What if someone came to your company, production site or factory and told you: “I can make your process more efficient, less contaminating and even self-maintained, and I don’t need your help”. You should call 112 straight away, to say the least. Most probably you would be doing absolutely the right thing. There is no such thing as magic devices, pieces of software or consultants that can turn your processes into Industry 4.0 effortless and costless.

However, there are current systems, knowledge and technologies that can definitely get you very close to a knowledge and quality driven production.

PAT is the word. Process Analytical Technologies can help move from lab-based quality control to an in-line, constant quality monitoring in production that can allow to reduce the amount of low-performing batches, can help optimise raw material and energy usage and thus, increase profit for every produced unit. What is PAT, one might ask? Well, PAT is a combination ofhardware (basic and complex sensors and acquisition devices), software (models, communication protocols and User Interfaces) and, most importantly, experienceware. This is, probably, the most important one.

So no, no system will replace your operator experience nor will act autonomously starting from 0. Perhaps this is one of the most important points that need to be clarified about PAT. When implementing a PAT system for improving a process there are certain steps that need to be followed to reach a complete optimisation. For example, when building smart models or MSPC models (multivariate statistical process control models) for real time release testing (RTRT) we are obtaining information about how far from our normal operating conditions or “control status” we might be. This needs to be ineludibly coupled with theoperator process experience to detect the most common out-of-control situations, what corrective measures are usually taken and integrate all this knowledge into the system so that the PAT solution can, in time, alert and correct production inefficiencies. And all this needs to be done a number of times to allow a thorough validation and obtain a robust system.

This is the goal of the ProPAT project, an applied research project aiming at developing a suite of novel optical sensors, such as an on-line particle sizer or a MEMS based spectrophotometer, and a Global Control Platform for managing these, and many other sensors, applying intelligence through dedicated models for an improved, optimised and seamlessly integrated plant and process control.

So the day when someone turns up to your company and, pretending he knows more about your process than anyone, wants to turn your production into a smart-automatic-fantastic system out of air you can just reply: “no one knows my process better than I do!”.

Stay tuned for the upcoming ProPAT developments here: www.pro-pat.eu

Image by Leeroy

By Pau Puigdollers, PMO at IRIS and ProPAT Project Coordinator. Originally published in http://www.iris-eng.com/no-one-knows-my-process-better-than-i-do/