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Robust and affordable process control technologies for improving standards and optimising industrial operations

Periodic Reporting for period 3 - ProPAT (Robust and affordable process control technologies for improving standards and optimising industrial operations)

Reporting period: 2018-01-01 to 2018-12-31

The European process industry is uniquely positioned and represents the economic roots of the European economy (by transforming raw materials into intermediate and end-user products but also using energy, water, and possibly producing by-products, emissions and wastes). It thus sits at the core of most industrial value chains via discrete manufacturing into a whole host of sectors. The process industry is characterised by having a high dependence on resources (energy, raw materials and water) in production. Optimising the effectiveness of process control systems and strategies is vital to improve quality, reliability and efficiency, as well as the sustainability of operations.

Today, the industry faces major challenges including globalisation, environmental regulation, and shortening product life cycle. Meeting these challenges has required the development of innovative technologies and alternative approaches geared towards reducing costs and improving the environmental and economic profile of processes. Breakthroughs in process operations and process modelling have been necessary for achieving energy and material efficiency gains. These breakthroughs are made possible by the use of process analytical technologies optimally designed for real time in situ process monitoring, characterisation and accurate control that offer benefits such as minimising waste, improving reaction output, increasing energy efficiency, decreasing the formation of by-products, and minimising the potential for accidents.

The ProPAT project aims to develop robust and affordable process control technologies for improving standards and optimising industrial operations. To this end, over the course of the four years of this project, a series of low cost analysers combined with smart sensors that can improve the control and efficiency of the process industry will be tested, optimised and integrated in a Global System Control Platform that will acquire, process and mine the data for closed loop control of the process or for decision support, and will be validated in processing applications to demonstrate the feasibility of ProPAT as an integrated process control solution for future wide European deployment in the process industry. The R&D effort will centre on engineering design, software/algorithm design, data analytics and data management, process engineering and industrial integration and validation. We will validate (i) that reduced sensor cost allows their use at several critical points along the same process and (ii) sensors will be suitable for end-users/early adopters in multiple sectors: Metals (MBN), Polymers (Megara), Minerals (GM) and Pharma (GSK).
During the first phase of the project (M1-M18), the partners worked to achieve a consortium wide understanding of the end-users processes and requirements, review of the most relevant standards and regulatory needs and planning of the integration strategy (WP1). To this end, several consultations, interviews and questionnaires were held to the end-users to achieve a deep knowledge of their processes structure, quality requirements but most importantly, their expectations on the project developments. Based on this work, the partners focused on the development of the two novel analysers (ProG Granulometer and FPI-NIR sensor) and the Global Control Platform (PATBox) as well as hardware interfacing devices that would form the core of the ProPAT solution. To this end, all technology providers worked in close collaboration with end-users who provided their industrial requirements. The project´s first phase ended with initial versions of all the systems (ProG, FIP-NIR, PATBox, bespoke sensor hardware interface) delivered for pilot validation and pilot processes similar to the ones in the end-user facilities having been set up.

As such in the second phase, the development of the new low cost Granulometer (ProG-B) was concluded with advancements made over 6 versions to reach the final state and four devices are currently available. The development of FPI-NIR was concluded with the development and release of version v1.7 and fabrication of 4 units. The purchase of of the commercial sensors was concluded based on end-user process reuqirements while the bespoke sensor interface was delivered. At this stage it was possible to start developing the first Chemometric models and applying them to NIR raw data from polyester and pharma processes to predict sample properties and process end-point. Finally, all ProPAT elements were integrated and the system got ready for its first pilot trials. As such, scaled-down pilots of the industrial processes in MEGARA, GSK, MBN, and GM were successfully developed and installed in UNIVLEEDS and the whole system including the Global Control Platform, sensors, chemometric models and interfaces was installed and validated to TRL6 and were rendered ready for industrial validation.

In the third and final phase of the project (M37-M48), the pilot validation (WP6) was concluded. This work helped define the final setup for the industrial validation in the 4 use-cases. In the case of MEGARA (Polymerization process) ProPAT allowed real-time inline data (spectra) collection that were channeled to onsite PATBox deployment and enabled the adaptation and application of chemometrics and data fusion models for prediction of key production parameters and, crucially, of polymerization process end-point. In the case of MBN and GM, ProPAT enabled collection of particle-size and airflow data and their fusion with PLC parameters to develop models for the prediction of particle size relying only on input from airflow sensors and PLC parameters. In the case of GSK, ProPAT was installed in a replica of GSK´s fluidized bed dryer at LEEDS facilities where the results were channeled in local deployment of PATBox which enabled the adaptation and application of chemometric models that predicted water content and therefore were able to identify the end-point of the drying process in real-time and with high accuracy.

Business planning, commercial assessment and environmental assessment activities conducted on the basis of the data collected during industrial validation concluded with specific business plans for the commercialization of the system as a whole and/or the separate technologies while clear environmental and (socio)economic benefits were identified in all use cases.
The key innovations brought by ProPAT are, on the one hand, the use of novel low cost NIR (MEMS based) and granulometric (imaging scatterometer) sensors in combination with smart sensors capable of measuring traditional parameters in a time/space resolved fashion depending on the individual processes, and on the other hand the calibration and validation of the integrated PAT platforms in a number of process applications including minerals, ceramic, non-ferrous metals, chemistry (plastic and pharmaceuticals, etc.). An important driver for PAT is the pressing need within the industry to reduce production costs and speeds. In short, ProPAT is an enabler for the extensive usage of all information available will contribute to more sustainable plant operations through measurements of critical quality and performance attributes of raw and processed materials to ensure final product quality, the idea of which is to become more efficient while reducing over-processing, enhancing efficiency and minimising waste.