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Powder & Bulk Processing Priorities

Chem.Info’s reader survey reveals the priorities and challenges for facilities with  powder and bulk processing operations.

Next time you are grappling with capacity, equipment or quality issues, take heed of the fact that these are common problems for facilities with powder and bulk processing operations. The results are part of a survey of 162 readers who were asked to nominate the most important aspects of powder and bulk processing, how equipment impacts operations, what presents the most challenges and what drives equipment purchases.

Equipment Drivers

We hear a lot about reducing line changeover times and the role that modular equipment plays in achieving that, but the survey revealed that readers are more focused on being able to handle materials of varying compositions. Equally important to respondents is attention to quality controls.

What do you feel is most important to address when looking at powder and bulk solids processing operations?

A lack of equipment is clearly causing frustrations among processors, with budget cuts reducing capital investments. More than 26 percent of respondents also indicated that having the ability to see a timely return on investment plays a role in equipment purchases and impacts production capabilities at their facility.

From an equipment purchasing perspective, which of the following impacts your production capabilities the most?

Conveying topped the list of processing challenges with 23.9 percent of the vote, followed closely by mixing with 20.6 percent. Drying, weighing and storage were each nominated as processing challenges by more than 10 percent of respondents.

Which area of powder and bulk solids processing presents the most challenges?

The need to increase production is the primary driver for equipment purchases for nearly one-third of those surveyed. Equipment upgrades, and the need to process new and different materials were a factor for nearly 50 percent of respondents, while regulatory compliance, surprisingly, was the reason behind only 12.4 percent of purchases.

What is the primary driver of powder and bulk processing equipment purchases?

One reader pointed out that all of the drivers listed are common in equipment purchasing decisions. While the purpose of this question was to determine the most common reasons for equipment purchases, the reader highlighted the fact that processors face numerous challenges on a day-to-day basis, and as a result, require a diverse range of solutions—be it capital equipment, software or instrumentation.

Who Are You?

Chem.Info readers are primarily involved in processing applications involving organic and inorganic chemicals, pharmaceuticals, food or food ingredients and resins. Within the results for “Miscellaneous chemicals” and “Other,” we found a range of interesting and unusual job functions: Two readers work with materials used to produce medical devices, and several others are involved in the production of biofuels, such as ethanol and biodiesel; one reader specializes in the destruction of chemical weapons while another produces candles. 

What type(s) of products does your company produce?

What Do You Want?

In an effort to customize the magazine’s editorial features to issues affecting our readers, the final survey question asked if there were any critical issues relating to powder and bulk processing that Chem.Info should cover more extensively in the magazine, on the website and/or through the Chem.Insider Daily e-newsletter.

Safety and OSHA compliance were the overriding responses, specifically changes to the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) standard for the prevention of fire and dust explosions from combustible particulate solids (NFPA 654). We’ve put together an update on the standard in this month’s Equipment Q&A on page 28, with a follow-up piece planned for when interim changes to the standard are approved.

Several other responses indicated that more information on the optimal design of processing equipment would be useful. Guidance for the costing of process equipment—based on throughput, capacity, material density, etc.—during the design phase was also requested.

The feedback we received indicated that it is difficult to determine if a project is viable without this information. We’re currently working on an article for the March issue of Chem.Info that will look at ways to cost processing equipment as a function of the process variables and why this data is not always easy to obtain.

Lastly, it is clear that readers want to know about new and innovative processing techniques and technologies. Our annual Top 10 Technologies feature will again be the cover story for the July/August print edition, focusing on best-in-class technologies in a range of areas from wastewater treatment to biofuels production. If you know of an innovative technology that you think we should feature, send me an e-mail at [email protected]