The Future is Here – Part 2

What if the bench top system used in the research lab that is the basis of core process knowledge had a DCS with all of the major control technologies embedded? What if a dynamic model was embedded in the DCS to form a virtual plant that enabled exploring, discovering, and prototyping optimum operating conditions and advanced controls? What if a process trial run that normally takes 10 days could be completed in 10 minutes? What if the benefits demonstrated could help develop and justify better online analytical measurements, advanced controls, and data analytics? What if the model and control system could be scaled up to the pilot plant and ultimately the commercial plant? What if the same model and control system could be deployed to the industrial facility and be used for operator training and the development of process diagnostics?

A pioneer out west is making this future a reality. Scott Broadley, the president of Broadley-James, asked himself what if the pH and dissolved oxygen electrodes he was selling were packaged with a bench top bioreactor and a DCS optimized to make it more flexible and easier to use by the biochemist in the lab environment. He had the vision and conviction to put a DeltaV DCS with all of its innate capability on bench top bioreactors when others were going for the cheapest lab controller they could find. With determination and insight, Scott grew the business into a state of the art operation. But this was just the beginning. After seeing my demo of a virtual plant at Interphex 2007 in the Emerson booth next door, Scott thought what if a virtual bioreactor could be part of a concept to accelerate process development through dynamic modeling and advanced control embedded in the DCS. Even though it was a major expense and a 2 year commitment to run dozens of 10 to 20 day bioreactor batches, he saw the potential. In the process of the beta test, he found new probes that could measure media components, amino acids, and cell volume, size, and viability online. Even the possibility of measuring product and precursors to cell death online now appears to be within reach opening the door to incredible opportunities to increase product concentration and quality through media and amino acid concentration and batch profile control. Scott is convinced that the results will determine how bioreactors will be run for the next 15 years.

The beta test team of Trish Benton, Broadley-James cell consultant, and Michael Boudreau, Emerson principal consultant, has the right combination of skills and attitude to make it happen. The mammalian model prototype I developed in the fall of 2007 is moving forward in their fully capable hands. Michael scaled down my industrial size bioreactor (15,000 Liters) model to the lab scale (5 Liters) and incorporated the Broadley-James lab optimized control system to form a versatile virtual plant. The team is now in the throes of identifying the process conditions and parameters for an innovative new cell line and a scale up to 100 Liter Single Use Bioreactors (SUB). For more information on the beta test, check out the article “PAT Tools for Accelerated Process Development and Improvement” at