Re-inventing the process industry

Louise Smyth

Modular plant concepts are globally on the rise as they shorten development and product cycles

If you want to compete in today’s dynamic world markets, flexibility is key – in every aspect.

Smaller batches, more specialised products, faster cycles - in the end, the quality needs to be right.

The tools for this are modularisation, automation, digitalisation.

The ACHEMA focus topic “Flexible Production” turns the spotlight on these trends and explores their potential.

The time-honoured process industries are facing a number of trends that will change them fundamentally.

Quick and flexible performance means to reduce complexity of production and this can be achieved best with modular plants.

Modularising monolithic plants as an afterthought is one of the big challenges of today’s process technology.

To make matters even more complex there are high demands concerning automation to get the process up and running quickly in terms of plug-and-produce.

It’s all the better that the chemical and pharmaceutical industries have always been open for innovation.

Thus, the dominating discussion these days is not how to manage, but what to make of these new developments and how to fully exploit their potential. This goes way beyond the question of how to plan, construct and operate a plant – but that is where the story begins.

Modular plant concepts are globally on the rise as they shorten development and product cycles and allow for more flexibility down to individualised small volume products. They offer the opportunity to design flexible and adaptable processes while considerably reducing the planning effort.

On the other hand, these advantages can only be fully exploited with a high degree of automation.

The supporters of a completely modular design strategy envision the various plant modules acting fully automated and autonomously, with communication via standardised interfaces and communication protocols.

Modularisation includes several levels from the process design and workflows to the planning phase based on reusable building blocks to construction and operation. Thus, not only do plant engineers have to think modular.

Equipment suppliers also need to offer components that meet their requirements: configurable elements to adapt to various operating conditions; a series of equipment providing the same functionality at different operational scales; or concepts for the serial or parallel numbering-up of basic elements.

These components have to fit into standardised planning processes and must be fitted with a certain level of ‘intelligence’ to ensure flexibility in process control and module lifecycle concepts.

The outcome of this approach is more than just increased efficiency, less time-to-market or shorter shutdown periods. The digital integration of the value chain is the next step. Especially for chemical companies that traditionally produce large volumes of bulk commodities, this opens up completely new business models. Integrating products and services into new solution packages, offering customised products to customers further down the value chain or cooperating closer with consumer industries and service providers – the opportunities are manifold.

The ACHEMA focus topic Flexible Production offers the chance to discuss these challenges right where the heart of the global process industries is beating– at ACHEMA 2018 from June 11-15 in Frankfurt, Germany.

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