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Advanced-Flow™ reactors take continuous flow process production from lab to full-scale manufacturing

Advanced-Flow™ reactors: from lab to full-scale

Consistently producing a unique balance of properties for fine and specialty chemicals is an ongoing challenge for manufacturers. Traditional batch processing techniques have been proven over decades of use, but may have efficiency, quality control and safety shortcomings that could be particularly troublesome in specialty chemical production.

Chemical engineers have long recognized that continuous flow processing is an efficient and cost-effective alternative to batch processing. Until recently, continuous processing mainly worked in laboratories that needed to produce small volumes of chemicals for testing and product development.

That changed when Corning developed its Corning® Advanced-Flow™ reactors to take continuous flow processing out of the laboratory and onto the production floor. Employing its more than 160 years of experience in materials science and process manufacturing, Corning created industrial-scale reactors that can provide continuous process production capacity of up to hundreds of kilograms per hour for pharmaceutical chemicals, base chemicals, and fine and specialty chemicals. 

Advanced-Flow reactors consist of corrosion-resistant glass and / or ceramic fluidic modules with integrated piping that connects them with the feeding sources. The reactors combine three essential properties of chemical production – heat, mass transfer and reaction – to occur in a single piece of equipment.

“Advanced-Flow reactors are small and produce the full benefits of intensified microscale continuous processes, but with the capability to meet industrial-scale production,” said Alessandra Vizza, Corning Advanced-Flow reactor sales manager for Europe, Middle East, Africa, and North/ South America (EMEA and NSA). “They could enable greater efficiency in production as compared to traditional batch reactors due to their smaller footprint in manufacturing facilities and ability to scale from the laboratory to full production in less than half the time it takes in batch production systems. There could also be safety gains because continuous flow reactors use smaller volumes of chemicals compared to large volumes of chemicals in batch production.”

Ingredients are piped into Advanced-Flow reactors and flow through Corning’s patented heart-shaped mixing structures which are specially designed to promote thorough mixing while keeping intense heat exchange control. These features allow production of a large portfolio of desired chemical reactions such as nitration, chlorination, oxidation, hydrogenation and many others. The ability to control the feed ingredient ratios into the reactors could enable companies to safely produce a specifically desired quantity of a product at consistent quality and lower cost.

Advanced-Flow reactors can be customized to meet specific needs. They can also be integrated into existing chemical processing infrastructures with little or no downtime. The reactors have small footprints so companies don’t have to expand or build new facilities to produce new product lines. Depending on customer needs, the reactors are also compatible with the cGMP (Current Good Manufacturing Practice) and the ATEX (the Dangerous Substances and Explosive Atmospheres) regulations.

Scaling up production with Advanced-Flow reactors can be as easy as increasing the volume of ingredients fed into them. Advanced-Flow reactors offer a seamless scale up that can reduce, by as much as 50 percent, the time required to bring a new product from the laboratory to production and keep constant quality at all the development stages.

Batch processing, by comparison, consists of passing fixed quantities of ingredients along a production vessel according to a fixed formula to yield a specific amount of finished product. Modifying formulas or repeating a production can cause quality to vary from batch to batch.

Batch production requires a lot of space. Once a chemistry passes a section of the production line, that section is idle until the next batch comes through. Also, batch production could pose higher safety risks than continuous flow production because of the large amounts of reactive chemicals combined in a typical batch production process.  Advanced-Flow reactors use smaller amounts of chemicals so can reduce the risk of accidents. 

Recently Corning announced that Medichem (a Spanish specialty chemical company) integrated an Advanced-Flow™ G4 silicon carbide reactor into its production process to quickly manufacture industrial-level quantities of Active Pharmaceutical Ingredients (APIs) for global pharmaceutical companies.  In China, the Nanjin Refinery Co. Ltd. shared that they have successfully installed an Advanced-Flow reactor G4 for an industrial nitration process, which reduced its production footprint and can enable a safer operation.

In addition to the reactor technology, customers have access to Corning engineers who consult with them regarding the feasibility of continuous processing in their manufacturing operation. They also demonstrate consistent quality, reliable performance, and scaled-up production to industrial-level volumes, which demonstrate effective and seamless scale up. Corning also can provide the automated feeding systems to support the Advanced-Flow reactors.

Medichem’s and Nanjing Refinery’s experiences with Advanced-Flow reactors are just two of many that prove continuous flow production is being used in industrial-scale applications. Backed by Corning’s engineering and production experience, continuous flow can provide an economically and environmentally sound alternative to batch production. With the potential for more efficient material use, lower waste production and higher safety margins, Corning’s Advanced-Flow reactor technology offers fine and specialty chemical, as well as pharmaceutical manufacturers a cost-effective solution to meet current demand for their products.