Road Warrior’s First Business Travel after 96 Days    

business travel
Photo by Sheila on Pexels.com

First, let me say that in these challenging times, we all must be diligent in our approaches to our business and personal lives.  My heart goes out to everyone who has been impacted by COVID-19.  To help in my own way, I wanted to offer my recent experience with business travel.

Precautions during the pandemic saw me staying put for the longest stretch of time without travel in over 35 years. Of course, it was good to be home. But the time came to get out and see customers again. My first trip was to Appleton, Wisconsin to visit a customer that I have known for several years for a project that may be funded in the 3rd Q. I thought I would share my experience.

The different travel experience started with packing. I began with all my protective gear. Two N95 masks, two disposable masks, two bandanas (Carolina Panther and The Dead & Company) and one infrared thermometer. Next, what cleaning supplies did I need?  Disinfectant wipes as well as a 12 ounce hand sanitizer; TSA will allow this exception. Finally, sealed googles to fit over my glasses to be used in the airport and airplane. The sealed googles are recommended to help you avoid touching your eyes or face.

Business travel

For the hotel it’s recommended to bring along your own pillowcases. So I packed two. In case the hotel gym is closed I bring along my yoga mat, yoga workout clothes, running shoes and my running clothes. I also throw in my running wind-breaker just in case the weather is a little cooler or rainy.

On the customer visit, I need steel-toed safety shoes and safely glasses. Add those to the pack! Finally, I get to my regular clothes. In the end, a pack that normally takes less than 30 minutes, required 2+ hours and a lot of discussions.

At the airport, with no shuttle buses for long-distance parking, all cars are in the parking deck. Finding a space was another challenge. Once this was accomplished, the TSA checkout point required more time and more space. Finally, the airport and airplane were relatively easy.  The American Airlines “concierge” team was very happy to see me.

Upon landing, the car rental facility also was easy and there were large stickers on each car indicating “cleaned and sealed.” The hotel was also following CDC guidelines with masks, social distancing, cleanliness, etc. So, drinks and dinners in the hotel bar for two nights were fun again. These interactions with the staff and other business travelers are always an entertaining part of business travel.  

As for the business, the visit and meetings were successful. We all wore masks; my temperature was checked. Our lunch was in a large conference room and followed all of the social distancing protocols.  

Oh, one more point. No elevators. I walked every staircase. It’s another thing to keep in mind when you’re packing.

So, now I am back “on the road again” (I think that this is a song?) and hopefully to a healthy and successful remainder of 2020. Let me know how you all are doing! What changes have you made to your business travel practices? I can’t wait to see you at the next hotel bar for drinks and dinner.

Stay safe and take care. By having concerns and respect for your friends, families, colleagues, and strangers, we will all make the world a better place.

The Wisdom of Silence this Summer

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Photo by Jill Wellington on Pexels.com

       

2020 has gotten off to a really weird start. Many of us have been working remotely, trying to continue to design projects and meet with clients. But, even in the best of situations, we can lose track of ourselves in the process. Consider the wisdom of silence.

This feeling of being pulled in too many directions at once need not be inevitable. We can find ways to ground ourselves amidst all the chaos. Create moments of stillness where you can.

When silence is intentional, it is valuable and restorative. Check out my blog about Sherlock Holmes and the value he found in taking a moment to just think. The great detective would employ occasional silence and distancing for problem solving. In the BBC’s version they show this when Benedict Cumberbatch retreats to his “mind palace.”

We may not have mind palaces, or even mind sheds, but finding silence can bring us back to our senses. Like intentional breathing, which I’ve written about before, silence is essential to our holistic well-being. Silence is a powerful tool that allows us to take a step back from the atmosphere around us and realign with our intentions and ourselves.

Realigning Intentions — Professionally and Personally

I started the year offering a roadmap for 2020. Now, as a midway check-in, here are my suggestions for what we can do to benefit our personal and work lives.

  1. Listen to the customers.  First, broaden your definition of customer. Customers can be your clients, coworkers, vendors, your family. Listen and learn from their feedback and suggestions.
  1. Be useful.  If you listen, you can be useful. And there’s nothing more rewarding than being of use to others.
  1. Make things faster and simpler. Of course, this can’t be at the expense of accuracy, but try not to overly complicate decisions, tasks, actions, etc. We must strive to reduce complications.
  1. Innovate, don’t imitate. To succeed, we need to continually look for new approaches. We love experiments. They help us think differently.
  1. Give back. At some point in all of our lives, we’ve received other people’s help. Try to give back this summer. This may seem like one more thing to cram into the schedule, but the benefits will outweigh that aspect.
  1. Be honest. Speak in an open and ethical manner. As I’ve discussed before, this may even mean being authentic and expressing anger. It’s better to communicate fully than to let resentments fester or leave frustrations unattended.
  1. Keep learning and improving. Loyal readers know that this is a key point for me.  There’s (always) plenty of room for improvements and innovation. That’s how we create better experiences for all.  

As the start of summer approaches, let’s set aside time to tune out the noise. Turn off your device. Go for a walk or simply close your eyes. The magic in the wisdom of silence is that we can access it wherever we are — though I’ll be hoping you get to try this somewhere you love in the coming months (without the social distancing considerations!).

Contribute to a Holistic Approach to Unit Operations!

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Photo by Andrea Piacquadio on Pexels.com

As the chemical industry changes and becomes more integrated worldwide, there is a need for information exchange. This must include not only principles of operation but practical knowledge transfer. That’s why I have agreed to edit a new book for Elsevier, “Integration and Optimization of Unit Operations.”

As my readers know, in 2015, I published the “Handbook of Solid-Liquid Filtration” with Elsevier, UK. This new project offers up-to-date and practical information on chemical unit operations from the R & D stage to scale-up and demonstration to commercialization and optimization.  

For this exciting and unique book to work, I need your help. I’m currently seeking contributing authors who have skills at each stage of the process from lab-scale/R&D, through pilot plants to full-scale production and finally optimization or as I call it, Putting-It-All-Together, for actual case histories / war stories.  We will also cover decommissioning of plants. Check out the preliminary Table of Contents.

Currently, most books look unit operations, each in a silo.  In this book, at each stage, the information presented differs as the technology and issues faced at the lab scale differ through commercialization and optimization. So, we will move from a silo approach to an integrated – holistic approach.

Why this Book is Needed

This book addresses a need for engineers with a broader training background. In the early 70’s, companies wanted staff with an I-shaped skill level. Someone with I-Shaped Skills is a person with a deep (vertical) expertise in one area and practically no experience or knowledge in other areas. This person is typically known as a specialist.  

Then, in the 1980s, the industry wanted T-shaped professionals. The vertical bar on the T represents strong knowledge in a specific discipline. The horizontal bar represents a wide (horizontal) yet shallow knowledge in other areas. This allows the person to be able to collaborate across other disciplines and acquire new skills or knowledge. 

Yet what we need today, with the rapid proliferation of technological advances and the cross- disciplinary nature of our work, is key-shaped engineers who can address several areas of expertise with varying degrees of depth.  

This book aims to address the needs of engineers who want to increase their skill levels in various disciplines so that they are able to develop, commercialize and optimize processes. The engineers must be able to ask questions of experts to develop creative solutions.

What Can You Contribute?

Contributing authors should be able to discuss unit operations at each stage and then relate how these technology/process decisions impacts the next stage. I am targeting the first draft by the end of the year. I will provide technical guidance and assistance as well as from my associate who is skilled in technical writing along with the Elsevier requirements.

The book will be listed on ScienceDirect, Elsevier and others and chapters will receive individual indexing so they can be searched. Review the preliminary Table of Contents and let me know what interests you to write about!

I hope you’re as excited about this opportunity to share knowledge about unit operations as I am! I look forward to hearing from you.

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
Image source

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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Image source

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.