Continuous manufacturing processes have long benefited from the application of advanced process control (APC) in their processes to improve upon their regulatory control. Batch manufacturing processes have recently been able to take advantage of these technologies. I received an email the other from Lou Heavner, part of Emerson’s Advanced Applied Technologies team. We’ve featured Lou’s work here a few times in the past.
I’ll summarize a few of these applications with the hopes that it might spark some ideas for application in your batch manufacturing process.
A manufacturer of sweeteners was having scheduling problems caused by the unpredictability of batch cycle times. End of batch could vary between six and twelve-plus hours. The operators could determine when end of batch was reached but not predict when this would occur. The APC consultants worked with this manufacturer to apply neural network technology as an inferential estimator to predict the end of batch time. The model can successfully predict the end of batch plus or minus ten minutes up to four hours before the completion of the batch. Scheduling downstream equipment is more manageable given these accurate predictions.
A second example Lou mentioned was again around batch cycle time, but in this case poor distillation control, which resulted in longer batches. Model Predictive Control was used in this pharmaceutical manufacturing process to control the batch distillation, specifically the reflux. Distillation time was reduced with the overall batch cycle time reduced by more than three hours per batch on average. The net effect of this improved control performance was a five-plus percent increase in production capacity. The quality of the product produced was also improved.
A third example is in a specialty chemical manufacturer’s semi-continuous fluid bed hydrogenation reactor. In this process, cold solids are added to the top batch-wise based on level in the vertical reactor. Heated feedstock (gases) enters the bottom to provide the fluidizing medium and heat to drive the reaction. The reactor was a bottleneck, limited by temperature control and high temperature constraint. Adding model predictive control around the reactor provided more stable temperature control. The controller reduced temperature variability and allowed target to be moved closer to constraint limit with fewer high-temperature trips.
I thought these were great examples of advanced control technologies combined with people like Lou with process and APC application knowledge that are solving process problems and improving process efficiency. Perhaps these ideas will spark some ideas for improvement in your operations.