The Centre for Process Innovation, a part of the High Value Manufacturing Catapult, announced that it is working with leading academics to develop a novel research infrastructure which will assist the UK formulation industry in the scale-up and manufacture of formulated liquid products. Once the development work is complete, this new facility will be housed at CPI’s National Formulation Centre in Sedgefield, UK and will be available to SMEs and larger corporates active in the UK’s formulation industry on an open-access basis.

In order to deliver the required product benefits to the consumer, formulated products typically comprise a large number of component ingredients: not only ‘actives’ to deliver benefits, but also many other components required to deliver desired texture and shelf life. Shampoo, face cream, printing inks, paints, catalyst wash coats and yoghurt are examples of formulated liquid products that are “soft matter”, neither classical liquids nor hard solids, requiring carefully controlled addition and mixing during manufacture. Developments in the industry knowledge of product physics and process engineering has evolved over the years, meaning the ability now exists to create more optimised and controlled manufacturing processes. Implementing this, however, is problematic as for many companies their capital assets are at full capacity and current pressures on research budgets mean the required capital investment for a test facility cannot be justified, as investment tends to be focussed primarily in product, rather than process, innovation.

The new capability being developed by the project partners will address these issues as it provides a learning test bed to enable users to learn quickly and efficiently across scales, ultimately enabling manufacturing processes that deliver product attributes which are scale-able, sustainable and economical. It will allow companies to understand and control the dynamics of scale-up and scale-down of batch formulation processes. Furthermore, it will serve as a test bed for novel sensors and process analytical tools, de-risking innovation for end-users as they can develop, validate and utilise new sensor technologies and process analytics capabilities before implementing on their own production lines, leading to the wider adoption of these cutting edge tools across industry.

The new facility comprises flexible, multi-scale processing hardware and inline measurement sensors to allow real-time monitoring of the manufacturing process, and will therefore allow researchers to make process decisions based on access to new data streams and associated non-obvious empirical insights, as well as structure-property understanding relating to manufacturability. The facility is also digitally-enabled, providing an underlying capability in monitoring and control of processes through advanced process and product characterisation, ultimately enabling manufacturing processes that deliver product attributes which are scale-able, sustainable and economical.

The project to develop the new facility is a collaboration between CPI and the Universities of Birmingham, Leeds and Edinburgh, each providing world-class research expertise in their particular fields. The University of Birmingham Chemical Engineering department has a focus on formulation engineering and Professor Peter Fryer will lead on commissioning and process characterisation, working with industry-relevant model formulations developed and provided by Professor Wilson Poon’s group at The University of Edinburgh, enabling closer to ‘real-world’ studies. The University of Leeds will provide state of the art knowledge in the areas of sensors, process analytics and design of experiments and will focus on developing the required data fusion and control elements of the project, led by Professor Elaine Martin.

The partners are also working with UK-based Perceptive Engineering to develop a digitally-enabled facility, demonstrating how advanced process control could enable the UK formulation industry to progress into the age of digital manufacturing. This will create a system capable of monitoring and controlling product quality attributes. This will include suitable data acquisition system for process, lab and spectral data, along with the capability to use process models for real time prediction of process parameters and the ability to detect process abnormalities in “real time” through the application of model based fault detection.

“Investing in this novel type of infrastructure will ensure that the UK’s formulated products manufacturing is at the forefront of innovation” says Graeme Cruickshank, Director of the National Formulation Centre at CPI. “Furthermore, the new capability being developed is core to the CPI offering of enabling formulators to learn small, learn fast & learn thoroughly, and is proof that bringing together the formulation Eco-structure partners within industry, academia and supply chains will have long-lasting impact across this key industry sector.”