Jeroen van Hal
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Many people have a traditional inkjet or laser printer in their homes, to print '2D' texts and images on paper. In an extension to this, 3D-printers already show up in our homes, to make gadgets, jewellery and other products. 3D printing is becoming increasingly popular and nowadays large online platforms are being set up where open source designs are accessible to everyone, like Pinshape. 3D-printing, also known as additive manufacturing is a novel production technique where 'real 3-dimensional' products are built layer by layer, made from scratch. This is the opposite of traditional machining operations such as drilling, milling or cutting, where pieces of material are removed to yield the product.

3D printing as ‘rapid prototyping’

3D printing today is often associated with a process called ‘rapid prototyping’ – which is used by research and development (R&D) teams to create a physical representation of a new invention (prototype) so that it can be tested and validated.

On a professional level, 3D-printing is already becoming a popular solution to manufacture products in small series, fast and custom-made. 3D-printing of polymers and metals already occurs on an advanced scale, alongside this 3D-printing of ceramics is rising.

3D-printing at Bronkhorst

3D-printers are very useful within the production environment. This is demonstrated by their use here at Bronkhorst - for product as well as process development. It really has become a new and very accessible way of manufacturing.

We use several 3D-printers mainly for visualisation purposes - 'the rapid prototyping way' - and to print useful tooling to facilitate the production of mass flow controllers and meters. Prior to using 3D-printing, a prototype of a component had to be manufactured at an external tool shop, which took some time - and investment - before it was ready. The use of 3D-printing has allowed us to increase our productivity: it is much faster to print a component or a tool ourselves.

Within a few hours, we can evaluate the design of a component: will it really work in the way we expected it, does it really fit? Moreover, for small quantities, no investment is required for manufacturing a mould.

In addition to its speed, 3D-printing has some convincing advantages. It is much more powerful to deal with a real component - a plastic model, with some real look & feel - than a 3D-rendered image which may look fantastic but isn't in real life. In addition, the communication between R&D, engineering and production works that much better having a component in your hand to talk about. Which are the key problems we will encounter, what can be the risks of a new design? In the R&D department, 3D-printing is mainly used to test the functionality of a design. The engineering department goes one step beyond, in making the design feasible and realisable.

3D printer Kaak

3D printer Kaak

Cooperation with external partners

K3D, part of Kaak Group in Terborg, acquired the first real industrial 3D-printer for metal. Since September 2016, the printer is fully operational. The MetalFab1 machine is based on selective laser melting (SLM), a 3D-printing technique where a layer of metal powder is deposited, after which a part of these powder particles is selectively melted together by means of laser heat. It is the first local step in real production of metal parts with a 3D-printer.

Want to learn more about Mass Flow Controllers in 3D-printers? Read the blog of Jens Kiene about how a MASS-STREAM mass flow controller is used for selective laser melting.

Kaak approached seven companies in the region to experiment with the 3D-technique together, with the aim to turn the eastern part of the Netherlands into a 'print valley'. Each week, Bronkhorst has access to the printer for several hours. Bronkhorst is constantly looking for possibilities to improve the production process of flow meters, e .g. whether it’s possible to integrate more functions in the modules without interfering with the modular design. Moreover, local educational institutes are invited to get access to the machine, in order for their students to become acquainted with this technology.

Mass flow controllers for 3D-printers

Besides the fact that we use 3D-printing for our own product and process development, it also goes the other way around: mass flow controllers are used inside 3D-printers for metals. In selective laser melting, it is essential to have an inert gas atmosphere around the to-be-melted metal powder particles inside the 3D-printer, to prevent the metal from oxidation during the laser melting with oxygen from the surrounding air. To that end, an inert shielding gas has to be applied: argon gas for steel and titanium, and nitrogen gas for aluminium. Bronkhorst helps 3D-printer manufacturers with a system that generates and controls the flows of these inert shielding gases.

3D-printing is a way of additive manufacturing, a novel production technique essential for Bronkhorst to keep up with all new trends in the market for product- as well as process development.

Read more about this application using 3D-printing of metal products.

Check out the mass flow controller MASS-STREAM D-6300 that is used for 3D-printing

Watch the video

James Walton
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Why using a Controlled Evaporation and Mixing system can decrease food waste

We are all aware that the current level of food waste cannot be sustained if we have a hope of reducing food poverty across the world. This is not just a Western issue; globally food is lost or wasted at different points in the supply chain. Today’s technologies, such as sterilization, can help reduce this spoilage. However, the strict compliance requirements will ask for continuous improvement of this technology. An analysis from the Food and Agriculture organization of the United Nations highlights some discrepancies;

• In developing countries food waste and losses occur mainly at early stages of the food value chain and can be traced back to financial, managerial and technical constraints in harvesting techniques as well as storage and cooling facilities.

• In medium- and high-income countries food is wasted and lost mainly at later stages in the supply chain. Differing from the situation in developing countries, the behavior of consumers plays an important role in industrialized countries.

So, where can we make a difference?

Looking at the graph of food losses below, and the statements above, we can see that it is worthwhile to invest in production techniques, potentially to increase the shelf life of packaged food. This would have a positive impact on the waste of food in developed countries.

Food losses

[source: http://www.fao.org/save-food/resources/keyfindings/en/]

One of the ways to improve these figures is to improve the sterilization of the packaging that food is placed in, to reduce spoilage and increase shelf life. This is the point where Controlled Evaporation Mixing (CEM) systems come in the picture.

Bronkhorst share in extension of the shelf life

Sterilisation of packaging to extend shelf life is not something new, it already has been done for years. I believe the first aseptic filling plant for milk was already presented in 1961. However, it is a technology which has been improved tremendously throughout the years and still is improving. Bronkhorst has an extended range of instruments which can support you in this process. An ingenious development in this area is a Controlled Evaporation and Mixing system (also called a CEM), as one compact solution for industrial processes such as sterilization. The compact solutions consist of various type of instruments, such as liquid and gas flow meters and an evaporator.

Using Controlled Evaporation Mixing (CEM) systems for sterilisation

The challenge given to Bronkhorst via a customer that was using a Hydrogen Peroxide (H2O2) mix (containing 35% of H2O2 and water) to decontaminate carton and plastic packaging for liquid and cream filling. Using a mix of H2O2 is an excellent way to do this, because it is great at killing bacteria and can be easily evaporated. Bronkhorst is an experienced supplier of this kind of solutions.

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To get the best production with minimal waste you need to:

  1. Dose the correct amount of H2O2 mixture
    • Too much and the final product is spoiled
    • Too little and the residual bacteria is too high
  2. Avoid de-gassing of the H2O2 mix
  3. Have a controlled flow that condenses on the inside of the package
  4. Limit the flow. If it’s too high it will increase drying time at the end of sterilisation

The best result for this application was given by vapour generation combined with a Coriolis mass flow meter. Because H2O2 mixtures are not particularly stable this results in changing physical properties. Adding a Coriolis mass flow meter to the CEM made the measurement of mass flow medium properties independent. Furthermore as the Coriolis instrument is capable of measuring medium density, it can be used to monitor the concentration and thus watch over quality of H2O2.

Using a CEM system has some real advantages:

  • Stable temperature of vapour
  • Stable concentration of condensation because of a controlled dew point of the mixture
  • All of the above is possible because the gas, liquid and mixing temperature are controlled

Benefits as perceived by the customer

  • Stable liquid mass flow, even if physical properties vary
  • Monitoring the concentration and quality of the H2O2
  • Monitoring and traceability of the sterilisation process
  • Mass flow control of liquid
  • Mass flow control of gas
  • Direct control of dew point through control of gas and air mixture
  • Increased use-by-date
  • Longer life of fresh food

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Controlled Evaporation System

Anthony O'Keeffe
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Learn about our experience using a Coriolis mass flow controller as a solution in a continuous reactor used to produce pharmaceuticals.

My interest in the adoption of continuous manufacturing at pharmaceutical manufacturers was sparked by a customer who contacted us to support them with the exact dosing of pharmaceutical excipients. This customer was planning a continuous pharmaceutical manufacturing facility.

Batch process manufacturing

Traditionally, most human pharmaceuticals are manufactured in a step by step batch process with extensive tests between steps to insure consistent quality and efficacy of the finished medicine.

The manufacture of pharmaceuticals is a highly-regulated process with government agencies inspecting and approving both the process and the facilities where medicines are manufactured. In 2016 the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) allowed for the first time in its history a manufacturer to switch from the traditional batch manufacturing process to a continuous manufacturing process

Continuous process manufacturing

Continuous manufacturing is a pioneering technology that has the potential to transform how medicines are made in the future. Improvements in Process Analytical Technology (PAT) has allowed the automation and streamlining of what were previous laborious step by step manufacturing processes. It is now possible to accurately mix ingredients in a continuous reactor, carefully monitor and control the reaction rate and achieve higher yields than what was feasible just 10 years ago.

The liquid flow rates in these new continuous process systems are much smaller than what was traditionally encountered in the older batch processes. Instead of tonnes per hour, typical plants operate at flows of kilogram per hour (kg/hr) and in some areas even grams per hour (g/hr) or volume flow ml/h.

When using Continuous Manufacturing?

New medicines tend to be targeted at niche illnesses and don’t require the large quantities of active pharmaceutical ingredients manufactured in the past. Continuous Pharmaceutical Manufacturing is an ideal solution to manufacture these new drugs.

Since Bronkhorst offer the most extensive product range of low flow mass- and volume flow meters and controllers on the market, we were selected by the customer and charged with finding the optimum flow monitoring and control solution for the new process.

Coriolis mass flow controllers bring the solution

The customer required a process that was flexible, capable of monitoring and controlling the flow of different fluids with an inbuilt ability to automatically adjust itself for any pressure variations or disruptions. Additionally the customer required extensive logging of real time flow data and control via their DCS control system.

After careful consideration of the process requirements, we recommended our mini CORI-FLOW mass flow controller combined with a gear pump as the ideal solution to the demanding flow control requirements of the Continuous Pharmaceutical Manufacturing process.

Skid with mass flow meters and controllers

The decisive factor to use the mini CORI-FLOW mass flow controller here were its characteristic features:

  • Direct mass flow measurement, independent of fluid properties
  • Capability to measure density and temperature
  • The ability to switch to volume flow
  • High accuracy, excellent repeatability
  • Compact design, with stand-alone integrated PID controller for fast and stable control
  • Suitable for a wide flow range
  • Digital technology allowing interface with DCS systems using Profibus
  • Chemically resistant stainless steel and hastelloy wetted parts
  • A closed control loop that allows a rapid response by controlling the pump directly to change process conditions
  • When coupled with our IN-PRESS pressure controller the system offers the flexibility of flow and pressure control for some critical parts of the process.
  • All parameters can be logged, therefore this technology offered excellent traceability of the process

Please download our flyer 'Continuous Pharmaceutical Manufacturing' for more information.