Foster Wheeler’s innovative K-TOPS process simulation and optimisation software enables bioprocessing facilities to identify bottlenecks and increase capacity. Chemical engineer Joe Weiss briefs World Pharmaceutical Frontiers on the sophisticated tool’s application, design and working principles.

How did the creation of the K-TOPS plant simulation software tool come about?

Joe Weiss: Foster Wheeler has been designing and evaluating facilities from an engineering standpoint for decades. And, as we’ve done that, we’ve worked to make sure that facilities are robust enough to handle new types of changes in a cost-effective manner.

We’ve looked at a lot of different tools and ways to provide specific solutions for unique facilities, and ended up developing K-TOPS® to support that need. Whether the software is used for existing or new facilities, it is able to identify the cost impact of different scenarios, as well as the cost of goods and the overall life cycle. Also, as facilities become constrained with bottlenecks, we can dive in and identify what’s causing the underlying problem. It helps clients think strategically and tactically.

What kind of results can a business expect from K-TOPS?

K-TOPS has a strong record in achieving significant cost savings and capacity gains. It has helped facilities increase capacity by 50% through small capital changes, and squeezed out another 5% capacity in those that are highly inefficient or constrained.

In one case, it saved $30 million on a planned process expansion by optimising equipment use, resulting in a streamlined process flow with minimal equipment. In another, production capacity was doubled by de-bottlenecking critical process choke points. Often the value gained is a capital staging plan, which identifies that certain equipment costs or system upgrades do not need to happen immediately, but can be strategically staged.

K-TOPS gives engineers and production managers the ability to clearly see their process and identify utility bottlenecks, and reduces distractions caused by anecdotal hearsay. It also allows them to quickly simulate alternative process flows or plans in order to achieve optimum production capabilities.

How easy is it to implement?

Building the process is pretty easy and we have created many templates to make it even quicker. We use Microsoft Excel as our interface for inputting processes because most facilities and clients have information in some type of Excel format. And then we run our core engine to make the software more powerful than just a simple spreadsheet. This is where the dynamic aspect of K-TOPS comes into play.

The software is easy to implement because it’s modular. K-TOPS can quickly focus on a client’s particular areas of interest, and zoom in and out on operations, steps and clock-ticks to challenge and improve the facility.

Do you have plans to further develop the software?

K-TOPS is always evolving. As we identify improvements and understand what our clients are looking for, we find new ways to tap into their information; we are always trying to come up with better ways of doing this. For example, at one point in time, the cost of goods wasn’t an area of focus while, at another, warehousing was low on the agenda – but now they clearly are. It is tailored to what our clients identify as important.

I think it really helps that we are able to deal with all types of biopharma production – whether it’s oral solid dosing, sterile filling or biotech – and understand the specific language around them. It’s our unique combination of engineering and manufacturing expertise, and programming knowledge that helps us provide solutions that keep a facility running smoothly. In short, K-TOPS is fast, flexible, effective and unbounded.