Blog Post

Project Spotlight: Evaluating and Scaling-up the Right Product and Process 


Achieving Profitable Growth at Mid-Sized Chemical Companies  

The business and market realities for mid-sized chemical companies are simple to state, but difficult to deliver.  Technical and business leaders at these organizations face pressure to deliver profitable growth in hypercompetitive, low-growth, global environments.  

In those cases where market and competitive opportunities align in a way that this growth is achievable, innovation is often at the center of the strategic decision mix.  Necessary breakthroughs in product cost, volume, and product performance often only come through technological innovation and implementation.   

As these mid-sized companies tackle research and development efforts, many of them face resource constraints and challenges.  They may not have the necessary lab, pilot facilities or other critical infrastructure.  In addition, these firms may need additional human resources and skills to be successful in technology commercialization.  The human resource needs could be specific technical skills like separations or catalysis, or, more fundamentally, the company may simply not have expertise and experience in chemical process development, scale-up or building and operating pilot demonstration plants.  

In this competitive environment, these companies need to, simultaneously: launch development projects quickly, overcome technical challenges, and minimize long-term cost and risk.  These challenges can be significant.  

Evaluating and Scaling up Processes and Products  

An example of such a situation was faced by a mid-sized chemical manufacturer that needed to ramp up production. To accomplish its business goals, this manufacturer was interested in evaluating and exploring an identified, alternative process that offered the potential to significantly reduce investment versus the existing process — and improve product quality.  To meet the challenges, the company turned to AVN for facilities and expertise.  

Working closely with the company, AVN carried out laboratory studies of the alternative process to demonstrate its feasibility and to identify specific technical issues to consider during scale-up.  Based upon the laboratory study results, AVN designed and constructed a pilot-scale unit to evaluate the process, identify scaling barriers, and understand the dynamics of process recycles (both batch and continuous). AVN successfully commissioned the pilot plant.  As the pilot plant operations began, the team quickly identified economy of scale issues with the alternative process, resulting in the client shifting business priorities toward a different product.  

As these business priorities changed, the customer then needed demonstrate the pilot-scale production of the alternative product. To minimize project costs, AVN utilized a significant portion of the first pilot unit to construct the process for the other product. This resulted in significant savings in both time and money to the client. AVN commissioned and operated this second product pilot plant in both batch and continuous modes to help identify processing barriers. AVN worked to understand the effects of recycles and delivered on-specification product through a variety of processing methods to enable an economic decision for commercialization. Ultimately, AVN issued a standard process design package and Definition of Technology to the customer at project closing.  

The ultimate result of these successive projects was that the customer quickly and economically evaluated its first business option and focused on the RIGHT product and process.  The company based this second product on a feasible and economical technology.  For this mid-sized chemical company, AVN was an unbiased source of chemical process development, scale up and R&D services. The company was able to quickly launch its development projects, overcome technical challenges, and minimize long-term cost and risk.  

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