Dryer Selection and Bulk Solids Handling 

 

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Image source: https://www.toolshero.com/decision-making/blindspot-analysis/

Solids handling is not a unit operation. Therefore, it’s not covered in engineering courses. This leaves process engineers struggling to understand the “flowability” of bulk solids. This blind spot is huge. So, let’s talk about dryer selection and bulk solids handling.

Recently in The Chemical Engineer, Grant Wellwood described bulk solids handling as the biggest industrial activity on the planet. The article estimated “that >70% of everything we use or consume involves bulk solids handling somewhere in its lifecycle.”

Mishandled, this process can quickly and efficiently destroy product value, careers, projects and even organizations. Yet, bulk solids flow is often an afterthought once the separation and drying equipment is selected. This article aims to bring bulk solids handling to the forefront.

Bulk Solids Handling Parameters

Bulk solids are defined as materials (solids) handled in various volumes and counts. Their flowability is impacted or controlled by friction (particle-particle or particle-surface). During the drying process, solids go through different phases such as free moisture, bound moisture, thixotropic and finally (and hopefully) free flowing.  

The selected dryer must be able to handle each phase without creating fines, balls that can trap liquids, and without adding additional heat due to friction.  

Here are some of the process and design parameters engineers need to consider for dryer selection:

  • Dryer Process: Batch, Continuous, Atmospheric/ Vacuum, Turbulent, Gentle, Ring-Layer, Feeding  (Volumetric or Gravimetric), Upstream and Downstream Equipment
  • Recipes: Number of ingredients, Frequency of campaigns, Cleaning operations, Product integrity (fines generation) after drying and  Residence time
  • Dryer Performance: Batch size, Filling levels, and  Production volume
  • Product Characteristics: Quality, Bulk density, Tendency of segregation & agglomeration, Thixotropic phase, Shape, Size, Homogeneity, Risk of separation, Flow properties, Abrasiveness, and Moisture & Temperature
  • Mixer design: Material of construction,  Surface quality, Heating/cooling, Liquid feeding, Type of mixing tools, Speed of mixing tools and degree of back mixing
  • Dryer Integration: Material flow, Physical space, Process sampling, safety requirements, etc.

It’s a lot to think about. Westwood observed in his thorough article, “When handling bulk solids, it’s always important to take a holistic or systems view because of the complex dependencies.”

BHS & Bulk Solids Handling

As my readers know, BHS provides for thin-cake filtration, cake washing and dewatering based upon pressure or vacuum, for batch or continuous operations from high solids slurries to clarification applications with solids to 1% and trace amounts.  

In 2018, BHS acquired AVA mixers and dryers based in Herrsching (Munich) Germany.  VA is in the unique position to provide both vertical and horizontal technologies providing for turbulent as well as gentle mixing, reacting and drying of wet cakes, powders and process slurries. The technologies are vacuum or atmospheric, batch and continuous, for final drying to “bone-dry” powders. The BHS technical article, Dryer Selection, explains the designs as well as selection parameters.  

We know that solids change when processed from a wet-cake to bone-dry powder. Process engineers need to do the tests and trial and error to better understand these changes. As I often say, we can’t jump to conclusions.

Our process engineers would be happy to help at the BHS test center. With an understanding of how the flow properties change, depending on “complex interactions between particle size and distribution, moisture content and distribution, process history (time and manner), mineral composition, surface texture and condition as well as ambient conditions, just to name a few…” the dryer selection can begin in an educated manner. 

Good luck and feel free to contact me for help with your bulk solids handling questions.

Containment of Slurries in Continuous and Batch Operations

Slurries
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In the 1970s, the chemical operations used acetone and benzene for the main slurry solid-liquid separation process. Next, there was a push to minimize solvent use. We looked to use water as the process liquid, but still had open filter presses and rotary drum filters; the entire plant was white from titanium dioxide or pharma stearates.

Today, we all know that processes remain open with filter presses, vacuum filters, and centrifuges. Our job is finding solid-liquid separation process solutions that can be contained for high solids slurries (greater than 10% solids) during filtration, cake washing, and dewatering/drying. This discussion considers your options for both batch and continuous operations.

Batch operations

When it comes to batch operations there are many possible ways to go.

Nutsche filter-dryers. Sized to take the complete batch from the reactor and process it to completion (final dryness). The nutsche filter contains an agitator, normally three blades, sealed to the vessel and moving up and down, clockwise and counter-clockwise. The agitated nutsche filter can conduct pressure filtration, cake smoothing, cake washing (displacement and reslurry washing), vacuum and pressure drying, and then automatic cake discharge.

The agitated nutsche filter-dryer is based upon thick cakes from 5–7 cm up to 30 cm and higher. For this type of filter to be successful, the cake permeability must be able to accept a deep cake without compression. Circular or rectangular filter media with a drainage layer is installed on a perforated filter plate.

Contained filter-presses. A contained unit does not require a process change and can operate at a cake thickness down to 2.5 cm, which is not possible in a nutsche filter-dryer. In a typical contained filter-press design a housing seals the plates. Improved designs include pressure filtration up to 1m Pa, cake washing in the forward and reverse direction, cake drying in the forward and reverse direction using pressure blowing and vacuum, as well as automatic cake discharge.

Contained centrifuges. These vary in design depending upon the operation and the type of centrifuge (such as horizontal peeler, inverting basket, and disk centrifuges). Centrifuges can be blanked or inerted for operation as well as sealed designs.

Continuous Operations

In continuous operations with slurries new options surface.

Rotary pressure filters. A continuous pressure filter designed for thin cake to deep cake filtration with cake depths from 6–150 mm. A slowly rotating drum (6–60 rph) is divided into segments (called cells) each with their own filter media (synthetic cloth or single or multilayer metal) and outlet for filtrate or gas.

The outlets are manifolded internally to a service/control head where each stream can be directed to a specific plant piping scheme or collection tank. In this way, the mother liquor can be kept separate from the subsequent washing filtrates and drying gases. This allows for better process control as well as reuse and recovery of solvents and the gases. 

Pressurized vacuum drum filters. A rotating drum inside a pressure vessel. The unit consists of a filter drum, slurry trough, agitator, wash bars, and a pressure let-down rotary valve. The process begins by closing the pressure vessel, pressurizing the vessel with compressed gas. The rotary valve is also pressurized for sealing, and the filter trough is filled via the suspension feed pipe. The agitator is started to keep the solids in suspension. Filtration, cake washing, and drying are by vacuum operation.

Indexing vacuum belt filters. Provides for vacuum filtration, cake washing, pressing, and drying of high solids slurries. The technology is based upon fixed vacuum trays, a continuously-feeding slurry system and indexing or step-wise movement of the filter media. In practical terms, the operational features of the belt filter can be viewed as a series of Buchner funnels.

For the process operation, due to the stepwise operation of the belt, washing and drying efficiencies are maximized with the stopped belt and a plug-flow mechanism for gases and liquids. Cake pressing and squeezing further enhances drying. Finally, the fixed trays allow for the mother liquor and the wash filtrates to be recovered individually and recirculated, recovered, or reused for a more efficient operation. 

Final Thoughts

Process engineers have many choices to contain an operation. The decision is not easy:

  • Is the process batch or continuous?
  • Is it a thin-cake or thick-cake operation?
  • What is the filter media (synthetic or metal)?
  • What are the critical process steps?
  • What about maintenance and other parameters?

The design questions go on and on. In the end, whatever you choose, involve process, production, operations, and maintenance in your decisions.

This blog is an adapted version of my article for The Chemical Engineer. Read the full article here!

Engineer Checklists and Learning from Apollo

engineer checklists

Recently, I discussed the five management lessons that we can learn from the Apollo lunar landing in 1969. Continuing on this theme, an article in The Chemical Engineer, “Houston-We have a checklist” a UK magazine that I write for, had an interesting take on the lunar landing and engineer checklists.  I was intrigued, of course, as I periodically invoke Sherlock Holmes and the benefits of checklists for testing, analysis, etc.   

The magazine article, written by Mark Yates, looks at the checklists used both at Mission Control and in space. He takes us through the Apollo missions where there could be two spacecraft both operating remotely 240,000 miles from Earth and out of communications contact with Earth for significant periods of time.

Checklists and cue cards covered everything from mission rules, abort criteria, emergency procedures and activation of backup systems in the event of a total failure of a primary control system for example. These checklists and procedures went everywhere. In fact, each Moon-walking astronaut would have a book of procedures strapped to his left wrist that he could follow out on the lunar surface.

In fact, all of the Apollo crews would each log over 100 hours familiarizing themselves with the numerous procedures and checklists. Apollo 11’s Command Module Pilot Michael Collins called them the “fourth crew member.” These checklists were also one of the first examples of digital computers and man being able to operate together seamlessly.  One of the actual checklists used by the Apollo 11 crew is shown below:

Chemical Engineering Checklists

How do we use checklists in chemical engineering?  We have many uses for them. For example, if you visit an earlier blog, you’ll find checklists and application details for filtration testing.  

For AVA mixer and dryer testing, we use the following checklists:

  1. Measure bulk density
  2. Measure moisture content
  3. Measure wet cake 
  4. Make sure to ground the dryer for electrostatic charges
  5. Measure RPM
  6. Record jacket temperature and product temperature
  7. Measure vapor stream 
  8. Measure vacuum level
  9. Measure dry cake and drying time to develop drying curves 

The Apollo missions were 50 years ago, but checklists are still critical for safe and efficient operations. Whether you’re an astronaut or an engineer!

Common Myths About Engineers

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As a regular reader of Chemical Engineering Progress (CEP), I was impressed to see its Editor-in-Chief Cindy Mascone writing her monthly editorial as a poem. She mentioned that when she writes for the magazine “accuracy, clarity, and conciseness take precedence over all else.” But that doesn’t mean she can’t be creative too! Her poem got me thinking about common myths about engineers.

  1. We aren’t creative
  2. We lack social skills
  3. We want to fix everything (whether it needs it or not)
  4. We’re quantitative wonks
  5. We are boring (just in case that wasn’t clear from being a quantitative wonk)
  6. We’re not open to new areas of inquiry or interest

Get to know an engineer!

Of course, I beg to differ. I like to think of this blog as one outlet for creativity. Plus, every time we come up with a new solution or problem-solve in a new way, we’re showing not only critical, but also creative thinking.

I’ve written a lot about troubleshooting in filtration technology, but not because we do it for kicks. We do it to improve a process or solve a problem. Really, we’d rather be innovating — which, again, is just how non-boring and creative we can be.

We may know our numbers, and some of us can be a little socially awkward (but plenty of liberal arts enthusiasts are too). Still, I’d argue that we are generally creative, inquisitive, and downright interesting folks!

And now, because I know you’re curious, I can also share the poem itself:

Ode to the March 2019 Issue of CEP

This month we feature process intensification

One aspect of which may be flow augmentation

Equipment that is smaller or does more than one function

To the old paradigm, PI causes disruption.

The first article tells of three RAPID teams

Whose projects are the stuff of dreams

Microwaves, solar hydrogen, and hydrofracking

Energy-saving ideas, they are not lacking.

A dividing-wall column replaces two towers with one

It changes the way distillation is done

With a smaller footprint and lower capital cost

And on top of that, no efficiency’s lost.

So how do you optimize an intensified route?

That’s what the next article is about

Use this building block approach to process design

And watch your energy use decline.

A digital twin software tools can create

To capture the process’s every possible state

You can study alternatives and run what-if tests

To figure out which option is best.

This issue contains many other things, too

Whatever your interests, there’s something for you

The same can be said of the Spring Meeting which will

Take place in New Orleans and be quite a thrill

Check out the preview after page seventy-four

For sessions and keynotes and events galore.

I’ve run out of space so now I must stop

But if you like this poem, to the website please hop

There’s more rhyming about CEP and its staff

I hope I have made you smile and laugh.

Thank you for coming to read more of my poem

On the website or app that is our virtual home.

The authors who write for this fine magazine

Do it not for the money but to get their names seen

By thousands of people at sites far and wide

For this publication is a valuable guide.

The topics they cover in their technical articles

Range from safety and computers to fluids and particles

From water and energy, from bio to dust

From nano to columns that are resistant to rust

From instrumentation to exchangers of heat

Among chemical magazines, CEP can’t be beat.

Our readers know not what we editors do

To make the articles understandable for you

Each page is read over many times with great care

To ensure that no typos can be found anywhere

That tables and figures are in the right places

That all the text fits with no empty spaces

That references include all the necessary data

That symbol font correctly displays mu, rho, and beta

That hyphens appear everywhere hyphens are needed

That the proofreader’s comments have been fully heeded.

We take pride in our work and we love what we do

Bringing the latest technology and information to you

But now we must turn to next month’s content

And make sure every moment on the job is well spent.

Reprinted with permission from Chemical Engineering Progress (CEP), March 2019. Copyright © 2019 American Institute of Chemical Engineers (AIChE)

Inspired to write your own technical poetry? Engineering verse? I’d love to see it and share it here! Who knows, maybe there is an anthology in the works!

 

Moonshot & Management Lessons   

Management lessons

2019 is the 50th anniversary of the Miracle Mets World Series-winning season, Joe Namath and the New York Jets taking the Super Bowl title, and the New York Knicks’ NBA Championship win with Bill Bradley. 1969 was quite a time for me as I was growing up a sports fan in Brooklyn. But now that I’m older, I find I’m more drawn to the management lessons we can glean from something else that happened in 1969 — Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and Mike Collins landing on the moon.  

In July, a Businessweek story presented five management lessons we can learn from the “Moonshot.” Although many of us remember the key moments, the history covered at the start of the article is interesting for the controversies we may have forgotten. Nevertheless, the bigger appeal for me is in what we can learn from the Apollo Moon Landing.

Have a clear objective. Author Peter Coy tells us, “President John F. Kennedy vastly simplified NASA’s job with his May 25, 1961, address to Congress committing to ‘the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to Earth.’” That singular focus helped “NASA engineers [to keep] their heads down and their slide rules busy.” 

It’s the same in our work environments. If the project has a clear objective from the outset, the operating company, engineering company and vendor teams can all work together to accomplish the project from a technical and budget point of view.

Harness incongruence.  NASA had several setbacks with the moon launch. But, as in all science, we learn from our mistakes. We must look at the problem from all angles and, as we know from Sherlock Holmes, it’s important to recognize: 

  • There is no benefit in jumping to conclusions.
  • Working with others to recreate events can be beneficial.
  • The need for problem-solving skills such as occasional silence or distancing and learning to discern the crucial from the incidental.

Delegate but decide.  This is the essence of leadership. NASA spent over 90% of its budget on sub-contractors. Many of our projects are the same. You need to know when you need help. Then, the project team must have a strong leadership team in place to make the hard decisions, especially when teams are scattered across the world, have different cultures and languages, etc.  

Effectiveness over elegance.  This is my favorite lesson. I’ve seen its truth often, especially when it comes to the PLC controls on a project. There is always the next best instrument, controller, valve, actuator, human-machine interface, etc. Every engineer wants that his or her project to incorporate the newest solutions, but sometimes a simpler control will allow the operators to manage the process more efficiently. Whether you go for effective or elegant, remember to involve the entire team to make the process safe and understandable.  

Improvise. Coy shares many examples of how NASA and the astronauts improvised solutions.  We have all heard the phrase, “Hello Houston, we have a problem.” On our projects, we need listen to all team members to find the correct solution. Maybe we’ll improvise something that is a little beyond what we know; but this is how technology improves.

It’s amazing to think all of this was 50 years ago but these management lessons still hold true today! Now, if someone wants to share their thoughts on what we can learn from the Mets, Jets, and Knicks’ managers, I’d be happy to walk down that memory lane too!

Agile Project Teams in Engineering

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Engineering these days requires agility. We’re reconfiguring processes, and we need to be flexible with time zones, languages, accents, engineering cultures and operating philosophies. We cannot always select the people on our projects and must work with various teams to be successful.  How do we do this? McKinsey & Company insights into Agile Project Teams provides some interesting insights.

Let’s apply their practical observations from How to Select and Develop Individuals for Successful Agile Teams: A Practical Guide to process engineering.

First, when approaching a new process problem, it’s important for everyone to understand handling ambiguity with agreeableness leads to success. This includes the engineering and operating company teams and technology suppliers.

Processes are complex; there are many choices for the design. I have one project at the moment where the solvents/solids are toxic and hazardous, the solids polymerize immediately, and the operating conditions are severe.  There are over fifteen (15) different options for the solid-liquid separation technology design.  McKinsey’s research would suggest our project team needs to work through each option while keeping the focus on a safe and acceptable solution.

The guide suggests, Agreeableness means saying “yes, and…” instead of “yes, but.” It’s not about avoiding conflict or blindly agreeing without any thinking. It’s about testing ideas while being open to feedback.

Agility in Engineering Projects

Per McKinsey’s analysis, the agile project team’s focus must be on outcomes. “Agile teams take ownership of the product they deliver. For them, pride in the product (the outcome) sits higher than pride in the work (the process): they know that the process can and will change as they review the relationship between the process and value it achieves.”

Each step in the process moves the team closer to the desired outcome to achieve the overall objective: optimum technology selection to achieve quality while meeting environmental and safety requirements.

Finally, everyone must work as a team on successful agile projects. Sometimes different agendas must be reconciled.  Neuroticism can be an obstacle: “team members need to be able to stay calm when unexpected errors and issues arise.”

Find ways to foster a cooperative spirit. Years ago, I worked on a project where the operating company implemented a program rewarding team members that came up with ideas or creative solutions and showed cost savings. In fact, our vendor team was rewarded for including a special type of dust filter to capture solids from the vacuum dryer. As you can imagine, it’s not often the operating company provides additional compensation to the vendor!

The McKinsey study concludes, “great teams do not mean technically the best people or the most experienced.” Agility serving a shared focus on the goal can make the team even better. Next time, you’re on a project, keep these points in mind. Let me know if you are successful!

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Weighing Alternative API Filtration Technologies

API filtration technologies
Image source: Google images

Being a process engineer is all about making choices. When it comes API filtration technologies, many different types of equipment can be used for removing catalyst residues. While conventional filtration equipment is operated manually, I recently worked with PharmTech on an article outlining how both candle filters and pressure plate filters are operated as automated systems. This article reviews what we discussed.

Pharmaceutical manufacturers are increasingly looking for automated equipment with in-line process control. Well, automated candle and pressure-plate filtration equipment for removing catalyst residues from API slurries are operated in a closed system. This automated filtration also meets the demand for improved safety and reliability by removing the manual operation.

First, though, you need to understand the difference between candle filters and pressure-plate filters and how they differ from tradition filters. 

Conventional or traditional filters can be defined as bag filters, cartridge filters, manual plate filters, and plate and frame filter presses. These are all manually operated filters. They are not really sealed—especially not when solids get discharged.

Candle filters and pressure plate filters are improvements over these types in terms of reproducible quality, multiple process steps, cleanable and reusable filter media, and full containment for solids recovery. 

A major difference is that the operation of plate filters and candle filters is 100% automated. Solids discharge is provided in a sealed and safe way.

When to Use Candle or Pressure Plate Filters

Deciding between candle and pressure plate filters depends largely upon the cake structure developed by the process solids. 

Cake structures that can maintain their integrity in a vertical form are suited for candle filters. If the cakes themselves are too dense or too light or tend to crack, a horizontal plate filter is the better choice of technology. Thickness of the cake structure is another decision parameter. Candle filters typically have maximum cake thickness of 20 mm, while plate filters can handle up to 75 mm.

Generally, the candle filters and pressure plate filters can be used interchangeably based upon the cake structure itself. Some cakes can be handled in either vertical or horizontal form. In that case, the process dictates the choice.

When it comes to deciding the best filtration type for continuous or semi-continuous processing, consider the upstream and downstream equipment. Both candle filters and pressure plate filters are batch operations. For continuous or semi-continuous operations, either multiple units are required or buffer/holding tanks can be installed.

Pharma Disposal or Recycling

We also discussed best practices for disposal or recycling. For non-hazardous disposal, the cakes can be first washed to remove all of the toxic or hazardous compounds and then dried to a standard of no free liquids. The cakes can be fully discharged in a contained and dust-free manner to totes or drums. 

For recycling, the process solids can be reslurried within the candle filter or pressure plate filter to be pumped back as a slurry to the process. The process liquids or filtrates can also be pumped back to the upstream reactors for reuse.

Questions about alternative API filtration technologies? Other decision parameters I didn’t think about? Let me know, I’m always ready to chat. 

Goodbye 2019, Hello 2020!

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Photo by Rakicevic Nenad on Pexels.com

A new year is a great time for a shift in direction. This blog tries to be different each time. I cover topics ranging from innovation to technical leadership. I’m always looking for fresh ways of doing things in our industry, in process engineering and business development. And I look for new ways to convey these ideas to the marketplace. 

In 2019, I talked about clarification technologies, types of engineers, innovation risk, and the creativity of the octopus. In 2020, look for blogs on orangutans, moonshots, and agile methodology and engineering. But for right now, as we look forward to celebrating a new year, here are some ideas to help you try a new highway in 2020. 

We have a chance for the next decade to be a new roaring ‘20s. Don’t get stuck taking the same routes you’ve always been traveling. Try these approaches for a novel approach to 2020 and beyond:

  • Adopt a positive mindset and see the opportunities

Its easy to get bogged down when a process is not working or a project is going sideways. Learn to accept – everything from setbacks through to challenges. Turn these diversions from your plan or expectations into opportunities.  

  • Be brave and stick to your guns

Maybe you are the innovator with a new idea of how things should be done. If you are sure about the design or process change, then go ahead and make the change.  Remember, to test first and to have all of your facts in place to show technical leadership.

  • Make room for your own creative projects

No matter your work focus, set aside time for your own projects.  Take one hour each morning (for me after yoga) and before you check your e-mails for your personal projects; this will pay off greatly in the long term, on many levels.

  • Don’t let the pressure or threat of failure or competition hold you back 

Be confident in your work and don’t be afraid to try something different. We always learn from our mistakes, and from getting out there and gathering more information. With greater knowledge comes greater confidence.

  • Be authentic and believe in yourself

Use more of your judgement and less of other’s opinions. As I have written in the past,    learning never ends. And if you try to be what other people want of you, instead of being authentic, it can have negative impacts both on your professional life and personal well-being.

  • Don’t ignore your gut but tread carefully

Decision making is never easy. Read more about troubleshooting and how to make better decisions in my 2017 blog.

  • Accept that personal progress can take time but perseverance counts

Any goal takes time.  As loyal readers already know, I sometimes mention my yoga practice, which includes headstands, shoulder stands, tripod stands, etc. These did not happen overnight. But by persevering and keeping an eye on small moments of personal progress along the way, I was able to stick with it and see greater success long-term.

Let’s get ready for 2020. I’ll continue working on this blog and providing new BHS and AVA technical and innovative insights on, Perlmutter & Idea Development.  As you start anew in this fresh decade, I hope you’ll keep reading my blog and my LinkedIn posts. And don’t hesitate to let me know your ideas about technical leadership and other areas of interest for this blog!

Innovation Risks & Two Success Stories    

innovation risks
Image source: Business Week

One key element of innovation success is taking risks. I’ve recently read two articles where major breakthroughs in human health started with innovation risks. The two stories are a great reminder that we need to step up to challenges and look at the world anew to innovate!

In our first case, from Business Week, a chemical engineer named David Whitlock became interested in biology after a tubby date asked him why her horse rolls in the dirt, even in the cool springtime months before the biting insects have even hatched. Whitlock was curious too. So he started reading scientific papers and came across a “bacteria, found in soil and other natural environments, that derives energy from ammonia rather than organic matter.”

Whitlock’s took risks for his research. In 2009, he moved into his white Dodge Grand Caravan to study the bacteria culled from soil that he theorized could improve skin disorders, hypertension, and other health problems. And even he’ll admit there were some times he really smelled while experimenting with his soil-based concoctions on himself.  

Still, his innovation risks led to the ground-breaking discovery that these ammonia-oxidizing bacteria (AOB) can transform sweat into something more useful. His company now generates almost $2.6 million revenue in cosmetic sprays, shampoos and moisturizers. Microbiomes, “commensal, symbiotic and pathogenic microorganisms that literally share our body space” are now the focus of many new products. The third annual Skin Microbiome Congress, for instance, welcomed established brands such as BASF, Bayer, Coty, Merck, Nestlé, L’Occitane, L’Oréal, and Unilever.

The article is a great example of a single researcher’s drive and creativity. He didn’t shy away from the tough stuff in pursuit of innovation.

An Eye-Opening Innovation Risk 

A second recent Business Week article is further evidence that it pays to swing for the fences. The article is about manufacturer W.L. Gore & Associates Inc., best known for the waterproof membrane Gore-Tex, and how its willingness to “take more chances” has led to its polymers being used in corneal implants.  

An obsession with a polymer called polytetrafluoroethylene, PTFE, led William Gore to his discovery of the lighter and yet stronger expanded ePTFE. The polymer is now not only used in waterproof wear, but also in air purifiers, dental floss, high-tension ropes, and stents and surgical patches.

Yet the company was stagnating as competitors introduced alternatives. Gore needed to get ambitious again. When Anuraag Singh encountered Gopalan Balaji in a lunch line at a corporate event, the two natives of India, where corneal blindness is a major issue, asked whether they couldn’t do more with their company’s polymer.

Innovation risks
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Enlisting others, their team sought to modify the polymer to be transparent and light bending in the same way that the human cornea tissue is in our eyes. Their first attempts fizzled and were shelved until a new CEO came to Gore and encouraged innovation risks anew.

With new seed funding to learn more from ophthalmologists, rethink the design, and reconsider their material choices, their team came up with a new prototype. As a sidebar, I have to applaud the hands-on discovery involved along the way: 

“We love putting prototypes and materials on the table,” Singh told Business Week.  “A typical meeting would involve the surgeon and the engineers ‘all kind of hunched over: feeling, touching, poking at things.’”

The result? An artificial cornea that may help to solve a pressing human health problem in developing countries. The plan is for continued research and testing the first implant in humans in 2020 with the goal of bringing it to market in 2026. With cornea tissue damage the 5th leading cause of blindness this innovation risk could have a happy ending.

Ultimately, these two examples are reminders that we need to look around, ask questions, and listen to our communities to come up with ideas. Then we need to take those necessary innovation risks!  

Creativity: Lessons Learned from Octopuses

creativity
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So, here we go again…intertwining two seemingly unrelated topics — creativity and eight-limbed ocean dwellers — in one interesting blog.

Over the years, as my readers know, I’ve enjoyed discussing fresh sources of innovation. Today, it’s the octopus. 

First some technical details: Octopuses have eight arms, round bodies and bulging bilateral eyes. The 300 species of octopuses live in all the world’s oceans, but prefer warmer, tropical waters. They typically only live between 1 and 2 years, but during that time they like to play. 

That leads us to the good stuff: These creative, intelligent creatures can problem solve and are masterful mimics. Some species can even change the texture of their skin to better hunt and evade predators. Plus, they all lack a rigid skeleton, which lets them contort themselves into amazing shapes. 

Check out the mimic octopus:

creativity
Click here to see the video!

Yet how does a creature that can only see in black and white make these changes? They control special cells just under their skin’s surface — chromatophores — which hold pigment and  change color within milliseconds. Controlled like muscles, these cells can help many octopuses “see” with their arms and learn the patterns, colors, and textures of other animals they want to imitate.  

Sy Montgomery, author of The Soul of an Octopus shares, “three-fifths of an octopus’ neurons are not in their brain, but in their arms,” which “suggests that each arm has a mind of its own”. These arms have sensory capabilities (smell and taste) as well as reach, and can even continue to grasp if severed from the body.

Wile. E. Octopus Creativity

The octopus is a living example of the sentiment in my first blog of 2019, Becoming Uncomfortable. The octopus is always exposing itself to new environments and facing predators.  With creativity and intelligent problem-solving it succeeds. Just as humans need to put themselves out there and expose themselves to new backgrounds, experiences, and more. We can’t blend in like the octopus, so we have to become uncomfortable, but it’s worth it. 

There’s also something we can gain from thinking about the octopuses seeing with their arms. Think how humans might engage differently if we could see with our arms?  We’d be sure to look at tasks in a different manner when thinking critically about process. 

Finally, let’s consider what we’d do with better camouflage. I don’t mean you should wear a disguise at work! Still, what if you were to try to camouflage your thinking. You too can be a masterful mimic to problem solve or put yourself in the shoes of the client: “I am not the sales engineer but the lead process engineer” or “I am the Director of Capital Purchasing” or “I am the entrepreneur who needs advice for a process solution while spending my own money.” 

We’re still stuck with bones, so we can’t morph into all the different shapes this amazing creature can manage. A 600-pound octopus can get through a pathway the diameter of a quarter! Yet, the octopus’s sense of adventure also underlines my suggestion to get out into the world and see what’s going on for a new perspective on process solutions and life in general.

I hope you’ll have some fun with this and think about the octopus next time you want to be creative!