At Bronkhorst® we’ve experienced an increase in the demand for skids: a customized system that consists of various types of instruments such as liquid and gas flow meters and an evaporator. In this blog post we explain why we think that there is a correlation between an increasing demand for skids and the ability to compete in competitive industries.
Europe’s Solution Factories
We were triggered by a publication in the Havard Business Review by S.E. Chick, A. Huchzermeier, S.Netessine and others which analyzed applications from European manufacturing which deem themselves “excellent” in manufacturing and won Industrial Excellence Awards. It is remarkable that despite the fact that Europe has some of the world’s most stringent regulations regarding the use of labor, facilities, and equipment and relatively high labor cost, the factories that have won an Industial Excellence award have all prospered in highly competitive industries.
The four distinquishing factors as described in the article which made the winning European manufacturers succesfull:
- They leverage data flows to integrate closely with their supply chain partners.
- They optimize customer value across the whole chain, not just their part of it.
- They harness their technical capabilities to offer a high degree of product customization for their customers
- They cooperate with suppliers to rapidly improve their manufacturing processes.
In short- the winning manufacturing companies work with partners to manufacture solutions for other partners. It is a privilige of Bronkhorst to work closely together with our customers to design smart customized designs which support them with their specific needs. A skid is a customized system based on a standard concept. Customization of standard concept by leveraging the experience and knowhow of our customers and us as low flow experts seems to be an attractive offering for many winning companies in the industry for several reasons. We would like to share with you why we believe customers partner with us to create their own skid.
The four reasons why customized skids are popular
1. Focus on core business
Companies are increasingly focusing on their core activities. They expect from a supplier to deliver complete solutions instead of only individual instruments. We engineer the skid together with our customers and deliver a solution in which all relevant instruments and accessoires have been integrated. The ‘solutions approach’ is explained in more detail in this video.
2. Purchase at one supplier
On a skid we can integrate flow meters (thermal or coriolis), an evaporator, RH sensors, pressure indicators, pumps, liquid vessels and other third party instrumentation. All internal tubing in the skid will be assembled by Bronkhorst. This way, customers can purchase a complete solution at one supplier instead of individual instrumentation at multiple suppliers. The skid will be pre-tested and ready for use by the customer. Besides, the skid is pressure and leak tested and will be delivered including instruction manual. A bonus is that our skids are based on standard proven platforms which make the time to market meet the expectations of our customers.
3. Customized design
Customized products, support and after-sales services support customers to distinguish themselves in a competitive market. All skids are designed customer specific. Even if the customer needs only one skid, we offer a solution. Besides, we offer support and after-sales services that fit with the needs of every individual customer.
4. Compact design
The miniaturisation trend is observed in many places. Small components need fewer quantities of raw materials, in production as well as in (chemicals) use. Customers of high-tech machines would like to have their equipment as compact as possible. Machines have to be smaller in size, as floor area is expensive, especially in cleanrooms - the 'natural' habitat of machines that manufacture solar panels and microchips. A skid can be a very compact solution integrating multiple instruments.
Europe’s Solution Factories
Europe’s Solution Factories by S.E.Chick, A.Huchzermeier and S. Netessine, Havard Business Review, April 2014 issue
Chromatography has a long and interesting history. To discuss such a vast subject is a challenge, people are understandably passionate about such a subject. There is huge potential of not charting or discussing an area another person believes to be critical, for example we are discussing here Liquid Chromatography, we didn’t feel there would be room or time to discuss Gas Chromatography (GC) in an appropriate amount of detail.
So before we begin, please do let us know if you have any additions or corrections, we are always open to learning more from experts within any industry as that helps us to grow and learn.
Since the mid-19th century multiple types of chromatography have been developed. To start at the beginning, the word ‘Chromatography’ stands for ‘color writing’ and was initially used for the separation of plant pigments such as chlorophyll (which is green) and carotenoids (orange and yellow). However, it soon became apparent that it could be used for a wide range of separation processes as new forms of chromatography were developed starting in the 1940s.
In the modern analytical solutions discussed here, from HPLC to GC and SCFC we have an instrument that is currently in use, allowing the finished Analytical Instruments to achieve their full potential. We have provided solutions for liquid and gas applications, using thermal mass flow technology allowing manufacturers to achieve their end goals and meet the customer’s expectations.
As solutions providers we have relationships with all of the leading manufacturers around the world, these relationships are based on partnership where we provide the flow expertise. Our goal is to deliver the solutions of the future by listening to and understanding the trends in the market now.
One of those techniques is High Pressure Liquid Chromatography (HPLC).
Schematic drawing of a typically HPLC instrument
HPLC stands for High Performance Liquid Chromatography and is a technique used to separate and allow the user to quantify different compounds. A high pressure pump is used to push the solvent through a column, due to the interaction between the compounds and the column material a separation of different compounds is possible. From here you can analyse the time taken to elute the compund ot the amount of compound detected.
Schematic of our instruments installed in the HPLC system
UPLC stands for Ultra High Performance Liquid Chromatography and is a special version of HPLC. Compared to HPLC, UPLC columns contain smaller particles sizes (2 um for UPLC vs 5 um for HPLC), which results in a better separation of compounds. The pump pressure in UPLC can go up to 100MPa in comparison to HPLC where this is 40MPa. UPLC has, in some applications, improved chromatography significantly. The run times are much shorter; therefore very fast analysis is possible.
UPLC is the abbreviation mostly used in writing; however this is a trademark technology of one of the major corporations in this field and is officially called UHPLC (Ultra High Performance Liquid Chromatography).
SCFC, the last trend we will discuss today is the growth of research into the way that liquid CO2 can be used as a super-solvent. With the ever increasing cost of chemical solvents used in the mobile phase, both purchase and disposal is increasing yearly.
Developing a system that utilizes a solvent, such as CO2, that can elute different compounds and provide a gradient effect purely through adjusting and controlling the system pressure is an incredible potential cost saving development. However as with all things, the cost reduction has to be off-set by the cost of installation of such systems. That day is only getting closer, but we are not yet at the point of wide-spread liquid CO2 solvent usage.
- Working with liquid CO2 can be a real challenge and one that we take seriously, our Coriolis and EL-Press instruments are perfect for this application giving flow and pressure control without the need for a thermal based system that would affect system integrity.
The industry is changing, that’s obvious! We will be on top of this………
Having worked in both the Life Sciences and Analytical industries I am sympathetic to the ever increasing demands for small foot prints and faster instruments. It has been a continuing trend for many years that lab real-estate has become more and more expensive; this led to a drive for footprint reduction of instruments. You had to make sure that size didn’t make you expensive in bench space.
One of the drivers behind this process was the NeSSI system initiative (New Sampling/Sensor Initiative), sponsored by the Centre for Process Analysis and Control. The aim was to reduce the overall costs of engineering, installing and maintaining chemical process analytical systems.
In the NeSSI system, mass flow and pressure meters/controllers needed a standard footprint of 1.5’’.
This footprint is perfect for a large number of applications and end users, even for some of the Life Science OEM companies that have room to spare in their systems. However when you are re-designing your system and you have the chance to incorporate new technology, look at the placement of existing technology and maybe add more it helps if you can reduce the footprint of the components that you use even further.
Reducing the footprint of a known, working technology has challenges of its own. The design and function of which will be driven by the physical characteristics of the measurement principle and therefore the sensor that it uses. To change this you need to look at alternative measurement technologies as a way to achieve the end goal of the industry, same functionality, same signal, smaller package.
Working in conjunction with the TNO, the Netherlands organisation for applied scientific research we designed a new range of mass flow and pressure meters/controllers built around MEMS technology. This allowed us to offer solutions with a footprint of 0.75’’, halving the footprint and offering ultra-compact flow controllers.
This has given our customers:
- Compact assembly ensuring space efficiency
- Analog or digital communication
- Top mount modules, easily accessible
- Pre-testing ‘’Plug and Play’’ manifold assemblies, reducing customer test requirement
To maintain the usefulness of the new instrument you have to have the same functionality. Along with a sensor on a chip, we need a new, smaller control valve, filter options and a smaller pneumatic shut-off valve. To save even more space and build time, customers requested a down-ported version.
The final addition that makes full use of the space saving created by the addition of new technology was to create a manifold system where a customer can design a number of flow channels into a manifold, all well within the internal space limitations they have for their instrument.
This is one of the key themes of our blogs and it is referred to time and again. The Solutions based approach, ending up with a bespoke solution not a standard product with compromises. Innovation in technology must be driven by the customer. If you do not think that a standard flow or pressure solution will meet your needs then let us know and challenge our team, we will be your low flow fluid handling specialist.
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As with any inter-dependent parameters there are consequences for changing one parameter if the controller of the other is responsive.
For example; if you installed a mass flow controller and a digital pressure controller in-line, each with their own inputs and outputs, changing the set-point on the digital pressure controller would adjust the valve and therefore the flow. This reaction would be detected by the mass flow controller as either a decrease or increase in flow and the mass flow controller valve would adjust accordingly to achieve its given set-point. This second reaction would then be seen as a change in pressure by the digital pressure controller and you can see how quickly this would become a feedback loop of increasing instability.
One of the most frequent challenges that we come across, and one that people are always surprised we can solve, is the ability to control and meter flow and pressure in-line. Many of the applications we are involved in require control and measurement of the flow and pressure of the fluid. However, as the two parameters are different but inter-dependent it can make it difficult to determine the optimal process conditions in which both parameters are fully supporting each other. Our experience teaches us that each case has its own unique solution.
We learned by experience that it is very beneficial to draw together the process owners of the application under discussion. I/we use this ‘drawing’ skill to help identify which areas are critical and where value could be added through the use of digital instrumentation. This can make it easier to determine what the best course of action is.
Applications for use:
The need to control/meter both pressure and flow can be important in:
• Consumption reactions
• Fuel cell development
• Burner/Ignition lance applications
• AiR Permeability testing
If you need to measure the AiR permeability of medical packaging; you need to set a standard pressure while also metering and controlling the AiR required to maintain the standard pressure. This measure gives you the flow required to achieve stability and therefore the AiR permeability.
In consumption reactions you may want to hold your reaction vessel at a set pressure and control/meter the feed gas to maintain the set pressure. This set-up, with electronic instruments and PC/PLC communication software will give you total consumption, consumption rate and allow you to profile the life cycle of the reaction you are conducting.
Adding digital control can allow you to control maximum flow as you build up to desired pressure levels which can be important in certain applications.
As with all application solution requirements, talking the application aim through with your supplier can be crucial to getting the best result.
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The selection of a mass flow meter/controller depends fully on the application and customer requirements. There is isn’t a good or bad decision as long as you are aware of the specific characteristics of the different options for your application. As a vendor of a broad portfolio of sensor technologies, we compare the pros and cons of each technology per customer case.
Occasionally we discuss with our customers how we can define the main differences between a Thermal By-Pass and a Differential Pressure Flow device. We sometimes come across these differential pressure devices in the field across a small set of applications due to their inherent limitations, however, when we do get asked the question it is always good to have a good understanding of the technology in question.
Range and options:
Thermal By-Pass flow devices cover a much wider range of application conditions, for example we can cover from Vacuum to 700 bar when a differential pressure device typically operates between atmospheric and 10 bar.
Where most end users are interested is usability. This is because it dictates how the instrument will directly affect their process to hopefully achieve the desired goal, either to increase or decrease something. Talking about usability is not always in terms of functionality, options, on-board screens or other extras, it is how the instrument is physically designed to handle the behaviour of gas flow as it passes through the instrument t to derive a useful reading.
The internal structure of a thermal by-pass flowmeter is based around creating a predictable and repeatable split in the flow between the laminar flow element (LFE) and the by-pass sensor. The better the LFE works, the more predictable the flow of gas is and the more accurate the split of the flow and therefore the performance of the flowmeter.
With the split of a thermal by-pass instrument being based on mechanical dimensions the absolute temperature and pressure virtually do not influence the split. With pressure based instruments the viscosity in the LFE is directly influencing the reading, viscosity strongly depends on temperature and pressure, and this may lead to the instrument being susceptible to subtle variations in the flow.
Overall accuracy in a thermal by-pass instrument is dependent on just one sensor (measuring direct thermal mass flow), on the other end of the scale pressure based instruments need to calculate mass flow from the measured volume flow, temperature and pressure. This could mean using up to 4 sensors. When measuring with this many sensors the individual errors will add up. Pressure based instruments have to measure temperature at two positions; one in the pressure sensor to compensate for temperature errors in the pressure sensor and one in the LFE to correct the pressure drop at actual gas temperature.
Thermal by-pass instruments cover a much larger range of flows and pressures; they are also less complex requiring fewer sensors to generate the same data. It is also easier to define the working parameters of the thermal by-pass instruments, fewer sensors means fewer combined limitations and inaccuracies.
The internal design and basic principle of the differential pressure devices appears to require a more complex system of measuring to get to the same end point.
As always we are happy to discuss and talk about the differences between all of the flow meters available, in the coming weeks we will be looking closely at other flow meter technology including; Coriolis, CTA and MEMS.
If you have any requests for a topic of discussion then please get in touch and let me know.
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