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. 

leadership skills
Image source

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!

Real World Examples of Particle and Cake Formation Influences

process engineering
Image source

Process engineers might love it if all of the filtration technology solutions they developed ran flawlessly, at all times, under all conditions. But, this isn’t realistic. Something might go wrong with the filtration mechanism itself. A change in the environment — upstream or downstream — could cause problems with particle or cake formation. Even the smallest shift in the operation process or procedure can prompt the dreaded phone call to the engineer: “the filtration system isn’t working.”

In my work at BHS-Sonthofen Inc., I’ve seen filtration technology impacted by particles and cake formation that weren’t predicted in designing the solid-liquid separation solutions. 

Particle Sizes Changes from Lab to Production

The existing process was a batch crystallizer operating at 0 – 5 degrees C with 13- 20% solids  to a batch vacuum filtration operation. The filter was designed for a five inch cake height. The objective of the process optimization was to move to a continuous process of continuous reaction to continuous filtration, cake washing and drying.

The BHS rotary pressure filter was installed for continuous pressure filtration.  What did the client find out?  Only the particle size has changed from lab to production!  As you can imagine, this was not a small change.

cake formation

Going back to the drawing board and testing processes again, we made the following changes to the filtration system:  new filter media, increased cloth wash pressure with a new solvent and finally a reduced cake thickness.  Yes, this trouble shooting required about 6 months of work, but problem solved!

Troubleshooting Filtration Technology

In another instance with grey water treatment units, a clarification application for the purge water treatment unit (PWTU) was installed and started up for a year of successful running. Then, inexplicably, the performance changed and the filter began plugging quickly during cycles.

cake formation

 

Troubleshooting the system we had to re-examine the filtration system under different conditions:

  • Clarifier overflow with no coagulant / no flocculants 
  • Clarifier overflow with only coagulant / no flocculants
  • Clarifier overflow with both coagulant and flocculants
  • Clarifier overflow with only flocculants / no coagulant

Taking a holistic approach to the system, we were able to determine chemical changes caused the larger particles to settle out. Only the smaller particles were reaching the filtration system, which was blinding the filter media.  By eliminating the flocculants  and reducing coagulant usage (even though this was better for the client, and not necessarily BHS as the chemical supplier, we were able to improve filtration rates and once again offer a consistent PSD.

Ultimately, with the right approach to troubleshooting, and by embracing the idea that we do on a daily basis is an art coupled with science, we can enjoy a strong sense of satisfaction when we get that filtration technology up and running again.

This blog is based on a presentation I made to the  8th World Congress on Particle Technology. View the presentation slides in full!

Best Practices for Filtration Testing for Solid-Liquid Separation

filtration testing
Photo by Pacific Northwest National Laboratory – PNNL on Foter.com / CC BY-NC-SA

Testing in school has a negative connotation. Students dread tests. Parents bemoan “teaching to the test.” Teachers chafe against the curriculum parameters defined by testing expectations. Yet, the word “testing” should resonate much more positively with process engineers. After all, testing is the key for selecting the most suitable filtration tech for any individual solid-liquid separation task.

Although there is only limited theoretical background available, and even specialized engineering education at universities leaves many theoretical questions open, it is beneficial to have a minimum understanding of the theory of filtration itself. By identifying the role of each influencing part, the process engineer gains a potential tool to work with when it comes to understanding testing findings and developing a path forward in determining the best filtration procedure.

Just from experience, and for the benefit of engineers, some overview observations are necessary:

  • Don’t stop testing just because the first results suit your target
  • Don’t accept samples without verifying the parameters in the description
  • Never change more than one parameter at a time
  • One result is no result => verification is a must
  • Take a break and check the conformity of the results before you call it a day

Filtration Testing Requires Decision Making

In testing it’s essential to train yourself to stop and repeat. Don’t succumb to perceived certainty. After all, many parameters of the liquid and the solids have an influence on the filtration process.

  • Form and size of particles
  • Particle size distribution (PSD)
  • Agglomerate building behavior
  • Deformability
  • Compressibility
  • Liqiud viscosity
  • Solid content
  • Zeta-potential

While all of the above may not be known for all filtration applications, the final target is to find a theoretical approach together with a practical method of testing.

Sampling in Filtration Testing

Filtration tests need to be done with a “representative sample” defined as a sample “as close as possible” to the real production product.  Yet the specific characteristics of a slurry from the point of filtration are not obvious to everyone. That’s where testing comes in: the list of parameters is quite extensive and in many cases only a few are available.

Still, the more you can get the better. Although for the first tests, the ph-value, temperature, particle shape, size distribution, etc. are not necessary right from the beginning, these parameters are normally quickly measured and complete the picture of the suspension. It is obvious that solid content and viscosity do have an impact on the filterability.

“Suspending” Judgment in Filtration Testing

The characteristics of suspensions are not only caused by the liquid phase but also by the particles, the other half of a slurry. The solids can be of crystalline nature or amorphous, which means their structure is not really defined. They can also be organic (i.e. cell debris), fibrous, in-organic, compressible or incompressible, generate agglomerates or not, may have a zeta potential or not…. there are many possibilities.

An easy way to verify the type of solids is a sample check. If possible, the original suspension should be checked under the microscope. Then, the behavior of the solids can also be seen:

  • Do they tend to build agglomerates or stay on their own?
  • How is the distribution of the solids?
  • Is the structure of the solids needle-shape, potato shape, snow crystal or even fibrous?

The best practice in filtration testing is to consider all of these angles thoroughly before deciding on a filtration procedure.

I am a big fan of Sherlock Holmes who always warns “don’t jump to conclusions.”  This is one of the biggest risks we face during tests in the daily work of process engineering.  Let me know if you need help!

Chemical Process Optimization needs Out of the Box Thinking

chemical process optimization
A continuous vacuum belt filter with 9.0-m2 filter area.

Loyal readers of this blog know how much I value innovation and creativity. So, you can’t be surprised that I want to share with you a chemical process optimization success story. We partnered with a client to develop an optimized filtration process for a zinc oxide product.

As discussed in a coauthored article for Chemical Processing, Madison Industries and BHS-Sonthofen Inc. worked together on laboratory and field pilot testing. Engineers from both firms showed creativity and “outside-the-box” thinking in looking at the process from new vantage points in their quest to find a better option than the installed batch filter press.

Our efforts led to the selection of continuous vacuum filtration. The continuous filter, which was installed in 2016, provides maximum filtration efficiency and improves product quality while increasing yield and reducing operating and maintenance costs.

chemical process optimization
Figure 1. Technology, based on fixed vacuum trays, features step-wise movement of filter media.

Case Background

Madison Industries, based in Old Bridge, N.J., supplies copper and zinc compounds such as copper sulfate, copper carbonate, zinc sulfate, zinc chloride, zinc orthophosphate and phosphoric acid as well as other chemical products containing copper and zinc. Applications include animal feed, water treatment, dairy farming, food and pharmaceutical processing, and pool and wood preservative chemicals, among others.

The Madison facility was using a plate-and-frame filter press to filter a zinc oxide slurry made from a mix of various zinc feedstocks. The solids were mixed with water to form a slurry of 20% solids and then filtered. The cake was bagged in 2,000-lb totes, moved to another area of the plant and reslurried in sulfuric acid for further processing.

Madison wanted to expand production and replace the present labor-intensive process with a continuous operation — this led to chemical process optimization.

Crucial Tests

BHS process engineers began laboratory evaluation of the process. Madison was open to all ideas and formed a team to brainstorm different approaches.

BHS conducted several weeks of testing and evaluated both pressure and vacuum filtration based upon the specific characteristics of the solids and slurries. The testing led to the following observations:

• Filtrate clarity: The most-appropriate filter cloth is a double-weave 12-micron polypropylene.
• Filtration rate: Vacuum filtration produced the maximum filtration flux rate at a cake thickness of 6 mm.
• Cake washing: Maximum displacement washing was achieved with wash ratios of 2.6:1.
• Cake moisture: Although not a critical parameter because the cake is reslurried, cake moisture is approximately 35%.

Based on its creative testing, BHS’s process engineers recommended continuous-indexing vacuum filtration as the optimum option.

Why Continuous Indexing

The BHS continuous-indexing vacuum belt filter 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 (see Figure 1). In practical terms, the belt filter operates similarly to a series of Buchner funnels.

At each indexed belt position, washing and drying efficiencies are maximized with the stopped belt and the mechanism of plug flow for gases and liquids. Cake pressing and squeezing further enhance drying. Finally, the fixed trays allow for the mother liquor and the wash filtrates to be recovered individually and recirculated/recovered/reused for a more efficient operation. The design also can integrate steaming as well as counter-current washing.

Successful Switch

Madison and BHS installed the vacuum belt filter in 2016. The unit has met all product quality specifications. Madison has realized a 50% savings in wash liquids per batch as well as a reduction in labor and operating costs because the vacuum belt filter operation is fully automatic. Since the installation, Madison has optimized the operation, improving yields and minimizing costs.

The Madison and BHS collaboration illustrates a successful relationship between client and technology supplier. The BHS approach of lab and pilot testing, coupled with idea-generation, fosters identifying the optimal option for critical and difficult solid/liquid separations.

Reflecting on Speed, and Time to Prosper

process engineering

Welcome to 2018.

What do “Star Wars — The Force Awakens,” the New England Patriots and the Kansas City Royals and this blog all have in common?  As you might have guessed, they all had special events in 2015.  Yes, my blog has been up and running now for over three years! Plus, 2015 is when Star Wars debuted and both New England and Kansas City won their respective championships.

Before thinking about 2018, and this blog’s fourth year, I wanted to take a moment to reflect on the year 2017.  What intrigues me is what we know now that we did not know in January 2017, one year ago. There were many surprises ranging from politics, world events, social issues, to business and career, sports, food and entertainment.  In the comments below, let’s start a conversation about what you learned in 2017.

Reflecting on 2017 and 2018 Success

Of course, I have many ideas about what I learned last year. Yet, in boiling it down to one theme, I would focus on “speed.”  In all of our endeavors, the speed of information flow, decision making, world events, politics, etc., is increasing dramatically.  From a business point of view, technology, marketplace, competition, manufacturing, etc. are all changing at breakneck speed.  At BHS, for example, we addressed a marketplace request to incorporate “clean-in-place” (CIP) systems which led to changes with our rubber belt filter.

At the same time, if speed is what characterized 2017, for 2018 I’ve decided it’s time to slow down and reflect. For one thing, I have improved my yoga practice. In other areas of my day, I’m taking the time needed to review facts and data, analyze decisions, gather inspiration from many sources, and finally proceed with definite actions. Of course, I still need to be ready to change, as things will continue coming at “breakneck speed,” but I am optimistic about success.

For 2018, I’ve already started thinking with excitement about what posts my readers want to read.  There will be more blogs about “problem-solving” with topics on filtration, particle technologies, drying, and solids handling.  Yet I always invite you to make suggestions! In fact, I’d welcome guest blogger contributions to improve the chemical process industry.  Finally, read often, thick critically, and let’s all prosper in 2018.

Business Building and Anger

business building
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I wouldn’t recommend anger at work, but sometimes engineers do get angry at a process, problem, or piece of equipment.  On the other side, in technical consultative sales, we try not to get angry at our clients, at least not directly. After all, in the business world, anger is often viewed as an unsavory emotion. The individual has lost self-control — a cardinal sin in business, right?

In an article addressing anger in the business world, Forbes contributor Neil Patel notes anger can:

  • hinder thought process
  • lead to rash, impulsive decisions
  • create rifts between business partners, colleagues and clients.

Yet Patel also suggested anger can have a major upside if used as fuel to build a business.

“Anger is actually useful when harnessed and controlled because it fosters useful behavioral capabilities,” according to an Inc. reporter’s summary of Emotional Intelligence experts Henry Evans and Colm Foster. Anger creates focus and generates confidence, they suggest. In fact, the highest performing people and teams tap into and express the entire spectrum of emotions.

So, how exactly might you channel anger to for positive ends?  Patel offered 10 ideas:

1. Improve Communication

2. Achieve Hyper-Focus

3. Eliminate Fear

4. Boost Your Confidence

5. Take Action

6. Ignite Your Passion

7. Show Perseverance

8. Aid in Negotiation

9. Show Your Humanness

10. Provide Self-Insight

The important thing about anger in business is to harness the emotion in a smart, controlled way. Avoid getting mad at people (focus on an action or event instead) and try not to say things you will later regret.

Ultimately, anger is one of many authentic emotions. Ignoring it, or trying to hide it, can have many negative impacts both on your professional life and personal well-being. As Inc.’s Jeff Haden pointed out, “Anger is authentic — and so are great leaders.”

Be a great leader by learning to channel your emotions — negative and positive both — in a productive way that helps your focus and drives your business success.

“Anger is authentic — and so are great leaders.”

Juiced up about Baseball Science

baseball science

Those who have followed my blog already know some about my background. For instance, I am an avid baseball fan. But here’s a new fact…I have been playing baseball since I was 5 years old. In fact, when I was 12, I was coached by the famous musical band, The Tokens, whose biggest hit was “The Lion Sleeps Tonight.” Needless to say, this was not a winning team. Success was always just “a win away, a win away…”

 

The Chemistry of Baseballs

With the playoffs and World Series looming, the controversy once again has arisen about the “juiced baseball.” This season the number of home runs per game has increased to 2.54 from 2.03. Hit Tracker Online provides us with all the stats and information on “how far it really went” for MLB games.

But what is really going on? There are many theories:

  • hotter temperatures due to global warming
  • strike zone changes
  • stronger and younger players
  • pitching changes.

If we focus on the data, which is what we do as chemical engineers, there are some other interesting ideas to consider.

One theory is based upon the drag coefficient (air resistance) of the ball, as discussed by Rob Arthur. His hypothesis is that the drag coefficient has decreased to 0.344 from 0.357. While this does not sound like much, it can add over five feet to the ball’s distance. This would be enough to increase the number of home runs by 10 – 15%.

Another theory by Ben Lindbergh and Mitchel Lichtman suggests an “air-ball revolution” meaning that players are swinging differently. Several MLB players have been in the news for focusing on hitting the ball harder in the air, and elevating it off the ground more.

 

Testing Baseball’s Stuff

Chemical & Engineering News also has weighed in on data from Rawlings, which has been the Major League Baseball (MLB) supplier for many years. Matt Davenport’s 26 June 2017 article Materials: What’s That Stuff? states the ball is the same and references the ball’s Coefficient of Restitution (COR) value, which has always been between 0.514 – 0.578. The COR refers to the ability of an object to bounce back to its original height when dropped from a certain height. The recognized standard for COR testing is an ASTM method F-1887.

Thus, why we’re seeing such a run on home runs remains a mystery and will be debated for a long time. My idea…let’s have a hot dog and a beer and share baseball science theories. As Ernie Banks said “It’s a great day for a ball game; let’s play two!”

Sleuthing CIP Process Solutions

CIP Process

For years, my focus as a process engineer has been thin-cake filtration, cake washing and drying technologies. I am continually engaged by the people I work with and the ongoing need to find new process solutions to problems.

There are always new challenges. Our latest BHS Sonthofen newsletter focused on practical solutions for solid-liquid separations in chemical and pharmaceutical applications. Particularly, this issue of Art and Science of Filtration, looked at new clean-in-place (CIP) challenges.

Our friends at CH2M and EI Associates collaborated to examine large-scale fermentation systems in biochemical and biopharmaceutical settings. In discussing designing new organisms to target desired chemical products, they addressed several challenges with genetically modified microorganisms (GMM):

  • GMM are not, typically, designed to be robust and can find competition with natural microorganisms difficult.
  • GMM are a new creation and can exhibit unforeseen and undesirable traits.
  • Incorporating extensive CIP and sterilize-in-place (SIP) systems to prevent contamination is critical.

In discussing considerations for CIP process, the authors focused on sequence, system configuration, equipment sizing, tank and piping design considerations, and more. That’s before they even examined the SIP considerations. It’s not for everyone, but I love trying to fit together the many puzzle pieces to make the process work for our clients.

Also in our newsletter, we shared a CIP presentation from my colleague Tim Ochel. He addresses influencing factors in CIP (velocity, temperature, chemicals, time and technology) and how BHS Filtration meets the need. For instance, BHS’ Rotary Pressure Filter (RPF) is menacing in transforming materials into value. It can handle filtration and washing, multi-step counter-current cake washing, and drying too. He demonstrates how our RPF is successful in applications where optimum cleaning effectiveness, cGMP compliance and contained product handling are required.

CIP process

There’s a lot to think about when it comes to CIP process in pharma. Another BHS article has talked about the advantages of continuous filtration for pharmaceutical manufacturing. We’re determined at BHS to keep abreast of process design strategy trends to make sure our clients are safe and streamlined while they work to save their customers from whatever ails them.

 

Your next idea could come from a Whopper.

Any process engineer with a love for creativity will appreciate this Business Week article about The DNA of Strawberries.

The article features Phil Stewart, a fruit breeder for Driscoll’s (“the largest player in the $5.6 billion U.S. berry market,” according to Business Week). Stewart spent about two years regularly visiting a wild strawberry plant near a Burger King in Wastonville, California. When the vigorous plant finally bore fruit, Stewart was able to taste the deliciousness of its small berries.

process engineer
Photo credit: zuiko12 / Foter / CC BY-NC-SA

What he noticed in this sidewalk strawberry plant was a strong will to survive. It was not being carefully tended with water and chemicals to insure optimum growth. And Stewart, in the kind of open-minded thinking that makes me happy, decided to pluck one of the berries and transport it five miles down the road to where he runs Driscoll’s strawberry breeding program trying to create the next, best strawberry.

In Driscoll’s test fields rows of raised beds are observed, and berry plants are recorded, tested and bred with close attention to qualities such as flavor, size, color, and firmness. Two seedlings grown from the original plant were crossed with other types of strawberry, but the taste was marred by extreme seediness and Stewart dropped the strain after two generations.

That’s not the happy ending you were looking for, right? But whether or not he found the best berry at a Burger King isn’t the important part here. What I admire is Stewart’s willingness to look everywhere (even among the Whopper wrappers) for new answers to the breeding problems he encounters every day. He has so many options to consider in berry genetics, he told BusinessWeek, “I tend to have to be careful not to be distracted by all the cool stuff.”

But isn’t that the lot of creative minds and the likes of us process engineers? There are many cool pathways we can consider in deciding the optimum approach. We don’t want to wallow in rabbit holes, but if we aren’t willing to venture in new directions progress can’t be made.

If you have a process engineering problem for me to tackle, let me know. Like Sherlock Holmes, I’m always ready for a new case and ready to process engineer answers!