A Boost to Efficiency, Adaptability and Responsiveness
Walter Linhart, head of sales and managing partner, Microinnova
The main driver for the implantation of flow chemistry processes is the necessity to be competitive and free up batch production capacity. Fine and specialty chemicals producers are increasing their interest in flow chemistry, as experienced on half of the projects that Microinnova has worked on. Our expertise is combined with risk assessments at early stages to increase chances of success and ease the transition to continuous manufacturing. On the other hand, barriers slowing down or impeding the implementation of flow chemistry processes are largely based on misconceptions.
Misconception 1 – Limited type of reactors: Flow chemistry can be achieved not only through the use of milli and micro reactors, where you have a limitation to mainly fast liquid/liquid reactions with low viscosity, but also through the use of other technological alternatives. These alternatives can be plug flow reactors, static mixers, reaction columns, extruders and others. Even other energy sources can be used to enhance the benefits of continuous manufacturing, such as ultrasound and microwave.
Misconception 2 – Only batch manufacturing is flexible: The introduction of new modular plants has combined the benefits of batch manufacturing and flow chemistry. These types of plants offer the flexibility of batch processes, while simultaneously being able to work continuously, which gives a big boost to the chemical industry regarding efficiency, adaptability and responsiveness to the market.
Misconception 3 – Disciplines separation: Typically, chemists fix the synthetic route and engineers develop the process, taking over the project at pilot stage. For a successful production implementation of a flow process it has been noticed, that companies who have implemented a continuous processing strategy have started forming interdisciplinary teams for this very reason.
Misconception 4 – Availability of production capacity: Especially in the area of CMOs, there is a serious chicken-egg problem. More and more continuous processes are being developed by big pharma companies. It is an increasing market, but production capacities at CMOs are missing. CMOs do not get the projects, because they lack experience and production capacities with continuous processes, and in turn they do not invest in the technology, because of the missing projects. Flow chemistry is not a thing of the future any longer. It is already being applied in the fine chemicals industry, where we have developed several projects in different areas, such as for the production of additives for lubricants, phenolic resins, acrylate polymers and crosslinking agents, anionic surfactants, silicone release agents and primer and wax mixtures. While it may still require some patience for flow chemistry and continuous manufacturing to penetrate the industry, both academia and the industry have already increased their interest in and support of this technology.