A Smorgasbord of Batch Cycle Time Minimization Opportunities – Part 1

Higher value added products are generally produced by batch operations. Often these products are sold out and extra batches translate to significant increases in revenue. Prime opportunities are specialty chemicals and drugs, especially new biopharmaceuticals where optimization took a backseat to time to market in the initial plant and automation system design.

I looked over my past experience with Monsanto, Solutia, and Emerson and have come up with myriad of methods to reduce batch cycle time. I have divided them up into opportunities to help feedback loops to get to setpoint faster that are important for Fed-Batch operations and for startups and transitions of continuous operations (Part 1) and opportunities to shorten phases and holds that are important for Pure-Batch operations (Part 2). These techniques like all new configurations and strategies should be thoroughly tested by simulation and closely monitored and adjusted for safe and efficient operation. Today’s blog is a preview of Deminar #7 on July 14.

Fed-Batch Opportunities

1) PID on Error Structure – This structure maximizes the kick of the controller output for a setpoint change. The overdrive (driving of output past resting point) is essential for getting slow loops, such as temperature, to the optimum setpoint as fast as possible.

2) SP Track PV – With this control option the setpoint is changed to its optimum with the controller in automatic providing the kick from the PID structure (1). For batch operations this option is commonly used. For continuous operations with few setpoint changes (no grade transitions) and extremely long run time (e.g. years), the setpoint is held at its last value. However, even here loops with slow reset action (large reset times), such as level, the use of the SP Track PV option can prove useful when putting these loops back in service after maintenance.

3) SP Feedforward – For low controller gains (controller gain less than inverse of process gain), a setpoint feedforward is useful. The setpoint feedforward gain is the inverse of the dimensionless process gain minus the controller gain on a percent basis. If the setpoint and controller output are in engineering units the feedforward gain must be adjusted accordingly. The feedforward action is the process action, which is the opposite of the control action, taking into account valve action. In other words for a reverse control action, the feedforward action is direct provided the valve action is inc-open or the analog output block, I/P, or positioner reverses the signal for a inc-close (fail open) valve.

4) Output Lead-Lag – A lead-lag on the controller output or in the digital positioner can kick the signal though the valve deadband and sticktion, get past split range points, and make faster transitions from heating to cooling and vice versa. When combined with the enhanced PID algorithm described in Deminar #1, the lead-lag can potentially provide faster control when online analyzers are used for closed loop control of the integrating response associated with batch operations.

5) Deadtime Compensation – The simple addition of a delay block with the deadtime set equal to the total loop deadtime to the external reset signal for the positive feedback implementation of integral action (see Deminar #3). The controller reset time can be significantly reduced and the controller gain increased if the delay block deadtime is equal or slightly less than the process deadtime (see Advanced Application Note 3 entry March 25, 2009 on this website).

6) Full Throttle Batch – The controller output is put at its output limit to maximize the rate of approach to setpoint. When the projected PV equals the setpoint less a bias, the controller output is repositioned to the final resting value captured from the last batch. The output is held at the resting value for one deadtime. For more details, check out the Control magazine article “Full Throttle Batch and Startup Response.”

7) Feed Maximization – Valve position control, Model Predictive Control (see Advanced Application Notes 1 and 2 entries March 25, 2009 on this website), or override control is used to maximize feeds to limits of operating constraints (e.g. maximum vent, overhead condenser, or jacket valve position with sufficient sensitivity). Alternatively, the limiting valve can be set wide open and the feeds throttled for temperature or pressure control. For pressure control of gaseous reactants, this strategy can be quite effective. For temperature control of liquid reactants, the user needs to confirm that the inverse response from the addition of cold reactants to an exothermic reactor and the lag from the concentration response does not cause temperature control problems. All of these methods require tuning and may not be particularly adept at dealing with fast disturbances unless some feedforward is added. Fortunately the prevalent disturbance is a feed concentration change that is often slow enough due to raw material storage volume to be corrected by feedback control.

8) Profile Control – If you have a have batch measurement that should increase to a maximum at the batch end point (e.g. maximum reaction temperature or product concentration), the slope of the batch profile of this measurement can be maximized to reduce batch cycle time. For application examples checkout “Direct Temperature Rate of Change Control Improves Reactor Yield” in a Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Control Room E-book April 3, 2009 entry on this website and the Control magazine article “Unlocking the Secret Profiles of Batch Reactors”

This blog was kind of fun to write “With A Little Help from My Friends” (beer and music). By the way, the album “Joe Cocker” was apparently only produced on vinyl and 8-track tape. I fondly remember riding in my roadster with the top down listening to “Saint James Infirmary Blues” on the way to Monsanto’s New Orleans plant. There are great songs on this album that carried me through startups that never made it onto a CD.