Manchester makes chemical processing more profitable
"Since 2008 Britest has delivered an economic impact in excess of £500 million", claims the CEO of not-for-profit company Britest, a spin-out from research by The University of Manchester. It may seem extravagant, but the value of energy saving and reduced waste achieved by manufacturers around the globe using tools marketed by Britest quickly add up.
In the UK alone companies generate nearly £200 billion in profit every year from industrial products manufactured by chemical processing. Industries as diverse as food processing to pharmaceuticals, electronics manufacturing to engineering all depend upon industrial-scale chemical processing plants.
Conscious that chemical processing is energy intensive, The University of Manchester led research involving numerous industrial chemical manufacturing firms in collaboration with academics from Newcastle, Nottingham, Limerick and Purdue. They developed a suite of tools to identify ways to make chemical processing more efficient and sustainable - by saving energy, reducing waste and minimising chemical solvents.
Eight employees, £800,000 annual turnover.
The University created the not-for-profit company Britest in 2001 to transfer these tools to industry. Britest has since been hailed as "one of the most successful translations of research from academia... in the chemical and pharmaceutical sectors". The company has 24 member organisations and exclusive rights to the toolkit developed by the Manchester researchers. The tools, which take a holistic perspective of chemical processes rather than identifying improvements to individual steps, help manufacturers to save energy, reduce waste and minimise solvent use.
Since 2008 the Britest toolkit has supported more than 2,000 efficiency studies.
According to Sue Fleet, CEO of Britest, by following recommendations from the tools, manufacturers can increase throughput, reduce expenditure and improve the use of raw materials and resources. "A typical Britest process study realises a saving of £250,000", she remarks.
The Britest toolkit can increase throughput, reduce expenditure and improve resource management.
One company used the Britest toolkit to reduce its product cycle time from 41 days to 35 and raise its yield by 5%. This has effectively generated £80,000 in extra revenue per production cycle. Another used Britest to solve a problem with a drying process, leading to annual savings of £500,000.
Britest tools can also be used to optimise entire manufacturing processes. As a result, one company cut back two process stages and more than halved its production cycle time. The company has increased its production yield by around 80% while decreasing costs by 15%. The impact on profitability has been dramatic: annual revenue has risen by £160,000.
Researchers at The University of Manchester and collaborating institutions developed methodologies, models and a suite of decision support tools to improve industrial chemical processes. The project aimed to halve the time to launch for new products, halve capital costs and substantially improve manufacturing flexibility.
On average, a Britest process study realises savings of £250,000.
The team found ways for process analysts to capture and interrogate critical numerical and non-numerical process data by following a step-by-step, clear and robust methodology. The researchers designed the methodologies to make it easier for multidisciplinary groups involved in the design and operation of complex industrial process to communicate and understand information from each other. The methodology defines terminology so that chemists and engineers can discuss the phenomena behind industrial scale-up, for example, using a common 'language' that prevents costly misunderstandings.
Britest has delivered around £500 million in just five years.
The researchers also realised it was important for businesses to identify possible processing alternatives at an early stage in new product development as this would allow them to evaluate options with experiments and tests.
As a not-for-profit organisation, Britest continues to invest in the refinement of its models and the development of new tools and analytical methodologies. Recent projects have explored how Britest could be deployed to design high throughput systems and develop efficient strategies to adapt chemical reactions.
- Jorge Arizmendi-Sanchez
- Roger Davey
- John Garside
- Naheed Sadr Kazemi
- Aruna Manipura
- Paul Sharratt
- Tinoush Sheikhzeinoddin
- Kevin Wall
- Wall K, Sharratt PN, Sadr-Kazemi N and Borland JN (2000) "Plant-independent Process Representation", In: Sauro Pierucci (Ed.) Computer Aided Chemical Engineering, Elsevier, Volume 8, 721-726. DOI 10.1016/S1570-7946(00)80122-4
- Wall K, Sharratt PN, Sadr-Kazemi N and Borland JN (2001) "Plant-independent Process Representation", Org Proc Res & Dev, 5 (4): 434-437 Jul-Aug 2001 DOI 10.1021/op010002j
- Sharratt PN, Wall K and Borland JN (2003) "Generating innovative process designs using limited data", J. Chem Tech and Biotech, 78, 156-160 DOI 10.1002/jctb.718