Process Development

Process development is the creation of a chemical manufacturing process to make some product or intermediary, or accomplish a specific goal.

Before World War II most of this work was done by an individual researcher who would develop a product in the laboratory, and then enlarge and refine the process until industrial scale production was achieved. World War II, specifically the Manhattan Project, changed all types of process development from an individual effort to a team effort.

To cite a specific example of how process development might be done today by a professional chemical engineer, we will take the example of a raw material recovery process. The problem is to take a large solid particle and remove undesirable additives to recover the base material.

  • The first step would be a brain-storming session with process engineering, pilot plant, and laboratory personnel to identify a probable industrial process. The resulting proposed manufacturing process might be:
    1. Storage of material for recovery, solvents, and wastes
    2. Size reduction (to increase surface area for additive extraction)
    3. Additive extraction by solvent washing
    4. Solvent recovery from the additive
    5. Solvent recovery from the washed particles
    6. Additive disposal
    Even at this stage we can identify further challenges such as rail or truck deliveries, fine particle capture, solvent emissions, concentrated additive handling and disposal, health hazards, and maybe solid/liquid wastes.
  • Because none of the problems identified are insurmountable, we can discuss the mechanism of removal of additive from the particle. We can agree:
    1. That a small particle is more likely to be recovered than a large one.
    2. That the solvent needs to be readily available, a good solvent for the additive, not dissolve the particles, and be environmentally friendly.
  • The laboratory personnel pick several candidate solvents, grind the solids to several different sizes, and try to leach out the additive in a beaker in a set of controlled comparative experiments.
  • With these results the team reconvenes and evaluates the full scale process looking specifically for improvements, cost reductions, and project schedule improvements. Using the preliminary data, the team makes the best guess at the full scale process. The full process is laid out and evaluated for all the original project constraints. The total installed cost for a facility is very roughly estimated.
  • The propose/refine-test-evaluate process is repeated so long as the envisioned full scale industrial process can improved and the envisioned facility be economically built and operated. If process, safety, health, environmental, or other problems are encountered, then other tactics are considered such as alternate processing steps, co-solvents, or other solvents even though they may be harder to control.

Development times may still be months, or in difficult processes many months, but times are very much compressed from the single researcher method and there are fewer dead ends encountered. The process that is eventually built has to meet the technical, environmental, safety, and business needs. A reality that has been brought to light by recent management continual improvement practices is that even if the original process/facility is less than perfect, once the process is running, a revenue stream will be generated, and a process of continuous improvement can be applied that corrects deficiencies as identified.

We have been in process engineering and process development for many years and consider it one of our strengths. If you need to consider professional process development, contact us.