Is it time to seriously consider pipeless batch processing?

Thomas Archibald, vp and director of global operations and manufacturing for Rohm and Haas Co., explains future-manufacturing operations must be capable of achieving:Achieving each of these goals requires looking at old ways of doing things in a new way—companies must do more "thinking outside-the-box.


Thomas Archibald, vp and director of global operations and manufacturing for Rohm and Haas Co., explains future-manufacturing operations must be capable of achieving:

  • Zero process safety incidents;

  • Near zero injuries;

  • Zero process excursions;

  • Zero product rework; and

  • 100% perfect customer orders (on-time, made right, etc.).

Achieving each of these goals requires looking at old ways of doing things in a new way—companies must do more "thinking outside-the-box."

One area of manufacturing that may offer a realistic means of achieving these goals is pipeless batch processing.

Concept is simple

The concept of pipeless batch is quite simple. Instead of using pipes to move product from vessel to vessel for subsequent processing, leave the product in a single vessel and move the vessel to dedicated processing stations.

Until recently, moving vessels around also meant difficulty in monitoring the vessels contents, but wireless technologies, suitable for plant-floor deployment, permit continuously monitoring a vessels content regardless of its physical location on the plant floor (see CE , Apr. '00, p. 44).

Of course new thinking brings new considerations for things like vessel design, floor space utilization, tracking and control system architectures, changes in maintenance and operator skill sets, and a whole lot more; but that's what thinking outside-the-box is all about. Besides this is not really new territory, companies, such as Chesebrough - Pond's USA (Jefferson City, Mo.), began using pipeless batch several years ago (see CE , Oct. '97).

Control systems offer a solution

Looking specifically at control, instrumentation, and automation system challenges associated with pipeless batch, as recently as three or four years ago, system architectures were generally proprietary and designed for stationary operations with hardwired I/O devices. But that's rapidly changing, thanks to wider acceptance, demand, and use of open and defacto standards. Additionally, more and more control system vendors are offering wireless connectivity based on capabilities already demonstrated using cell phones, personal device appliances, personal communicators, wireless LANs, and Ethernet modems. Many of these control system offerings focus on displaying information to mobile operators and plant supervisory personnel, but a few, such as Opto 22 (Temecula, Calif.), are extending wireless technology to the I/O systems that form the heartbeat of plant floor control, instrumentation, and automation systems.

Benson Hougland, director of technical marketing for Opto 22 says, "Opto 22's approach to delivering robust wireless technologies to the plant floor is to remain pure in our leveraging existing and emerging technologies and protocols to deliver innovative solutions. By maintaining a pure utilization of existing and emerging Internet and wireless communication technologies we are able to quickly and confidently deliver new solutions to our customers. Looking at control and automation system challenges associated with pipeless batch, perception is the major obstacle preventing users from hanging a SNAP I/O system on each movable vessel and monitoring its content on a Palm VII via a wireless intranet."

Experience is available

Mr. Hougland's advice to "remain pure" in the deployment of technology is sound especially when considering innovative thinking like pipeless batch. No one wants to undertake a new manufacturing concept and develop the supporting technology. Fortunately for those companies willing to consider pipeless batch, the risk is quite manageable. For example, automatic guided vehicles (AGVs) are at work on thousands of plant floors every day.

There is little risk in deploying AGVs to move vessels in a pipeless plant, especially if you seek out companies like AGV Systems (Charlotte, N.C.), which helped Chesebrough - Pond's with its pipeless batch plant. Or when it comes time to design and size vessels and modular processing stations, companies like Factory Logic (Austin, Tex.) help manage risk because of previous pipeless batch experience.

Perhaps thinking outside the pipe should be part of your thinking to face survival challenges in process manufacturing

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