As chemical manufacturing requires a lot of experimentation and the manipulation of chemicals to achieve specific outcomes, it’s only natural that chemical manufacturers invest a large amount of time and resources into their research and development departments. This, in turn, benefits other businesses as this not only gives them a wider range of options when it comes to custom chemical manufacturing, but they can rent out the services of a chemical manufacturer’s research and development department for their own needs. Let’s take a closer look at the research and development performance in chemical manufacturing to get a better idea of what makes them excel.
The Presence of Chemical Engineering
While chemical manufacturing may seem like a very industrial concept that doesn’t affect the common man’s daily life, it’s actually much further reaching than you’d think. From fuel and pharmaceuticals to cosmetics and washing detergents, chemicals are very much a natural part of life that we’ve found ways to manipulate into various products to make our lives easier. The largest source of fear for chemical manufacturing stems from those who simply don’t understand it or who have been misinformed. Chemical manufacturing has even been used to make our lives safer, thanks to developments in areas like water purification or safer coatings used in our homes.
In general, we just want to clarify that the research and development performance in chemical manufacturing can be felt throughout industries both large and small, to the point that we simply take it for granted in our daily lives. Chemical manufacturing actively works to develop new and improved products that promote a safer lifestyle for all.
R&D in Chemical Engineering
While typically a definition meant for tax purposes, research and development within chemical engineering can be defined as taking a risk in an attempt to solve a technical or scientific uncertainty. In this regard, the “uncertainty” refers to finding the perfect product that provides a solution to the chemical manufacturers or a client’s needs. Some chemical formulas have become an industry standard and are far less of a risk to produce, but when it comes to developing things like specialty chemicals, which we’ll touch more upon later, the risk increases because of the greater amount of time and resources required to undergo experimentation to find the perfect formula.
Some good examples of research and development within the chemical industry include:
- Advancement within the chemical sector by experimenting with chemical structures.
- Developing new or improving upon existing materials used in manufacturing.
- Finding new ways to make processes more efficient or effective.
- Solving technical problems within the chemical production process.
- Developing new polymers for specific, niche projects.
- Working with bulk chemicals like gas and oil to make it safer, more efficient, and have less of an impact on the environment.
Some examples of the work they do for other industries include:
- Developing new and improving upon existing pharmaceuticals.
- Developing safe pesticides for crops.
- Improving materials to be recyclable.
- Create perfumes that are longer lasting, reduce sensitivity, and contain new fragrances.
The Development Cycle
Now that we’ve impressed upon you how widespread chemical manufacturing reaches and how pervasive it is in our daily lives, let’s take a closer look at the development cycle of chemical research.
The first stage of the cycle is research and discovery. Before anything physical can be made manifest, various concepts are explored – such as target compounds, pharmaceutical activity, or even the materials available – and are narrowed down until a single concept presents itself as viable and is then pursued. Having settled on a concept, the research continues into a phase of discovery and synthesis. Whether the concept focuses on a particular molecule or a larger formula, the structure of the targeted molecule or formula is changed and the effects are observed to be better understood. This process takes place in laboratories where chemists carry out a screening process.
The second stage is the pilot scale-up. This part is still significantly chemistry-based and involves the concept being scaled up to pilot plants. Pilot plants are pre-commercial production systems that either test out newer systems, observe changes in processes, or in the case of developing a new product, produce small volumes of conceptual product for more testing and observation. More so than developing a test product, it also allows a physical demonstration of the process required to create the final product and allows chemists to optimize or fix any issues that arise in the production process.
The third stage is when the product finally moves into full-scale production. This is when the new product is beginning production to either be delivered to a client or released into the general markets. At this stage, new issues can still arise such as differing heating and cooling rates due to the much larger scale of production.
Types of Chemical Engineering
The development process isn’t a one-size-fits-all scenario, however, as there are a few different types of chemical engineering that must be considered for a project.
Specialty chemicals are ones that interact and affect the things they come into contact with, also giving them the name “effect,” “performance,” or “formulation” chemicals. Some good examples of these specialty chemicals include adhesives, lubricants, cleaning products, and cosmetic additives.
Fine chemicals are high quality and produced in small quantities. These are typically the custom chemicals clients will go to a chemical manufacturer for to have a solution researched and developed to solve their problem. These are often more expensive because they need to be made in such specific quantities and need to be developed as opposed to the common chemicals that have a standardized formula.
Polymers are molecules that are joined together in long chains. Some natural examples of polymers include silk and even our very own DNA, but polymers can also be man-made. Creating a variety of products, examples of man-made polymers include PVC, siloxane, and plastics. In fact, plastics account for about a third of the chemical industry’s dollar value alone.
Composites are compounds that are made up of two or more materials. These composites or either “matrixes” or “reinforcement” in order to significantly alter or create new properties that work together to be greater than the sum of their parts. For example, steel is a common alloy that uses materials like chromium to better increase its resistance to oxidation, thus preventing rust.