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Academic wins two EPSRC projects aimed at optimising manufacturing processes

Research is beginning on two major collaborative projects – together worth £3.4 million – which aim to help pharmaceutical and food manufacturers to improve their processes.

Professor Charley Wu of the University’s Department of Chemical and Process Engineering has been awarded the two four-year projects by EPSRC (Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council). Surrey’s part of the research projects, due to begin during 2017, is worth a total of £673,000.

The projects tackle two challenges faced by manufacturers of pharmaceutical and food products. The first sees Surrey collaborating with the Universities of Birmingham and Sheffield as well as a range of industrial partners including AstraZenica, Unilever and Sandvik (an applied materials company). The project aims to develop computational models that enable manufacturers to predict how different types of particles will perform during ‘twin screw granulation’ – the process of transforming small particles to large granules. This can also be used by equipment manufacturers to optimise their equipment design.

Professor Wu explained: “Up until now, manufacturers have had to use trial and error to design a twin screw granulation process for each specific product, which is very time-consuming and costly. The computational model we will develop will be a science-based tool that should make this far easier, quicker and more cost-effective.”

The second EPSRC-funded project, a collaboration with the University of Birmingham and STFC (Science and Technology Facilities Council) Laboratories, aims to increase understanding on the flow of solid-liquid materials (products containing both liquid and solid particles). This will involve the research team working in partnership with P&G Fabric & Homecare, Unilever and Imerys Minerals Ltd, among other partners, to create hybrid computer models.

“We can now predict the flow behaviour of a liquid fairly easily, but predicting how solid-liquid materials will flow is far more complex and requires us to combine two different approaches to understand both the liquid and particle elements,” said Professor Wu. “This research could help manufacturers of food, consumer goods, pharmaceutical and mineral products to design their processes and improve their performance.”

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