The ability to measure or monitor critical parameters that influence a process or product in real-time during production, enables process control. Moreover, the data historian provides insights for improved process understanding, prediction and prevention of anomalies.
Laboratory-based measurements are a missed opportunity in that information is provided ‘after the fact’. Real-time process monitoring and control enabled by Process Analytical Technologies (PATs) allows the production of standardised products with consistent levels of quality. Greater process understanding opens the door to process optimisation and efficiency opportunities, eliminating such scenarios as over-processing for example.
Recent advances in IR spectroscopy analysers and the arrival on the scene of a new generation of MEMs PATs that offer high affordability, reliability and operating speeds have paved the way forward for in-process monitoring. However, despite advances in terms of sensing technology, a high level of technical skill and specialised expertise is required in relation to the integration of these analysers into the processing line, and for ensuring that they are capable of providing reliable measurements when operating in harsh and dynamic production environments, which are a far cry from the orderly, controlled and almost peaceful environment that is the lab. Essentially there is a considerable Integration Gap that needs to be bridged on the journey from ‘lab to line’. This Integration Gap is akin to the ‘Valley of Death’ and it is plagued with a multitude of industrial environmental hazards, such as biofouling, vibrations, high temperatures, among others.
At Visum, the ‘Integration Gap’ is our niche. We have chosen to lead this space, not because it is easy, but precisely because it is hard. Successful integration to overcome these hazards involves the encapsulation of the analysers in order to create a stable operating environment and to ensure seamless interaction between the measurement device and the sample. This is critical for obtaining accurate and reliable readings. Integration also involves the implementation of rapid data processing techniques and mathematics (chemometrics) for quickly converting the data from the measurement devices into actionable information. This integration work is not just standard industrial engineering; it is a high-end marriage of specialised disciplines from the worlds of optical engineering, physics, and data science, in addition to an ability to understand the nature of the application where the real-time monitoring will occur.
Leveraging our experience in the development of ad-hoc or bespoke PAT-based monitoring solutions for food processing, pharmaceutical and chemical applications, we are now, with the support of Horizon 2020´s SME Instrument, pioneering the creation of an integration platform in order to standardise as much as possible the industrial integration of IR spectroscopy analysers into industrial environments, thereby minimising the customisation phase and in doing so reducing the cost and complexity of IR spectroscopy in-process integration.
One small step for Visum; a major step for industry adoption of IR spectroscopy for in-process monitoring.