Mechanical Process Technology

Like a long, quiet River

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It’s not just the particle sizes that have gotten increasingly smaller: the quantities provided for development are also decreasing. “Some years ago, we still needed about 200 ml for conducting trials to characterize bulk goods. Normally now we can do it with 30 ml. And in future we’ll have to make it with just a few grams for our development work in certain circumstances, considering how some active ingredients are expensive to develop and in some cases are customized as well,” says Frye.

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The issues that are now being debated by researchers include questions such as: How do I design measuring techniques and equipment in this environment, where the wall effects are no longer negligible, that will still allow work to be carried out in an efficient and reproducible manner? And how can the trend for continuous operations be realized in the solids process engineering sector?

“Will we succeed in accommodating these additional factors and constraints? How, for example, are we going to guarantee continuous dosing of tiny flows of solid material mass?” ponders Frye. Or how can the centrifuges that are frequently used for separating solids and currently operate on a batch basis as such be integrated into continuous processes? “You can’t leverage the physics in continuous processes either, so new solutions need to be found and new equipment needs to be developed,” says Frye of the challenges ahead.

Demands are Increasing

The requirements are also growing on the equipment side as well. Even the mixing stage is much more than a basic processing operation today. It might mean having to coat, agglomerate or disperse, spheronize or condition particles. The focus is on the end product and its properties. As a result, the technical challenges are growing — ultimately, the complexity and differentiation involved in mixing tasks increase — and this requires a precise knowledge of the processes and the customer’s requirements.

“The demands on product properties have increased considerably in the last 20 years, and that’s happened independent of the industry. Our customers are confronted with increasingly complex product properties at the same time as quality demands are increasing, and they’re asking us to come up with a solution for them,” says Reiner Lemperle, Authorized Officer and Head of Sales at plant engineering company, Gebr. Lödige Maschinenbau.

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