An innovative way of obtaining sustainable solutions is by industrial symbiosis, in which very different partners such as a local government, a technology provider, a water board and a chemical company co-operate with regards to a new solution; turning a waste stream into a feed stream. Open innovation is generally a good way to obtain radical novel solutions cost-effectively. Guidelines for entering open innovation projects are provided. A technology readiness level TRL assessment method for process innovation with academic groups is also provided.
Guidelines for effective and efficient innovation from research to commercial scale implementation, based on stage-gate innovation pathway funnel, are provided. Finally, a novel method for process concept design based on essential functions and essential inputs and outputs only, is provided. Keywords: design ; industrial ; innovation ; process ; sustainable. Obtaining sustainable processes that are implemented at a commercial scale is difficult for the following reasons: There is a vast amount of literature on discussions about various descriptions of sustainable development.
Triple P sustainable development means that the process has to be embedded in its social, environmental and economic context. This invited feature article is written to shows how all these difficulties can be overcome. It borrows considerably from three books of the author [1—3]. However, other literature is also used where needed. It starts by summarizing the consensus on Triple P sustainable development.
It then shows successful commercial scale implementations of sustainable processes, to prove that it is possible to meet all triple P goals and constraints. It also shows how process innovation with society partners, so-called social innovation, can be done successfully and that the concept of industrial symbiosis is very fruitful for this type of innovation. Then, the advantages of open innovation are shown.
Technology readiness levels TRL are introduced to assess academic research results for industrial use. Also, the advantages of a stage-gate innovation pathway are shown. Finally, guidelines for process concept design in the research stage are provided to obtain radically novel solutions. Sustainable development is development that meets the needs of the present generation without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.
Sustainable development is about three dimensions; social, ecological and economic. The social dimension means that developments fit in cultural institutions and people values are preserved. Where there are threats of serious or irreversible damage, lack of full scientific certainty shall not be used as a reason for postponing cost-effective measures to prevent environmental degradation.
The economic dimension means that developments are economical. These dimensions were made popular by Elkington  by introducing the triple P catch phrase: people, planet and profit. Many companies incorporated this triple P sustainable development into their strategic goals. The United Nations World Conference in Johannesburg in adopted the triple P phrase and made it suitable for government by transforming the profit term into prosperity . It is therefore concluded that triple P sustainable development has reached sufficient consensus to be fruitful for co-operations between industrial, government and academic partners.
In the book Sustainable development in the process industries: cases and impact , several successfully implemented sustainable industrial cases are described. The cases include the use of biomass for fuels , metal processing , metal scrap recycle in combination with cement and concrete production , food production in combination with oil refining, electricity production and cement production .
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This illustrates that the triple P concept can also be implemented in industrial practice. For innovation between very different partners, including governments, industrial symbiosis is a very useful concept. It is a practical way of embedding industrial processes in society, environment and business contexts. Several implemented industrial cases of industrial symbiosis, also called industrial by-product synergy, are available from Mangan , and Wu .
Wu in particular provides a spectacular case that proves the power of industrial symbiosis. It is the Dow Chemicals plant symbiosis with the city of Terneuzen, the local water board and a technology provider. It is about transforming the city waste water into boiler feed water. This symbiosis resulted in the reuse of 2. This case won the European Responsible Care Award in . The technologies applied in this industrial symbiosis case are all conventional. It is thereby a prime example of a social innovation; a new way of co-operation between industrial, governmental and institutional and technology partners where all social, ecological and economic parameters move in the desired direction.
In many cases, however, meeting triple P sustainable development goals and constraints requires radically novel technologies, which in turn require a considerable innovation effort. Open innovation with a partnership of companies and academic groups is a way of obtaining the desired result. In open innovation: Best knowledge of each partner is used. A typical open innovation consortium for a radically novel process innovation consists of an academic group, a contract research organization, a technology provider, an engineering contractor and an end-user of the technology; a manufacturer of a chemical or other product .
Open innovation can also occur between partners of a value chain; so a chain of suppliers and customers to optimize a part of the value chain. This can occur, in particular, when renewable feedstocks replace fossil feedstocks. Then, novel supply chains have to be established . Here is a short checklist for a manufacturer to decide whether to enter an open innovation consortium or not : Do you have all capabilities in your own company to bring the innovation to commercial implementation?
Do you foresee a potential conflict of interest now or later with a partner? Then do not pursue with that partner. TRL determination helps to judge a technology from outside the company, notably from universities or contract research institutes, on its readiness for commercialization. It also facilitates a discussion between the open innovation partners about the present status of the technology and what needs to be done to bring the technology to commercial implementation.
There are several descriptions of TRL. The Department of Energy of the US is the closest to the process industries . The author has used this description to derive TRL level definitions that are applicable to the process industries in general and also added the stages belonging to the TRL levels. The TRL definitions and stages are provided in Table 1. Innovation is the pathway from idea to commercial implementation. An effective and efficient method for process innovation is the 4-D stage-gate innovation funnel. The basic idea is that the most critical items for success are addressed in the early innovation stage.
If the idea then fails, little money is lost. The 4-D innovation funnel contains the stages: discovery research , development, demonstration and deployment commercial implementation . In the discovery research stage, it is important to generate novel breakthrough concepts which are much better in all three sustainable development dimensions. Green chemistry principles are of great use here , as well as process intensification techniques [15, 16] and functional concept design . In the development stage, it is important to reduce the risks associated with direct implementation to acceptable levels at minimum cost.
For process development, this means amongst others, having an integrated pilot plant down-scaled from the commercial scale design. Or in other words, first the commercial scale design is made and then the down-scaled pilot plant is designed and tested. Demonstration plants: in general, a factor 10 smaller in capacity than full commercial scale plants, are often applied for very large processes in the oil and steel industries, to reduce the investment risk .
For chemical processes, the demonstration plant is also the first commercial scale plant . For successful commercial scale implementation, a reliable design as well as a well-prepared start-up is essential. A practical guide from idea to commercial scale implementation is available . To meet sustainable development goals and constraints, novel technologies will be required. These novel technologies come about via radically new concept designs. For engineers, it is a challenge to make these novel concept designs of processes, products and systems.
It means designs that provide for the need of people, while having a factor 4, 10 or even 20 lower environmental impacts, are economical and socially accepted . The most promising design method is described hereafter.
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New design methods can help to make radically novel sustainable designs. A useful method in this respect is designing based on essential streams and essential functions. It no longer uses conventional unit operations, but instead functions . By allowing only essential inputs needed for the molecular transformation function reaction function and only functions essential for the desired product, a minimalistic radical function design is obtained.
In essential functional process design, first the essential input and output streams are defined. This means that only output streams of value are allowed; hence, no waste streams. Also, only input streams that are absolutely necessary for the conversion are allowed; hence, no solvents or reacting agents are allowed. These requirements stem from green chemistry principles . Then essential functions are identified that are needed to transform the inputs to outputs.
Step 4: Identify opportunity areas and assess feasibility. To identify opportunities for automation, some of the questions we need to ask ourselves include:. Could a set of instructions be easily given to a new employee to follow?
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Could the decision points be defined and documented? Is there a high rate of error or high impact if errors occur? Is the process repetitive, mundane, and hence not engaging for the employees? Is there a high volume of transactions? Or perhaps low volume but long execution time? Is there any cyclicality that might benefit from scalable resourcing? Does the process require an audit trail for regulatory or compliance reasons? Assuming it takes an average 5 days to automate this process, does this feel justifiable?
The above checklist is not exhaustive, but going through these questions will give you a very good feel on whether you have found the right candidate for RPA. Step 5: Generate and prioritize RPA initiatives. At this stage, hopefully you will have identified a few processes for automation. Obviously you will not have enough resources to do all at once, so some prioritization is required. Referring to the chart below, ideally you want to start with processes that are in the upper right quadrant.
That is, processes with a high readiness to execute low process complexity and high business readiness and high strategic attractiveness significant business impact and aligns with overall business strategy.
An effective way to do this is to create a Process Prioritization Matrix such as the following:. Step 6: Develop action plan. The final step is to create an action plan that assigns responsibilities, and establishes budgets, durations and deliverables. One thing to note is that it is important to set measurable business objectives and targets.
With this action plan in hand, you are now ready to rock-and-roll. Just one last word of advice. This will give you sufficient time to get yourself acquainted with this new technology, and also help to mitigate any downside risks that you face. We have covered a 6-step framework to implement RPA successfully in small businesses. First, make a firm commitment to change and continuous improvements. Second, align RPA to your business strategy and objectives. Third, identify your activity landscape. Fourth, identify opportunity areas and assess feasibility.
Fifth, generate and prioritize RPA initiatives.
Industrial process scale-up : a practical innovation guide from idea to commercial implementation
Last, develop an action plan. With this 6-step implementation framework, RPA is no longer the privileged domain of big corporations. Small businesses can now also leverage RPA to digitally transform their operations and achieve operational excellence. Good automating. To all small businesses out there, do you have any RPA success stories to share? Do share them in the comments below. For more insights and to keep up to date on the latest in Robotic Process Automation and Artificial Intelligence, you can subscribe to our mailing list on the right.
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