Plaxica, a technology and licensing company is able to save time and money on piloting and testing new manufacturing processes thanks to a software application developed with the help of Teesside University.
The company, which has a pilot plant at the Wilton Centre in Redcar, has used Aspentech software to construct a program which allows the company to simulate how different operating conditions affect the manufacturing process. Plaxica develops next generation biopolymers, particularly polylactic acid (PLA), from renewable resources.
The process simulation program has the potential to save the company large amounts of money and time by increasing efficiency and avoiding costly outlay on piloting equipment. It was developed with the help of a Knowledge Exchange Internship, unique to Teesside University.
David Gibney, a Cambridge University Chemical Engineering graduate, had a key role in creating and setting up the Aspentech software, which is typically used in process engineering settings.
He said: 'The simulation allows Plaxica to test process modifications prior to implementation on the pilot plant. The pilot plant is configured to only run at a small scale, but using the simulation you can estimate process variables at world scale. As we gain more confidence in the pilot plant, and the data it produces to validate the model, we are able to deviate from standard operating conditions to optimise the process.'
'The model is able to prove to potential clients and investors that the process is viable and capable at commercial scales. It’s also now part of our knowledge base and can be used for other projects. The output from the model will also be used to show potential clients how the process could be configured for their particular requirements. As an SME we have a limited research budget, and the KEI enabled us to access relevant expertise. We knew that we wanted to recruit a graduate, and the KEI helped to fund that and also gave us the academic support with the University which was fantastic.'
This project is part-financed by the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF), managed by the Department for Communities and Local Government, securing £300m investment.
The project will make a major contribution to the ambition of the ERDF Competitive Programme 2007-13 and by increasing the numbers and survival of business start ups in the region and increasing business productivity.