Manufacturers worldwide are taking a closer look at how they can deliver cost-optimised, high-quality products. But will a paradigm shift to real time in-process quality testing allow more manufacturers to embrace the massive cost and productivity benefits available for both batch and continuous production?
Martin Gadsby, Director at Optimal Industrial Technologies, discusses how process analytical technology (PAT) can be a gamechanger in quality management for process manufacturing.
Conventionally, the quality of a batch manufactured product is controlled using manual laboratory testing on samples collected after each unit operation. This is called “Quality by Testing” (QbT). However, traditional quality control has limitations that hinder manufacturing efficiency as QbT takes place too late in the process to prevent scrap and rework. One methodology that has the potential to address this issue is PAT. This provides a real time quality prediction and assurance methodology that enables the process to be continually monitored and optimised, increasing product quality.
By assuring product quality automatically on a live, continuous basis, using multivariate models for instrument calibration, virtually all process manufactured products can be produced far more quickly, more cost effectively and to a higher quality. QbT is no longer required, as timely automated process adjustments can be made to optimise the product quality and reduce or possibly eliminate rework and waste. Using a holistic PAT process model and the right management software, timely measurements of raw and in-process materials can also help contribute to improved process resilience and adaptability.
Why conventional quality control is obsolete
Traditional quality control can often identify issues in the manufacturing process only after the unit operation or batch is finished. In contrast, with PAT-led production the final quality is not tested into the product, but rather built into the product as process adjustments can be made in real-time. It is a “Quality by Design” (QbD) approach. Re-work of sub-standard product batches and wastage caused by the empirically-derived assumption that raw materials are all of a consistent quality is potentially eliminated by adopting a QbD approach. Also, “Real time Release Testing”, where product can be released for sale immediately after production, becomes a reality. The risk of lost sales or direct recall costs and brand damage is also removed.
The role PAT can play in different manufacturing industries
In a highly regulated industry such as biotech and pharmaceuticals, using a PAT based process model means product can be released straight from production into the distribution chain without any further tests or confirmation being required. The significantly reduced development and production time leads to massive savings in production cost and manufacturing time and brings huge advantages in reducing the overhead of Work-In-Progress materials.
The benefits to using PAT for manufacturers of high-value goods are instantly apparent, as any sub-standard batches cause great financial losses due to the large amount of expensive off-spec material produced when things go wrong. Producing lower value product, but at very high speed and in large volumes has the same cost implications in this scenario, so other manufacturing industries such as FMCG can also substantially improve their production processes and reduce losses related to sub-standard products.
Manufacturers of high-volume low-value goods are arguably under more pressure to improve their productivity, speed up production times, reduce rework and scrap while improving the consistency of quality. Real-time QbD processes can also make a difference by allowing bulk producers to use a wider range of potentially lower-cost raw materials, slight variations to in-feed materials can be compensated for with recipe changes that can keep final quality controlled to a much tighter tolerance. PAT is the one technology that has the potential to deliver improvements in all these areas.
Key drivers for PAT-led production
One main concern that may prevent manufacturers from investing in a new technology is whether it is approved by regulatory authorities. In the case of PAT, the shift from testing final batches to building quality into the product is promoted by regulatory bodies that see PAT as a way to foster manufacturing efficiency and product quality, while harmonising regulatory expectations. For example, since the early 2000s both the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the European Medicines Agency (EMA) have promoted the adoption of PAT to support the proliferation of QbD in the pharmaceutical industry.
This holistic approach does however require an effective data and knowledge management tool that allows users to monitor the production critical attributes in real time and enable timely process improvements to optimise quality. Centralised and distributed systems that are designed specifically for PAT, that ensure regulatory compliance and that are helping to drive the PAT revolution are available. One of the most advanced and well-proven PAT data management tools on the market is synTQ, by Optimal. Its market status is underlined by the fact that over half the world’s top-ten global pharmaceutical manufacturers already use it.
At the tipping point of innovation adoption
Industry trends show that manufacturers who have already implemented PAT into their production processes are increasing their market responsiveness, productivity and production capacity whilst also improving the consistency of quality. Other industries are taking note of these successes; thus, the technology is now beginning to gain more widespread acceptance beyond pharmaceutical manufacturers that are effectively the ‘early adopters’. It is now beginning to gain interest among manufacturers of low-volume high-value and high-volume low-value goods. As its visibility increases and the technology matures, its adoption will become ever more widespread to a point where PAT is likely to become an industry standard in many sectors.
Innovating food processing equipment with custom metal parts
Have you ever had a piece of equipment that worked perfectly…except that one little part that gave you trouble — say, a filter that kept getting clogged or an electrical connector that was always on the fritz? Wouldn’t it be great if you could redesign just that one piece to improve the operation of the entire machine?
These are exactly the kinds of problems Switzer is equipped to solve.
The family-owned custom metal parts manufacturer works with customers across industries — aerospace, medical, telecommunication, optics and photonics, and food processing, and many others — to design and fabricate precision metal parts for use in a variety of innovative technologies. They even worked with X, Google’s R&D division, on Project Loon, which uses balloons flying in the stratosphere to provide Internet access to remote areas. Switzer developed custom metal components for the balloons’ power supply.
To learn more about their work in the food industry, we spoke with Joseph Dunlop, the company’s vice president of business development.
Tackling a common food and beverage industry challenge: Filtration
“Everyone’s trying to be better, smaller, faster, and more efficient with less field service required,” Dunlop says.
That’s certainly true in the food industry, where competition, low profit margins, and a shrinking workforce are pushing processors to improve their operations while cutting their costs. Switzer recently tackled these issues for a notable OEM.
Currently, most filters fall into the commodity category. They’re typically an inexpensive woven wire mesh that can be cut to size. Woven wire mesh may be cheap, but it has two major downsides:
- Blinding. Blinding occurs when particles get caked on the filter and prevent working fluids from moving through. This impairs the filter’s performance until it’s no longer usable. As a result, the filters have to be replaced frequently. It has a similar impact in grinding and pulverizing applications.
- Structure degradation. Over time, the fiber structure of wire mesh weakens. “The distance between the wires will grow and shrink based on how much media is going through the woven wire mesh filter, and how much fatigue it witnesses,” Dunlop explains.
The OEM wanted to eliminate these problems. They also imposed an additional caveat: the new filter had to fit into the same space as the old one. The goal wasn’t to redesign the entire machine, just to provide higher-quality, longer-lasting filtration.
“This was a cool engineering problem for us,” Dunlop says. What Switzer developed was a metal filter that was thinner and more efficient than the traditional wire mesh. “When we make filtration media, it’s a single piece and it’s flat. We don’t weave anything, so there’s no three-dimensional component, no Z direction.” The single-piece construct is also more durable than woven wire, so the filter doesn’t have to be replaced as often.
This is just one example of the kind of “bleeding edge” technology innovation Switzer can bring to the food industry. The possibilities are endless.
701TE and 701CE electric slew and track drive for mini-excavators from Bonfiglioli
Our two new products allow customers to get a complete drive solution for 2-3 ton mini-excavators. Bonfiglioli offers a fully electric alternative to the conventional axial piston hydraulic unit, allowing the machine to reduce noise levels and CO2 emissions to zero.
The complete electric powertrain dramatically improves the efficiency of the machine and extends the maintenance interval providing a significant reduction of the total cost of ownership. While the gear units benefit from over 65 years of experience by Bonfiglioli in the field of conventional hydraulic applications, the electric motors have been specifically designed and developed to match the demanding requirements of the market in terms of energy efficiency, compact dimensions and high power density.
Each motor has been designed to perfectly fit the space available for the slew and the track system minimizing the requirements and modifications to the frame and the entire system. Its rugged and compact design is guaranteed thanks to the stator’s technology design, made with concentrated winding and IPM (Internal Permanent Magnet) technology.
The broad selection of drive solutions, combined with very high quality, advanced technology, and a great deal of expertise, makes Bonfiglioli an ideal partner for all construction equipment manufacturers. The many years of experience certify Bonfiglioli’s capability to design, develop and create robust tailor-made solutions, perfectly adapted to its customers’ requests and needs.
New DC Platform: Interroll presents an innovative drive solution
Interroll is setting new standards in modern material flow technology. Interroll’s innovative range of coordinated RollerDrive products, control systems and power supply elements positions system integrators and plant constructors to now provide even more individual solutions for their customers, from plug-and-play standard applications to systems with Industry 4.0 functionality.
The requirements placed on zero-pressure-accumulation material flow systems are becoming more demanding in terms of their technical performance. For a while now, users have required more than simply high throughputs or versatility in terms of the goods to be transported. As automation becomes more common, intelligent goods flow control plays an ever more significant role in conveyance systems. With the DC Platform, Interroll has developed a powerful technology platform that fulfills these requirements in an exemplary manner.
“With the new DC Platform, system integrators and plant constructors can choose from an innovative, coordinated range of technological solutions from a single supplier, all based on years of development and testing,” explains Armin Lindholm, Managing Director of the global Center of Excellence for rollers and RollerDrive in Wermelskirchen. “It enables them to deal with users’ requirements in a more individual manner. This new platform can be used to create a unique range of conveying solutions, from autonomous conveyors that can be commissioned without a programmable logic controller (PLC) using plug-and-play, all the way to tailor-made, high-performance systems that can be consistently and transparently integrated into the data universe of Industry 4.0 applications for the purpose of monitoring in control stations, for preventive maintenance or for other functions.”
Experience the benefits of 48 V technology
The new modular platform makes it possible for system integrators and plant constructors to design conveying systems according to customers’ requests in both 24 V and 48 V versions. With this step, Interroll is driving the technical evolution of protective low-voltage solutions that has been sketched out by automotive manufacturers. 48 V systems therefore enable the use of up to 50 percent fewer power supply elements than in 24 V systems. They enable the use of smaller wire cross-sections and longer wire lengths, and reduce the number of error sources, for instance as a result of voltage drops on the wires. This significantly reduces the investment required in the entire system and the risk of errors during commissioning.
Three power levels to choose from with the new RollerDrive
However, customers don’t just have more options when it comes to the voltage type of the new DC Platform. The new RollerDrive EC5000 also offers more flexibility in terms of its mechanical output power. The new motor rollers are available in 20 W, 35 W and 50 W versions that can take on any transport tasks for light or heavy goods. To support the implementation of conveyor solutions for heavy goods, Interroll offers the 50 W power option as well as a RollerDrive version with tubes measuring 60 mm in diameter instead of 50 mm. What’s more, the well-known IP66 and Deep Freeze design options are available; these enable RollerDrive solutions to be implemented even in areas that are cleaned using powerful water jets or that reach temperatures as low as -30° C.
Bus interface opens the door to Industry 4.0
Alongside the tried-and-tested analog interface, the EC5000 can be supplied with a bus interface based on the CANOpen standard, upon request. This means that modern conveying systems can offer data transparency for the first time. In combination with an Interroll control system with multi-protocol capability (PROFINET, EtherNet/IP and EtherCat), this means that users can consistently visualize a range of information and functions on the screen using the PLC or a web interface. One example is the display of general information about the current operating state and the operating load of the individual drives over time. In parallel, the control systems enable a range of detailed information such as precise error statuses, torque or temperature, for instance, to be read out for each individual drive.
At the same time, the new RollerDrive’s bus interface enables users to carry out completely new control functions that are required in an automated environment. As a result, users can control the acceleration, speed and deceleration of the conveyed goods in the system more precisely. This solution also allows them to position the relevant goods on the conveyor to the nearest millimeter—a key requirement in order to guarantee seamless conveying interplay between the conveyor solution and robots or automated gripper arms.
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