Process Development as a Service
CABB developing manufacturing processes for customers
With some 1,000 employees and five production sites in Europe and Asia, the CABB Group is a leading global manufacturer of chemical intermediates and finished products. The group will in future be offering to develop chemical manufacturing processes for the agrochemicals and specialty chemicals sectors as a separate service under the ChemCreations brand within its Custom Manufacturing business unit. A team of specialist chemists, process engineers, technicians and safety experts will create the optimum manufacturing process for the customer's desired molecule. Birgit Megges interviewed Thomas Eizenhöfer, head of CABB's Custom Manufacturing business unit, about this expansion in their range of services.
CHEManager: Mr. Eizenhöfer, CABB has been involved in custom manufacturing for many years. Now you are launching a dedicated process development service onto the market. What should we expect to see?
Thomas Eizenhöfer: Developing, safely controlling and continuously optimizing processes is one of our core skills in Custom Manufacturing. As a result, we have a huge amount of experience in process-related matters such as risk assessments, managing waste streams, improving yields to mention only a few.
However, such development is always carried out in the context of commercial contract syntheses where our central focus is on supplying our customers with specific precursors and intermediates.
Under our new ChemCreations brand, we are now offering complete process development as a separate service, from researching and evaluating theoretically possible options via development of the optimum synthetic pathway up and including to pilot testing.
In a nutshell, a customer describes a target molecule and CABB, working in close collaboration with the customer, then develops the optimum synthetic pathway. This pathway might be a customization of a known process or a completely new approach, but the outcome will be a proven, reliable, sustainable and efficient process. If the customer would like, we would then be happy to convert this process into commercial manufacture, but there is no requirement to do so.
What was the strategic thinking behind your decision to include process development in your range of services?
T. Eizenhöfer: As a global partner of the agrochemicals and specialty chemicals sectors, we generally seek to anticipate major market trends and develop appropriate new solutions on this basis. To quote just one number, capital investment of almost EUR 100 million in new plant and processes in just the last three years shows how we have been expanding our business.
We know from many conversations with our customers and market experts that companies, in particular in the agrochemicals sector, are seriously considering involving external partners such as CABB earlier and more closely in process development, not least because the individual molecules and thus the synthesis processes are becoming ever more complex.
In the light of the current mergers the agrochemicals industry, it is also likely that the resultant major innovators at this level will need partners of an appropriate size and stature.
Custom Manufacturing has for years been demonstrating in its day-to-day work that it has the necessary capabilities. Using modern analytical techniques and our own pilot plant, we manage complex processes, can handle challenging chemistry and have already scaled numerous processes up from pilot to commercial scale.
At the same time, our general business model is based on developing a close working partnership. We often hear back that our customers really appreciate our professional project management and reliability in important issues, for example in terms of handling intellectual property. So a comparison of market trends with our capabilities reveals exciting strategic prospects for a service such as ChemCreations.
Why is CABB launching this service an independent brand?
T. Eizenhöfer: ChemCreations is a milestone for the CABB Group. A complete, modular service offer from route scouting to the interface into commercial manufacturing really is something new, in particular because each customer can individually opt in and out of any phase in the process.
We want to make a clear distinction between this new service and our conventional, primarily production-driven custom manufacturing projects. So an independent brand presence just makes sense.
Which sites will you use for process development? What investment in plant or staff is or was necessary to be able to take this step?
T. Eizenhöfer: Our Teams in Pratteln in Switzerland and Kokkola in Finland work together very closely, while each site does also have its own technical and analytical strong points. This means the ChemCreations team can always select precisely the skills and resources which are of particular relevance to a specific project, with Pratteln and its pilot plant obviously having something of a special status.
In terms of resources, we are currently strengthening our team in research & development and in analysis. In parallel, our Pratteln pilot plant is continuously being brought into line with requirements.
The new service will primarily focus on agrochemicals. Why this sector?
T. Eizenhöfer: For me personally, I find focus is key to any successful strategy. In our specific case, we have very close customer relationships in agrochemicals, some of which have developed over decades, and we have a particularly good understanding of the market and the challenges involved. So it just makes good sense to start there.
Do you intend to widen this focus in future to include other fields in specialty chemicals?
T. Eizenhöfer: Just because we have good reason to concentrate on agrochemicals at the moment does not mean that we are ruling out other growth opportunities which might be of interest. The principles of chemical process development are very similar in both agrochemicals and specialty chemicals and we are already working with specialty chemicals suppliers.
So moving on in this way would certainly make sense. ChemCreations' modular structure has been quite deliberately designed to make it possible to service new customer segments with a minimum of complexity.
When will you start offering the new services to potential customers?
T. Eizenhöfer: ChemSpec Europe, which takes place in mid-June in Cologne, will see the official launch of ChemCreations. In our opinion, this trade fair is the ideal platform for an initial in-depth dialogue with existing and potential customers. ChemSpec will also be the launch pad for an international communications campaign which will make the best possible use of the CABB Group's global presence. Above and beyond close collaboration with existing customers, we think there is considerable scope for new business for ChemCreations internationally, in particular in the USA and Japan.
Moreover, in the run-up to the launch, we have of course already had a series of informal discussions. I don't think I'd be giving too much away to say that we met with considerable interest which has even borne fruit with our first actual development contracts.
Thomas Eizenhöfer, a post-doctoral chemist, has headed up the CABB Group's Custom Manufacturing business unit with over 500 employees on two sites in Pratteln in Switzerland and in Kokkola in Finland since April 2016. Previous posts include managing a business unit at H.C. Starck and most recently as President, EMEA at Rockwood Lithium. Between 1989 and 2004, he held various management positions at Bayer.