can provide a better understanding of the process with more effective control of further changes and development, less batch failure and higher ROI or cost savings, and may further create opportunities for more flexible regulatory approaches.

5. Digitization

Digitization has the potential to transform the chemical industry in areas as diverse as development, manufacturing, corporate decision-making and customer service. In terms of process development, companies are increasingly collecting and integrating data from cyber-physical sensor systems throughout manufacturing processes. Improving the integrity of all data collected throughout the manufacturing process will have a significant impact on the utility and effectiveness of analytics and all possible applications of that data. Machine learning and artificial intelligence technologies are taking advantage of this wealth of data to make and execute decentralized decisions with minimal input from human operators.

6. Automation

The increasing embrace of digitization is additionally creating new possibilities for automation in manufacturing processes. The synthesis of the two approaches to process development enables the construction of a physical–digital–physical cycle in which automated sensors capture real-time data during production processes, data analysis and digital decision-making occurs rapidly, and those decisions are carried out directly through automated process equipment. The resulting “smart factories” can offer clear benefits in terms of transparency, efficiency, and cost savings.

7. Growing used equipment market

As manufacturers look for new ways to increase productivity while optimizing efficiency and reducing costs, equipment needs are changing across the supply chain. The markets for purchasing used equipment and for selling surplus equipment are expanding. One driver for this trend, across many manufacturing industries, is increased industry consolidation, which has added to the importance of resource recovery for redundant equipment. High-quality used equipment can often be obtained at 40–50% of the original cost, sometimes as low as 20%. Another significant advantage of used processing equipment is that it is typically available immediately, reducing lead times and promoting efficiency.

With over 60 years of experience buying and selling used equipment, Federal Equipment Company is a reliable resource for manufacturers seeking to take advantage of these trends and revamp their process development to increase efficiencies. We maintain a large inventory of used equipment from leading original equipment manufacturers and possess the expertise to advise customers on how best to meet their evolving equipment needs with minimal lead times, supplemented with expert training and troubleshooting services. Federal Equipment Company can help companies looking to sell equipment rendered redundant or obsolete by consolidation or changing production models, maximizing the recoupable value and expertly removing equipment to protect the facility.