Benefits of a Continuum Approach to Optimizing Final Drying 

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As we announced in March, BHS has acquired AVA-GmbH. The AVA technologies provide for turbulent mixing, reacting and drying of wet cakes as well as powders and process slurries. The vertical and horizontal technologies are vacuum or atmospheric, batch and continuous, for final drying to “bone-dry” powders. They are an essential part of our “Continuum Approach.” 

What do I mean by that? This blog briefly reviews our first ground-breaking study showing the benefits of a “Continuum Approach” to final drying and upstream solid-liquid filtration, cake washing and dewatering.  

Most often when analyzing a new process development approach, engineers take a “silo” approach and look at each step independently.  Our article illustrates that by taking a holistic approach and looking at each step not individually but as a continuum, the process solution becomes much more efficient.  

In the manufacturing of the specialty chemical involved, the crystals coming from the reactor in a methanol slurry had to be filtered, washed and dewatered and then dried to a final moisture of less than 1.0 (<1.0 %).  The standard approach would be to first look at the solid-liquid filtration step and optimize this step for the maximum washing and drying efficiency. Then, with this information, we’d optimize the downstream drying.  The operating company, however, took a different approach and looked at the process as a continuum from solid-liquid filtration through cake washing and dewatering to final drying. The Continuum Approach” resulted in operational energy and nitrogen savings as well as lower capital and installation costs for a more efficient and reliable process.  

You can read the full technical article, but the overall result was a 50% decrease in the filtration area, elimination of a nitrogen recovery system with a 30 minute increase in batch drying time at a lower temperature for better product quality.

Contact me to optimize your current drying and filtration process. Let’s get more efficient together!

Changing from Batch to Continuous Processing

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Our approaches to process engineering must always be evolving. Otherwise, we’ll never grow and innovate. Recently, I contributed a feature to The Chemical Engineer on making the change from batch to continuous processing. Here’s an edited version of that article for my loyal blog readers. 

As there is a push to become more efficient, many process industries have begun thinking about continuous processing. Many specialty and fine chemical operations are batch operated. It is easy and typically uses filter presses, vacuum nutsche filters, filter-dryers, plate and leaf filters, and batch centrifuges. 

Yet batch processing significantly lacks flexibility in scaling capacity, and typically requires larger manufacturing footprints and less efficient use of space. So, I’ve been seeing more of a shift from batch to continuous processing. 

In my career, I’ve helped engineers move to continuous operations for such applications in pharma and biochemical, specialty polymers, starch and cellulose, aromatic acids and fly ash wetting.

Why? In continuous processes: 

  • a filter is typically one-third the size of a batch filter
  • the process can increase yield and optimize quality
  • there are fewer reslurry/holding/buffer tanks
  • transfer pumps can be eliminated
  • complications from solids handling can be minimized
  • less agitation is used (which can impact crystal size and fines generation)
  • it can be easier to maintain constant flows, pressures and temperatures

Applications of Continuous Processing

In the article, I shared several examples of continuous processing applications in my career. I’ll recap a couple of them here too.

In a specialty chemical polymer application, a client wanted to transition to continuous processing to eliminate solids handling and reslurry tanks. Eliminating the liquid ring vacuum pump required for vacuum filtration would also cut energy costs. At BHS Filtration, we did lab and pilot testing to determine the rotary pressure filter was the best option.The continuous pressure filter saw a 16% increase in filtration rate; maintaining the temperature at -5oC resulted in a higher capacity. Secondly, we saw a more efficient washing due to less cake cracking in the thin cake (5 mm) as compared with 150 mm (6-inch) cake. 

For a pharmaceutical client, BHS was involved with a transition to fully-automated continuous processing in extracting phospholipids from egg yolk for preparation as a pet food additive. After consulting with the client and testing, the choice was a continuous-indexing vacuum belt filter for vacuum filtration, cake washing, and dewatering of the cake. The technology is based upon fixed vacuum trays, a continuously feeding slurry system, and indexing or stepwise movement of the filter media. In practical terms, the operational features of the belt filter can be viewed as a series of Buchner funnels. Making that change to the filter validated, as a GMP installation, for pharmaceutical production has increased the yield of the phospholipids by 3–5%. 

 In doing this kind of work, we’ve run into different challenges. We’ve been reminded that process scale matters and what works in the lab may not work in the plant. We’ve seen the need to silo both batch and continuous processes in the same line as a continuum. We’ve been reminded of the need to understand how one upstream decision will impact downstream processes.

We must also remember making the transition from batch to continuous processing requires more than just new equipment. The entire manufacturing operation and the mindset of staff need transformed. 

Process engineers have many choices to transition to a continuous operation. Continuous can be more challenging, but the benefits are there. Just be ready for some unexpected consequences along the way, and always test, test, test!

Of course, if you want to read the entire article, and I hope you will, it’s available! I’d be happy to discuss any of the ideas or possible applications of these insights with you. Reach out to me today!

 

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.

Weighing Alternative API Filtration Technologies

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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!

Changing it Up with Mixer-Dryer-Reactor Acquisition

 

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

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

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

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

Expanding Process Filtration Technology Technologies

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

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

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

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

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

Busyness versus Business and Chemical Engineering Action

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My first blog of 2018 talked about the “speed” of the world and recommended slowing down and reflecting. Well, here’s some free chemical engineering advice as the year draws to a close: It’s important to take the time to review facts and data, analyze decisions, gather inspiration from many sources, and finally proceed with definite actions. Still, you’ll need to be ready to change, as things will come at you at “breakneck speed.”  

In my out-of-the-box way of thinking, I’m going to relate these ideas to the World Cup — Congratulations to France! During the big tournament of the big game in summer 2018, there was a lot of discussion about penalty kicks. 

Bradley Staats discussed them in the Wall Street Journal article “Don’t Simply Dive into Action:  Think.” He looked at various research sources and concluded that “the goalie’s best strategy may be not to move at all.”  At the same time, surveyed goalies have said that they would regret allowing a goal more if they stayed in the center (rather than diving left or right).  This impulse reflects an “action bias.” The idea that doing nothing could be the best strategy for goalies or businesses is seldom discussed.  

Action Bias in Chemical Engineering

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In the world of chemical engineering, when looking at a problem, we are all taught to gather more data, do more testing, investigate more research, get more sources, etc.  And yes, sometimes this is the best strategy when coming across a problem that is new to the plant or to the specific process.  However, there are many different thoughts on this topic from Sherlock Holmes who employs occasional silence and distancing for problem solving to Thomas Watson, longtime CEO of IBM who would tell his salespeople “the trouble with everyone is that we do not think enough…knowledge is the result of thought.”

So, what is the answer?  As we sit at our computers and study the data, we all debate with ourselves whether to take a short walk or brainstorm for 5 minutes.  As the title of the blog states, busyness does not lead to business or to learning.  So, as an engineer, I suggest the brainstorm approach and thinking.  For vendors and sales people too, the tendency is for action.  But, even for sales people, thinking and slowing down to develop the correct approach is critical to success.

My chemical engineering advice is to avoid acting just to show “action.” Instead, take some time to think.  We may have to change Notre Dame Football coach Frank Leahy’s quote to read instead: “when the going gets tough, the tough get thinking.”  Let me know your ideas.

6 Global Trends Driving Filtration and Separation Technology Innovation

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This guest blog by Molly Henry of the American Filtration and Separations Society (AFS), appeared on their site (with my editorial assistance). For those who missed the original, I thought it was information worth sharing again here (in edited form) regarding the global filtration market.

As our population grows and urbanizes, so does our need for clean energy, pure water, increased food supplies, advanced medical care, and improved digital devices and processing power. Filtration and separation suppliers, as an enabling technology to most industries, must continually evolve to increase capacity and improve filtration performance. This blog examines the trends necessitating innovation. 

Population growth will drive demand, which will require increased production and manufacturing efficiency for industrial products, foods and beverages, transportation, and infrastructure. All of which means a greater need for filtration and separation technology.

Rapid urbanization on a global scale requires new and improved infrastructure, including water, power, communications and transportation; all of which require filtration.

Disruptive digital technology changes have dramatically improved computer processing for several decades, and trends call for this to continue. As computer circuits have grown smaller and smaller while increasing in processing power, filtration and separation technologies have also become increasingly more sophisticated.

Natural resource scarcity and climate change will make it increasingly difficult to supply an ever-growing population with clean water. This will drive greater use of desalination technologies. Recycling and reusing of wastewater on a consumer, commercial and industrial scale will become the norm. Filtration and separation technology make all these processes possible.

Transformative advances in healthcare will allow people to live longer, healthier, and more productive lives. A part of this process will be advances in diagnostic and drug therapies, which utilize filtration and separation technologies. At the same time, a focus on a cleaner environment and all natural and pure consumables, will see more industries utilizing filtration and separation rather than chemical technologies to make products safe and pure.

The race to zero emissions and zero discharge for industrial manufacturing, public utilities, automotive and aerospace will be a technology challenge on many fronts. Filtration and separation are among the major enabling technologies for this purify, recycle, and reuse process.

Whatever role you play, keeping an eye on these megatrends will serve you and your constituents well in the quest for long-term growth and value creation in the global filtration market. 

 

Become a Filtration Tech Troubleshooting Expert

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Recently I addressed the too-familiar telephone call that the “filtration system is not working.” When the call comes in — and so seldom during regular business hours —  filtration tech experts have to react quickly to solve the problem.

Now, the question is how do you avoid getting these types of calls in the first place?  Well, you can turn off your cell phone, but maybe isn’t the best idea.  Instead, the better approach is proactive troubleshooting. 

Proactive Filtration Tech Troubleshooting Ideas

As you know, I’m a big fan of Sherlock Holmes. The great sleuth talks about checklists and separating the consequential from the inconsequential facts. This systematic approach works perfectly for troubleshooting — take a systematic approach with a comprehensive set of questions and logic charts.  After all, we all know that most problems, maybe 90% or more, that arise with the filtration system have been experienced before.  

A different approach involves “walking around” or random analysis.  Sherlock and Dr. Watson are also very good at this. They see what’s not there to uncover the facts. This observation approach can help with the unique problems. I’ve written before also about the Japanese approach of “Genchi Genbutsu,” which further explains this option.

Becoming an Expert Troubleshooter

Becoming an Expert Troubleshooter, though, requires developing several “soft” skills over and above your technical expertise and great depth of knowledge in many areas. These characteristics include:

  • Critical thinking: Ask probing questions to everyone at the plant from operators, mechanics, to process and R&D engineers to encourage conversations
  • Excellent communication: Listen to the answers and ask the same questions in a different way or use the answers to formulate different questions and keep an open mind.
  • Empathy: Try to understand potential frustrations.
  • Motivational: Praise everyone who provided you with the answers, ideas, etc. to inspire the plant
  • Ability to teach: Look for teaching moments so problem-solving permeates through the organization.

In the future of work, we’re going to be looking more at talents in addition to expertise. Cultivate your troubleshooting chops. Keep walking around and keep learning. In the meantime, let me know your area of expertise; maybe I can use your skills.

My Thoughts on Filtration Separation Trends and Practices

 

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I recently had the opportunity to share my ideas on filtration separation trends and practices with World of Chemicals magazine. My favorite part may have been the headline, “Aging with perfection in filtration technology.” I like to think they were talking about me — ha ha!

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In the meantime, I thought I’d excerpt some of the thoughts I shared in that interview.

Talking about global trends in the filtration separation equipment market, I noted, as the world’s population grows, there is a need for cleaner energy, improved water & food and advanced health care….Advances in healthcare and pharmaceuticals and nutraceuticals [are also allowing] people to live longer, healthier and more productive lives.

This means, “filtration and separation technology suppliers must continually improve their products to meet these needs. The trends in the filtration market space are two-fold: moving towards continuous filtration (which is more efficient) as well as moving towards finer and finer particle size removal.”

I suspect we’ll see high demand for filtration separation products in “pharmaceuticals with smaller batches, cleanability and multipurpose operations.” Also, “for increased food supply, we see growth in the agrochemical market including fertilizers, pesticides, herbicides and insecticides.” Plus, “cleaner water is driving the specialty chemicals for resins and catalysts.”

As chemical and pharmaceutical manufacturers adapt to more multipurpose facilities, filtration and separation equipment must be cleanable and avoid cross-contamination between products. Batch sizes are also smaller, and we demand for finer filtration and separation to 0.5 microns as well as automatic operation for safety, efficiency etc.

Automation trends & more

Automation technology is one of the most important aspects for customers today. It is critical for filtration and separation products for preventative maintenance, efficient operation, mechanical troubleshooting and process analysis. Applying improved automation technology greatly reduces the energy usage and improves accuracy and precision to the overall process.

Automation also provides for optimum operations, time monitoring systems, report generation and recipe management.

We’re also going to have to incorporate R&D to meet market demands. At BHS, we’re working with clients to combine technologies for full turnkey responsibility to minimize lifecycle costs and reduce operating costs. So, overall, we are focused on innovation, automation, continuous processing, cleanability and overall reliability to 99 percent uptime. We strive to provide complete process solutions with spare parts, service and continually to improve the client’s operation.

This requires testing — of course. “Testing provides the collaboration with the client to provide innovative and cost-effective process solutions.”

At the same time, one big challenge in our market is the need for speed. Speed of innovation is impacting our clients who are developing new processes very quickly using micro-reactors, new chemistry, and new products.

The speed at which the filtration and separation suppliers must operate to meet the clients is even faster. Successful companies must fulfill this “speed” objective without sacrificing any core values of safety, efficiency, quality, and service.