Always Be Learning Leadership Skills

leadership skills

One way to be a better leader? Always be thinking about ways to become a better leader. I see lessons about leadership skills in my reading about sports, current events and more. Today, I thought I’d share some examples that have prompted personal leadership insights as I look to constantly develop and embrace change.

First, leadership requires taking full responsibility for the company, project, process or whatever you are leading. What are some examples? Well, whether you like him or not, Tom Brady routinely takes personal responsibility for his actions as well as the actions of his team. Another example is “EK” the 25-year-old coach of the soccer team trapped in the Thai cave for over 3 weeks. He acknowledged his actions and accepted full responsibility even sending notes to the boys’ parents apologizing for having led the team astray. 

Secondly, a leader exudes confidence in his abilities and his team’s abilities. Brady is the master of making comebacks and finding a way to win; his confidence transfers to his teammates. EK may have made the biggest misstep of his life but he also exhibited confidence and strength when the team needed it most. 

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Next, leaders are cool under fire. Leaders set the tone in a crisis and can inspire others. While TV illustrates Brady’s explosive drive on the sidelines, he’s quite calm on the field. Under tense circumstances, EK kept himself and his boys steady until help arrived.  When you keep your cool and don’t get rattled as a leader, you can make better and more thoughtful decisions.

Leadership is a Balancing Act

Communication, hard work and knowing the market and the competition are also essential for leaders. Leaders should also put themselves second to their employees as it creates an environment of trust and cooperation. 

Brady will put his team first to accomplish a goal — the next Super Bowl win. In the Thai example, EK was the last person out of the cave and even refused food and water for himself, choosing instead to give his rations to the boys. This prioritizing of his team members likely helped EK to command respect and cooperation from his young players.

Finally, leaders also taking time to recharge and find balance. I practice yoga every day and have written about my practice and breathing in this blog. There is, however, no one checklist to follow for achieving balance. What’s most important to you will change depending upon where you are in your career. The balancing act will encompass a leader’s drive for and valuation of knowledge, professional expertise, lifelong learning, relationships, family, community, and openness to self-questioning and to change. 

I’d love to read your ideas on leadership and learn how you balance your guiding principles and life pillars. Let me know!

What Type of Engineer Are You?

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There are may different types of engineer. Recently, I read some interesting articles about defining engineers by their skills and depth of knowledge. This blog asks you to consider, what’s your skill shape: I…T…or Key?  

In the 1970’s, companies wanted staff with an I-shaped skill level. What does this mean? I-Shaped Skills reflected a person with a deep (vertical) expertise in one area and practically no experience or knowledge in other areas. This person would typically be known as a specialist. It could be one process, one type of distillation, one type of pump, etc. I remember the days when my employer, Eastman Chemical, had flange specialists, o-ring specialists, vacuum pump specialists. The other large chemical companies, such as Dow Chemical, had similarly focused engineers.

In the 1980s, McKinsey & Company developed the idea of the T-shaped professional. The vertical bar on the T represents strong knowledge in a specific discipline. The horizontal bar represents a wide yet shallow knowledge in other areas. This allows the person to collaborate across other disciplines and acquire new skills or knowledge. Chemical companies have T-shaped engineers such as filtration experts, drying experts, solids handling experts, etc. These engineers can support all types of applications across all of the operations at various sites.  

One classic T was Thomas Edison, who wanted the people around him to know a lot of different things. All his prospective employees had to take a test of 150 questions geared toward different jobs and classifications of workers.

Today, the visualization of skills concept has expanded to include the elusive key-shaped professional—a person who has several areas of expertise with varying degrees of depth. The introduction of the key-shaped professional is largely due to the rapid proliferation of technological advances and the cross-disciplinary nature of work. Across industries and professions, the ability to use technology to assimilate and apply information has created a new, broader expectation of the standard skills professionals should have.

As a result, we’re seeing new parallels between skills sought in business and process engineering.  The top skills include embracing new technology, understanding data, and thinking critically about that data. 

Becoming a Key-Shaped Engineer

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So, how do you become a Key-shaped professional? I have made several suggestions in other blogs:

So, now you may ask, how do I describe myself? Early in my career, I was T-shaped with knowledge about solid-liquid separation. As I progressed, I became more of a Key shape with knowledge about varied topics such as centrifugation, drying, solids handling, mixing and other process operations as well as technical business marketing and startups. 

I encourage you to think about your own skills shape. It might prompt a learning opportunity, and I’d be happy to help where I can with your transformations.

Troubleshooting Filter Aids and Filtration Systems

 

filter aids
Cellulose filter: Imerys Filtration Minerals Inc.

Filter aid pretreatment can improve filtration properties and efficient removal of fine solids. Whether the filter aids are used in Plate-and-frame filter presses, horizontal and vertical pressure leaf filters, candle or tubular filters, Nutsche filters, or rotary vacuum drum filters, these practical tips can help this part of the process run smoothly.

We typically see diatomite, perlite and cellulose filter aids today. They meet the requirements of a filter aid in that they:

  • Consist of rigid, complex shaped, discrete particles;
  • Form a permeable, stable, incompressible filter cake;
  • Remove fine solids at high flow rates; and
  • Remain chemically inert and insoluble in the process liquid.

You’ll want to test different approaches to determine the best aid for your process and which of the methods — precoat or body feed — offers the greatest benefits. Once you’ve done so, though, it’s important to keep these troubleshooting tips in mind.

Practical Pointers for Using Filter Aids

Whether the process is precoating or body feeding, the filter aid slurry tank and pump are critical to the operation. 

In precoating, the mix tank should be a round, vertical tank with a height twice its diameter. Set the usable volume of the precoat tank at ≈1.25–1.5 times the volume of the filter plus the connecting lines. Use a mixer or agitator with large slow-speed impellers to avoid filter aid degradation and the creation of fines — otherwise you’ll dramatically change the filter aid process filtration.

The precoating pumps almost always are centrifugal pumps because they produce no pulsations to disturb precoat formation and their internal parts usually have hardened surfaces and open impellers to reduce wear. For body feeding, you’ll use positive displacement pumps.

Yet even when the feed tank and pump are correct, several typical issues with filtration/filter-aid systems can arise.

Bleed-through is common where the filter aid is bypassing the filter media. It may stem from mechanical, operational or process causes. Check a couple of mechanical points: 

  • Is the filter medium secured to the filter correctly? 
  • Does the filter medium have a tear or pinholes? 
  • Is the type of filter aid correct for the filter medium mesh size and the particle size distribution of the process solids? 
  • Is the pump working correctly (flow, pressure, etc.)? 
  • Is the proper amount of filter aid being added?

Another issue may be reduced filtration cycles — i.e., the time to reach the maximum pressure drop becomes shorter and shorter. This may occur:

  • if the cake isn’t being discharged completely, then each new batch has residual solids in the filter, resulting in lower capacities. Increasing precoat height or lengthening cake drying time may help improve cake discharge. 
  • if the precoat doesn’t completely cover the filter medium, then the process solids may begin to blind the medium. 
  • if you’re using body feed, inadequate mixing with the process solids may result in filter medium blinding. This also can happen if the velocity in the filter vessel is too low, which will allow the filter aid to settle out before reaching the filter elements. A bypass at the top of the filter vessel can help keep the solids suspended within the vessel.

On filters with vertical elements, precoat pump flowrate or pressure may cause loss of the precoat from the filter medium, Improper valve sequencing creating a sudden change in the pressure or flowrate may also be to blame. Finally, a mechanical issue with the filter may prompt a pulsation or pressure change that impacts the cake structure.

Apply Filter Aids Wisely

Employing filter aids to help filtration is tricky; most process operations try to eliminate or minimize their use. However, sometimes they are unavoidable.

To succeed with filter aids, a process engineer should take three essential steps:

  1. Conduct lab testing to examine the filtration operation (vacuum or pressure), cake thickness, filter aid quantities, filter medium and other parameters that are crucial to the process design;
  2. Ensure correct mechanical design to provide optimum precoat or body feed handling and distribution; and
  3. Arrange for operator training on the filtration technology as well as on filter aid operation.

This blog is an edited version of an article I co-authored with Garrett Bergquist, BHS-Sonthofen Inc. for Chemical Processing.

Summer Workplace Safety & Testing Assumptions

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Summer is here! That means swimming, barbecues, and watermelon. I’ve got to admit, though, I’ll be looking at watermelons a lot differently this season. 

Recently, I came across a Black & Veatch video illustrating the importance of wearing your hardhat. They did it by demonstrating structural bolt falling from 20 and 30 feet onto a watermelon. 

While physics is not my primary background, I thought it would be interesting to share Rhett Allain’s discussion of the video’s science.

Allain notes he’s skeptical of the video’s claim that the one-pound piece will have an impact force of about 2,000 pounds when it collides after falling 20 feet. He notes “it’s really difficult to calculate the impact force for a couple of reasons”: impact force is typically not constant plus impact force depends on the stopping distance. 

He suggests instead that the falling bolt problem is a “perfect situation in which to use the work-energy principle.” He goes on to discuss the many considerations such as the one pound bolt falling its distance, making contact with the watermelon and still moving some distance, and the backward-pushing force on the bolt. He puts it all together in a work-energy equation:

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Then he considers impact force, and tries to determine why the bolt dropped from 30 feet instead of 20 feet smashes through the watermelon. He notes, “Honestly, I have no idea where they are getting their values for this video. (They probably need a good science consultant.)”

Clearly, in the video, the melon breaks. Its structural integrity is disrupted and it falls apart. It’s a gooey mess, and no one wants to think of the same thing happening to their head.

Allain points out also that a hard hat will increase impact force so that “if the bolt hits the hard hat and stops over a shorter distance, this would produce a higher average force.” Yet he also notes, “the hard hat does do one thing that’s very nice. Since the hat has a rigid surface, it distributes the impact force over a larger area, which reduces the impact pressure. Lower pressure means there is less chance that the bolt will penetrate your head.”

Ah, what a relief! Even if you don’t get the physics.

Key Takeaway

Ultimately, this video and Allain’s discussion had me thinking again about the importance of workplace safety. At the same time, Allain’s questioning the science demonstrated reminds me of my consistent warning against assumptions. We need to always be testing our thinking, whether it’s about filtration technology or busting watermelons. Be safe this summer!

Removing Catalyst Fines From Raney Nickel Catalyst Reactions

 

Raney nickel catalysts
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Whether you call it Raney nickel or Raney mud, this alloy of aluminum and nickel is a reagent common to many organic processes. Currently, most Raney nickel catalyst slurries are clarified with the use of manual plate or nutsche filters, bag filters, or cartridge filters. 

Yet any of these approaches require manual operations for cake discharge and cleaning between batches or campaigns. At the same time, they accrue high labor, maintenance and disposal costs  and  expose operators and the environment to toxic and hazardous solvents, solids and contaminated filter tools.  

BHS developed a more contained, cost-effective approach using batch-operated, pressure-filtration systems candle filters. 

A Candle Filter Primer

A candle filter is a pressure vessel filled with tubular filters called candles. The candle is comprised of a filtrate pipe, a perforated core with supporting tie rods, and a filter sock.

The filtrate pipe runs the length of the candle and ensures high liquid flow, as well as maximum distribution of the gas during cake discharge. The tie rods create an annular space between the filter sock and the perforated core, which helps maintain a low pressure drop during operation and promotes efficient expansion of the filter sock during cake discharge. The filter sock, made of various synthetic materials, is installed over the candle and can remove particles smaller than 1 micron (μm).

As the cake builds during operation, the candle filter’s removal efficiency increases, enabling removal of particles as small as approximately 0.5 μm. During operation, pressure from the reactor forces the slurry into the bottom of the pressure vessel. The solids build up on the outside of the filter sock, while the liquid filtrate flows into the candle through the registers and out of the vessel. This process continues until the maximum pressure drop, design cake thickness, minimum flow, or filtration time is reached. 

For concentrated cake discharge, low-pressure gas enters in the reverse direction through the registers and into the individual candles and expands the filter socks. This process breaks apart the cake, which detaches from the filter sock and falls into the vessel cone. The cake is then discharged as a concentrated slurry. 

Raney Nickel Catalyst with Candle Filters for Slurry Discharge

In this application, the current process after the reactor is gravity separation, hydrocyclones and then followed with cartridges and bag filters.  The specification for the process liquid (diamine and water) is less than 3 ppm catalyst.  This recovery process was inefficient and exposes the operators to the diamine and catalysts creating a safety hazard.  The average particle size is 2 um and amorphous crystals.   

Lab testing and pilot testing was conducted to determine a processing scheme that eliminates solvent exposure, reduces the maintenance and operation requirements of the current scheme and recovers the catalyst to less than 3 ppm.  The final design was a BHS slurry-discharge candle filter with 19 m2 of filtration area. 

Candle Filters for Raney nickel Slurry Discharge

BHS developed this approach working with a client whose process after the reactor included gravity separation, hydrocyclones, then followed with cartridges and bag filters. The specification for the process liquid (diamine and water) was less than 3 ppm catalyst. The average particle size was 2 um and amorphous crystals. Yet, this recovery process was inefficient and exposed operators to the diamine and catalysts, which created a safety hazard.  

BHS conducted lab  and pilot testing to determine a processing scheme that eliminated solvent exposure, reduced maintenance and operation requirements, and recovered the catalyst to less than 3 ppm. The final design was a BHS slurry-discharge candle filter with 19 m2 of filtration area. Learn more about this application in this article.

Chemical Engineers & Our Superstitions

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Superstitions surround us: Touching wood? Carrying a rabbit’s foot? Collecting lucky pennies? Not stepping on any cracks? The list goes on and on. 

On one of my many chemical filtration business trips (many people have superstitions making flights safer), I read an interesting article on superstitions in the Wall Street Journal’s (WSJ) Magazine. Six luminaries from different walks of life — photography, acting, cooking, writing, directing and music — weighed in. But, alas, there were no chemical engineers.  So, I thought I’d remedy that in a blog. 

The WSJ article featured various thoughts on superstitions. Some defined superstitions based upon religion and culture passed on from many generations. Another outlined a simple ritual such as “when hearing the title of a Scottish play, one would run outside, turn around three times, then knock on the door to come back inside the theatre.” Then, there were “routines” to keep your days identical (i.e. the same workout, the same coffee, etc.). Others talked about superstitions as an attempt at “having control of what you can control.”

However, the one overriding theme, as photographer Gregory Crewdson stated, is that a belief in superstition “comes down to order” and wanting “to clear your path of unknowns.”  

Clearing the Path for Chemical Engineers

So, how does all that relate to chemical engineering?

If you accept Crewdson’s view, all chemical engineers are superstitious. We are always trying to clear our paths of the unknown. In every chemical filtration process, it is the unknowns that give us the most headaches. Why does the pump keep plugging? Why does the filtration system not produce a clean filtrate? Why is the process not meeting the production rates?  The questions we face are endless! But our job remains the same, we must “clear our paths of the unknown.”

Regular readers will know where I’m going with this…Test! Test! Test! Testing is our way of answering questions in controlled environments. To develop a process or troubleshoot an existing one, we need to ask the correct questions, think critically, walk around the plant, etc.  

Contact me with your superstitions for solving critical filtration and drying applications.  Let’s have fun exploring what we all do in chemical filtration.  

Inventive Filtration Technologies for Palladium Recovery 

 

Palladium Recovery
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Many times we encounter an “if it ain’t broke don’t fix it,” mentality. Process engineers in particular run up against this constantly. Yet, when it comes to palladium recovery, we’ve seen some strong results from taking an inventive approach to the filtration technologies uses. Currently, in recovering palladium catalysts the slurries are clarified with the use of filter presses, manual plate or nutsche filters, bag filters, or cartridge filters.  

All of these require manual operations for cake discharge and cleaning between batches or campaigns. Other drawback include: 

  • high labor and maintenance costs
  • high disposal costs 
  • exposure of the operators to toxic and hazardous solvents and solids 
  • environmental impact of used and contaminated filter cloth, bag filters and filter cartridges.  

A new approach developed by BHS uses Pressure Plate Filters, which are batch-operated, pressure-filtration systems. Here’s what’s involved.

Pressure Plate Filtration SystemsScreen Shot 2019-01-14 at 3.13.55 PM.png

Pressure plate filters are comprised of filter plates, contained within a pressure vessel. The vessel contains the circular horizontal filter plates in a plate stack. The slightly sloped plates are conical-shaped metal that support a coarse-mesh backing screen covered with filter cloth. An opening in the center of the plate allows the filtrate to travel between plates and out of the vessel. 

The slurry enters the bottom of the vessel and is pumped upward. The solids build up between the plates, while the liquid flows through the core of the filter plates and exits from the top of the vessel. The cake is then washed and dried. Two unbalance motors vibrate the filter plates to dislodge the cake from the filter cloth so it can be discharged. 

Pressure plate filters are used for filtration of cakes greater than 20 mm thick. They are selected for cakes that are stable horizontally because of the orientation of the plates. 

Palladium Catalyst Filtration, Washing and Drying 

There are many choices of technologies, but we’ve found pressure plate filters provide higher quality filtration. In one application, manual filter presses were used to recover and reuse the palladium catalyst. The filter presses exposed the operators to the process and had inefficient washing and drying. The process had a very short cycle of 4 hours per batch.

However, when the BHS pressure plate filter technology was implemented, the filtration, two-step cake washing, nitrogen blow drying and cake discharge were all completed in less than 4 hours with full containment.  Read the full article to learn more.

Changing it Up with Mixer-Dryer-Reactor Acquisition

 

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Starting off 2019, I talked about push pushing ourselves personally and professionally to embrace change. Well, I’m a man of my word, and I’m proud to announce a big change in filtration technology at BHS-Sonthofen GmbH. We’re looking at 2019 as a year of growth, starting with the acquisition of the internationally active AVA-GmbH technology company.

AVA, based just outside of Munich, Germany, has 25+ years under its belt producing innovative machines and efficient processes for any industry. They tackle mixing, drying, reacting, granulating, sterilizing, evaporating, humidifying, and homogenizing to combine engineering expertise and project management know-how to provide “tailor-made solutions from a single source.”

AVA’s product portfolio is a perfect fit with BHS. Having already cooperated with them on joint projects in the past, we can be sure that our company is only strengthened by this move.

In addressing the sale, Dennis Kemmann, Managing Director of BHS-Sonthofen GmbH was enthusiastic about the opportunity to combine our products to have an “even more comprehensive offering in all of our chemical, pharmaceutical and other markets.” 

Expanding Process Filtration Technology Technologies

BHS’s latest newsletter looks at the pairing in more particular applications. You can read more about selecting AVA Vertical or Horizontal Mixer-Dryers for Batch of or Continuous Operations. The goal is a streamlined approach handling as many processes as possible in one unit to curtail investment and process costs. 

Three of AVA’s multipurpose process machines are presented as possibilities to cover the vast majority of the application spectrum of the powder and granule processing industry:

  • AVA Vertical mixer-dryers for batch operation
  • AVA Horizontal mixer-dryers for batch operation
  • AVA Horizontal mixer-dryers for continuous operation

The newsletter also mentions the AVA test center in Germany, which allows customers to scale up from 15 – 90 liter batch mixer-dryer to full scale batch and continuous operations with full scale-up reports and drying curves issued after testing. The US test center in Charlotte, North Carolina will be completed in 4Q, 2019.

Ultimately, the AVA acquisition is good news for current and prospective clients. This change means more innovative process engineering solutions as well as an expanded team to support our customers. The combination of BHS and AVA systems will provide important process benefits for turnkey projects for our clients worldwide. Let me know what we can do for you!

Novel Filtration Technologies for Pharmaceutical Hydrogenation

pharmaceutical hydrogenation
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When it comes to removing catalyst fines from pharmaceutical hydrogenation reactions, BHS Filtration has come up with a novel approach.

Currently, most hydrogenation slurries are clarified with the use of manual plate or nutsche filters, bag filters, or cartridge filters. All of these require manual operations for cake discharge and cleaning between batches or campaigns. At the same time, these units suffer from high labor, maintenance and disposal costs as well as the exposure of the operators and the environment to toxic and hazardous solvents and solids, used and contaminated filter cloth, bag filters, and filter cartridges.  

A new approach uses candle filters which are batch-operated, pressure-filtration systems.

Understanding Candle Filters

A candle filter is a pressure vessel filled with tubular filters called candles. The candle is comprised of:

  • filtrate pipe —  runs the length of the candle and ensures high liquid flow, as well as maximum distribution of the gas during cake discharge.
  • perforated core with supporting tie rods —  the tie rods create an annular space between the filter sock and the perforated core, which helps to maintain a low pressure drop during operation and promotes efficient expansion of the filter sock during cake discharge
  • filter sock — installed over the candle, and made of various synthetic materials, the filter sock is capable of removing particles smaller than 1 micron (μm). As the cake builds during operation, the candle filter’s removal efficiency increases, enabling removal of particles as small as approximately 0.5 μm.

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Candle Filter in Action

During operation, pressure from the reactor forces the slurry into the bottom of the pressure vessel. The solids build up on the outside of the filter sock, while the liquid filtrate flows into the candle, through the registers, and out of the vessel. This process continues until the maximum pressure drop, design cake thickness, minimum flow, or filtration time is reached. The cake is then washed to remove impurities and residual mother liquor. Finally, the cake is dried. 

For cake discharge, low-pressure gas enters in the reverse direction through the registers and into the individual candles and expands the filter socks. This process breaks apart the dry cake, which detaches from the filter sock and falls into the vessel cone. The cake can also be discharged as a concentrated slurry. 

Pharmaceutical Hydrogenation Application 

In the pharmaceutical catalytic hydrogenation application, the current process after the reactor is metal bag filters for slurry discharge into manual nutsche “clamshell” filters for vacuum filtration and drying.  The process was time-consuming and required handling of liquids and solids including final “manual dig out” of the filters.  The process solvent was tetrahydrofuran (THF) and ethanol.

Lab testing was conducted to develop a new, one-step process for filtration and drying.  The BHS candle filters with pharma designed candles and cGMP compliance allowed for a revamp of the operation with two filters, one-on/one-off for continuous operation.  Read the full article and let me know what you think!

Application of Separation Techniques & Full Containment

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Process engineers devote their time to finding the appropriate application of separation techniques. There’s need for effective solid-liquid separation, cake washing, and drying steps across industries. In many chemical and pharmaceutical processes, the production operations are further complicated by the nature of the process, especially if the process is air-sensitive or toxic.  

The solid-liquid separation step may be accomplished by pressure, vacuum, or centrifugation in a batch or continuous mode. In this step, further choices need to be made regarding the type of filter media and the thickness of the cake or the cake depth during which the separation occurs. To optimize the production process, I’ve found value in thin-cake (2-25 mm) pressure separation technology for full containment, no residual heel.

Importance of Thin-Cake Filtration

Thin-cake solid-liquid separation can be defined as the formation of a cake in the 2-20 mm thickness range.  In this range, cake compressibility becomes less important in the cake building stage of a separation process.  Compressible cakes can be better handled at thinner cake depths and higher pressures. 

For example, an amorphous crystal that does not centrifuge well or requires long filtration times on Nutsche Filter-Dryers can be filtered at 45 psig with a cake thickness of 2 – 3 mm.  Thin-cakes also lend themselves to more effective washing and drying as there is less of a chance of channeling and the mechanism of “plug-flow” of liquids or gases is enhanced.

Impacting Filtration Performance

There are several parameters that can impact filtration performance:

  • Filtration pressure
  • Temperature
  • Particle size/Particle size distribution
  • Particle shape
  • Cake washing
  • Drying of the filter cake.

BHS’s Autopress technology can conduct filtration, cake washing, pressure and vacuum drying all in a contained environment. Cake discharge is complete. There is no residual liquid or solid heel, which is an important benefit for air-sensitive and toxic products.

Application of filtration techniques
Filter plate

Understanding Autopress Technology

This fully enclosed filter press, with circular filter plates, allows flow in forward and reverse directions. The filter plates (which can use synthetic or metal media) are contained in pressurized filter housing with a gas-inflated membrane sealing the annular space. Thus, all operations are contained from full vacuum to 150 psig.  

The operation of the AP Filter begins with slurry filling to form thin filter cakes of typically 5 – 25 mm thickness.  Pressure filtration continues operating up to 8 barg.  The cake can then be mechanically compressed to eliminate cracking to ensure maximum washing efficiency in the forward or reverse direction.  Finally, the cake can be pre-dried or fully dried either by vacuum or blowing gas through the cake. Gentle drying without agitation or tumbling is especially important for fragile crystals and thixotropic cakes.  Elastomeric knives sequentially and automatically discharge the circular cakes after which the filter begins a new cycle. 

Read more about this topic in an article I wrote for PharmaChem. My take-away is that with close collaboration between the client and the vendor, we can do the kind of creative problem-solving that applies the separation technique needed to achieve production objectives.