Could you briefly tell us about the company?

Dirk Van Meirvenne: Bayer Technology Services (BTS) provides state-of-the-art technological solutions for the entire lifecycle of pharmaceutical and chemical processes and plants. These are used by Bayer Group and external customers.

With our subsidiary INVITE, a joint venture between BTS and TU Dortmund University, we also carry out our commitment to new technologies, focusing specifically on proving the feasibility of innovative production concepts for the chemical and pharmaceutical industry.

What production concepts have you been working on lately with inVite?

Thomas Bieringer: One of our most important projects reveals how we can transfer the benefits of continuous production processes to small-scale projects. Unlike the batch production methods currently in use, continuous production allows access to new chemical routes, provides intrinsic safety for dealing with hazardous reactions and improves process control and efficiency. It also allows for the possibility of inline analytics, which could lead to parametric release.

Our concept relies on a modular approach to continuous production, wherein we construct chemical plants out of individual standardised modules. By combining these pre-designed and well-characterised modules, it will be much quicker to construct a new chemical plant, and the design and engineering costs will be reduced significantly. The modules can also be easily replicated in order to provide further production capacity.

What sort of benefits do you expect from increased production capacity flexibility?

TB: Batch production plants are usually designed to meet predicted peak demands. Because these predictions have to be given at an early development stage, peak demands are often uncertain. This results in a significant upfront investment risk. Flexible production allows companies to avoid this potential pitfall by enabling them to adjust capacity to market demand. This is exactly what the modular approach provides: if the market grows and requires further capacity, simply adding identical production containers can provide it – you scale up by numbering up.

Do you have evidence that the transfer from batch to continuous production will work in practice?

DVM: Part of the European Union’s strategy to reinforce the competitiveness of its chemical industry has been the F3 factory project: 26 project partners out of academia and industry focused on this

42 million initiative on the development and implementation of fast and flexible future small-scale production concepts. The result of the project so far has been several 20ft modular containers for continuous chemical production processes, each representing a real industry production case.

The project’s partners currently validate these modular production containers at the INVITE facility. Now that we’re approaching the end, that’s becoming a reality: the case studies have revealed very promising results.

TB: The completion of the project in Q2 of 2013 will give us a clear picture of the modular concept’s technical feasibility and allow us to evaluate its economic viability. The increased efficiency and flexibility will be judged in relation to capex, opex, working capital and the cost of goods sold. The project has also strengthened the mutual trust between its partners. I’m convinced that joint development activities will continue after its completion, whether that involves bilateral projects on specific applications, or future public-funded consortia for basic R&D.

How long will it be before we see a shift from batch to continuous production in small-scale projects?

DVM: We’re convinced that continuous production will become widely used in the pharmaceutical and chemical industries for an increasing number of applications in the years to come, motivated by technical, ecological and economical advantages. Bayer, the F3 factory consortium, as well as several other pharmaceutical companies, like GlaxoSmithKline and Novartis, are actively driving this revolution in chemical production, as publicly announced. The first steps are being taken.