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Introduction of Simulation Tools for Pharmaceutical, Food and Chemical Process Industries

Process industries generally rely on the technology of equipment manufacturers in process development. For a new material or process, equipment manufacturer proposes a solution based on experience. For example, granulation process has to be developed for a new powder. A prototype is built and tested. After some experimentation full scale equipment is built. This approach is time consuming and has certain pitfalls. If a new material or process is being developed, the manufacturer's experience is limited. On the other hand, the process company has limited knowledge of the equipment. After a series of tests, a prototype is designed. After a prototype is built and tested, the physical properties of the material required to describe the process is measured fully for the first time. Yet, the measurements from the prototype are not always sufficient to predict the full scale process. Material and process parameters can not be scaled linearly for most material. Sometimes, major difficulties are observed only after the full scale equipment is built.

Process simulation to complement and improve process development is being introduced rather slowly. In product development, simulation tools are widely used. For designing an automobile or an airplane one cannot imagine only testing and not using simulation tools. Many times, chemical engineers or food scientists are more concerned about the properties of materials for other concerns than manufacturing. Manufacturing process is addressed after the material is developed. Thus, in pharmaceutical, food and chemical industries, optimization of manufacturing processes may hot have attracted as much attention as the product industries. On the other hand the concerns are similar: time to market, quality and efficiency in production.

In introducing simulation to process industries the following steps can be suggested:

  •  Early in the development of the material and the process, physical properties of the material can be measured even if a small amount of material is available in a test tube.
  •  This new material and process can be simulated and optimized toward the design of the prototype.
  •  After the prototype is built, it would be used to complement and validate the simulation model. Further optimization can be accomplished by the simulation model in shorter time than if only the prototype was used.
  •  Scale-up to full scale is then conducted through simulation before the full scale model is built. The critical parameters and possible difficulties can be predicted ahead of time.
  •  After the full scale model is built and tested, simulation models can be used for further optimization.

The above process can be conducted jointly by the material/process developer and the equipment manufacturer. It allows specific information exchange between the two parties since simulation models provide much more detailed information than what can be measured. They also provide a better understanding of critical material properties and process conditions.

During the recent years, we see more applications of simulation to process industry. Yet, the progress has been slow mainly due to the complexity of materials and processes. It is not practical to expect off the shelf software to answer all the questions for such problems. The implementation of simulation tools require software which can model the entire problem and is validated for that process. This requires close cooperation between the process and software developers.

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