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Why conventional quality control is obsolete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.
ABB’s award winning solar inverter
At Intersolar Europe, ABB’s new PVS-175-TL string inverter, which delivers up to 185 kW active power has been recognized by industry experts as the leading PV product innovation at the 2018 Intersolar Awards.
Delivering up to 65 percent savings on installation and logistic costs for ground mounted utility scale applications, the ABB PVS-175-TL delivers the largest capacity on the market for a 1500Vdc string inverter.
The unique capabilities of ABB’s new PVS-175-TL lie in its ability to generate up to 185 kW active power and the judging panel was impressed by the high modularity of the product, which improves yields and reduces operational maintenance costs. Judges praised the string inverter as the next step in improving the overall efficiency in PV systems and recognized its high power density and operating temperature range between -20°C and up to 60°C.
Together with all the key benefits of traditional string inverters, its innovative modular design means that up to 65 percent fewer inverters are required to complete the optimal power block, without the need for AC recombiners. This delivers up to 65 percent savings on installation and logistic costs, improving Levelized Cost of Electricity (LCOE) for utility-scale installations.
The three-phase PVS-175-TL with advanced digital capabilities through ABB Ability™, ABB’s comprehensive cross-divisional digital offering, delivers up to 185 kVA at 800 Vac and ultra-high-power density of 1.3 kW/kg. This not only maximizes the ROI for ground-mounted utility-scale applications but also reduces Balance of System costs for small to large scale, free field ground mounted PV installations.
“As demand for higher voltage and higher power class ratings continues to grow, we are very excited to bring to the solar energy industry a scalable and versatile solution. We are delighted to be recognized at the highest possible level in our industry, particularly with the market shifting towards new technologies to enhance solar power generation in a reliable, safe and cost-effective manner,” commented Giovanni Frassineti, who heads up ABB’s Solar Business Unit. “This latest product not only supports higher power densities, but also improves installation with reduced commissioning time. It also benefits from advanced communication and digitalization for condition based monitoring and proactive maintenance for the operator.”
Quick and easy installation, improved accessibility and visibility, advanced digitalization monitoring through ABB Ability™, bigger PV clusters and modular combiner free design are just some of the many advantages of the PVS-175-TL.
Presented at Intersolar Europe for the first time, the PVS-175-TL is a plug-and-play inverter with easy install directly onto the existing PV modules’ mounting system, using the same process as installing a DC string combiner box.
A dedicated Installer App provides simple and quick plant installation instructions and gets all inverters employed, in a single cluster, and commissioned in less than 20 minutes.
The high performing PVS-175-TL delivers:
- High power density – largest on the market for a 1500 Vdc inverter, offering up to 65 percent savings on installation and logistics costs.
- Installer friendly, reducing OPEX costs by 30-40 percent with quicker installation as the existing PV module’s mounting systems can be used to install the inverters, with no need for other devices like DC and AC combiner boxes, saving time and cost on site preparation and hire of plant.
- Greater capacity without compromising on versatility – through its 12 MPPT input channels – the largest range available on the market – PV plant design flexibility and yields are increased in complex installations. The design friendly inverter solutions can be easily adapted for free field ground-mounted installations, ensuring that installers and developers are no longer locked into legacy systems.
- Modular and combiner free design – up to 24 strings can be directly connected to the wiring compartment which, thanks to the integrated DC disconnect and AC wiring section with optional AC disconnect, eliminates the need for separate DC combiner box and AC 1st level combiners.
- Enhanced O&M – can be achieved during the operating life of the plant through its unique Advanced Cooling Concept. The internal fans (which are not heavy-duty inverter cooling fans) can be easily removed during scheduled maintenance cycles, whilst the power module can be easily replaced without removing the wiring box. This preserves the lifetime and reliability of the product and minimizes O&M costs.
- Digitalization – featuring ABB Ability™ to deliver improved user experience, reduced time on site through remote monitoring and predictive maintenance, future proofing the system via automatic upgrades, compliance and integration with new IP protocols. Multiple data streaming and services can be run in parallel.
ABB is consistently investing in R&D with extensive testing and development of its portfolio to deliver integrated technology and service solutions which optimize performance, reliability and return on investment of any solar installation and fulfill the requirements of local markets.
New dedicated automotive stud welding system provider created
A unique, dedicated supplier of stud welding systems to the global automotive sector has been created following the sale of the former Nelson Fastener Systems business by leading international component manufacturer Doncasters Group.
The automotive division of the business – now known as Nelson Automotive – has been retained by Doncasters as part of the Group´s focus and commitment to the global automotive sector. It will continue to supply the sector with the market-leading stud welding systems, service and consumables for which the Nelson name has become renowned worldwide.
Its global customer base already includes many of the leading OEMs and well as major Tier 1 suppliers, all of whom will continue to benefit from unparalleled levels of innovation and service.
Products will continue to be manufactured in Gevelsberg in Germany, where a dedicated team is focused on the development of the next generation of stud welding systems, pushing the boundaries of speed, performance and durability.
The company is at the forefront of innovation in the sector, with its SPEEDPORT feeding system enabling a single unit to weld more than 40,000 studs in a day. It also offers an extensive range of manual and automatic systems, as well as robotic weld heads for high production environments.
Nelson Automotive boasts global reach with a complete product portfolio backed up by outstanding local service. It enjoys strong synergies with other companies within Doncasters´ Speciality Automotive division.
A spokesman for the company commented: “Our systems are used by leading players in the automotive sector in Europe, Asia and the Americas, where our service-led approach and commitment to innovation sets us apart.
Remaining within Doncasters´ Specialty Automotive division give us access to extensive resources in the area of research & development, equipping us ideally to meet the challenges faced by automotive manufacturers seeking outstanding stud welding performance at best cost.
The future is very bright for the business and we look forward to extending existing partnerships as well as embarking on new ones, whether customers are seeking systems for new production facilities or as upgrades to existing plants.”
Routine maintenance is essential for the continued reliability of machinery, even when it is used infrequently. For a power station in Wales, the induced draft (ID) fan motors are scheduled for maintenance every ten years and sometimes the inspection can reveal some unexpected issues. Fortunately, Sulzer had delivered motor repairs in the past for this site and was able to provide a comprehensive repair and installation including realignment.
More and more coal-fired power stations in the UK are being taken off full-time operation and only used during periods of peak demand in a drive to reduce carbon emissions. As a result, the machinery and equipment is used less frequently but it must still be ready for operation when the demand for energy rises.
A program of routine maintenance minimizes the risk of breakdown by completing any repairs during planned outages that will not affect the ability of the power station to meet demand.
In this example of the importance of routine maintenance, a pair of ID fan motors was removed from service to check their overall condition. ID fans are used at the outlet of the boiler system to exhaust the flue gases, creating a negative pressure in the furnace; their reliable performance is essential to furnace efficiency.
As the leading independent provider of maintenance solutions for rotating equipment, Sulzer had already developed a working relationship with the power station and was contracted to complete the inspection and repair of one of the motors. The second motor was replaced with a spare unit and held for inspection at a later date.
Sulzer has a network of service centers throughout the UK and in this case the Avonmouth Service Center took the lead for the repair and sent a team of field service engineers to the site. Jamie Watt, Site Supervisor for Sulzer, explains: “These motors use a 3.3 KV supply and produce 1.4 MW of power to drive the fans.
“The motor and bedframe alone weigh 23 tonnes along with an additional 15 tonnes for the fan and the ductwork. The scale of the equipment required us to use a 100-tonne crane to assist with the removal process and allow the motor to be loaded for transport to the service center.”
Communication is key
The initial inspection of the motor found that electrically it was in good shape, passing all the insulation resistance tests for both stator and rotor. However, mechanically there were several issues that required attention, including a considerable amount of sheet-metal work that needed to be replaced.
Greg Sandy, Electrical Works Manager for Sulzer at the Avonmouth Service Center, comments: “From the outset, a continuous dialogue was established with the power station to advise on progress in the project and explain any changes to the original repair program. Sulzer uses critical path analysis to ensure that all the different aspects of the repair project are completed as efficiently as possible, minimizing the overall project timeframe.
Sharing the load
Inspection of the stator revealed that all the windings would need to be re-wedged, while the stator frame was very corroded and needed to be cleaned and repainted. The new wedges were manufactured in-house and the repair team worked around the clock to remove and replace the original coil wedges.
Meanwhile, the rotor bearing journals needed to be polished and the coupling journal was badly worn. This was machined before spiral weld was applied and then machined to nominal dimensions with a new key-way.
At the same time, the white metal bearings were re-surfaced and the bearing housings were refurbished. These were found to have been poorly repaired in the past and had different sized bolts holding them in place. The housings were machined, fitted with inserts and equipped with new retaining hardware.
Once the components had been fully refurbished, the motor was reassembled and the faulty auxiliary components, such as the tacho and some of the sensor wiring were replaced. In this case, the extended scope of repairs and manufacturing of new parts was completed in just two months.
The return of the motor to the power station was organized by the Avonmouth Service Center, which also provided the personnel to install and align it. The sheer scale of this equipment meant that the driveshaft could not be turned by hand, as required for a laser alignment process, so the installation was completed using more traditional tools.
The customer requested the alignment to be within 0.05 mm axially and 0.125 mm offset. In fact, the team managed to achieve an out-of-parallel figure of 0.02 mm using a series of hydraulic rams and feeler gauges. Jamie Watt concludes: “Fortunately, we still retain the skills to install larger equipment without some of the modern technology. The timing of the completion of this project coincided with the return of the transformers, which had also undergone extensive repairs, and the customer was very satisfied with the completed work.”
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