The technology-driven world we live in seems to become more complex, more quickly, with every passing day. At a systems level, higher education has responded to the needs of a complex world by promoting specialism, and encouraging deep-dive learning in relatively narrow fields. Specialist expertise is to be valued, but developing the new sustainable processes and replacements for oil-based chemicals that sectors like Pharmaceuticals, FMCG, and Fine Chemicals are screaming out for, is a team game.
People from across the disciplines need to engage – they need to get it together – for a successful outcome. Engagement requires communication – listening and looking as well as talking and showing – and some across the board, mutual understanding to make this possible. Too often, the reality has been at best (in the words of an old song I learned at Sunday School in a simpler world) “you in your small corner, and I in mine”, and at worst outright hostility across disciplinary and functional silos.
I often facilitate cross-functional, team-based process understanding studies dealing with operational problems (yield, quality, cycle time) and issues of scale-up and technology transfer. Often, developing better understanding of the required physical transformations and underlying physical principles at play alongside the core chemical or biochemical transformations, and building rich, qualitative models of how they work (or don’t work) together, is the key to making progress.
Scientists and technologists can massively boost their ability to work productively with process engineers by getting the right level of background understanding of the chemical engineering principles of core operations like heat and mass transfer, fluid flow and mixing, mass and energy balances, and the features of the equipment used to perform them. Once they are firmly together on this common ground, scientists and engineers can successfully and harmoniously meet the challenges of process development and optimisation.
In the course, An Introduction To Chemical Engineering Science, my aim has been to assemble clear, visually engaging material that delivers on that objective, without delving too far into the minutiae of design procedures. Those are tasks that your engineering colleagues will no doubt, happily undertake on your behalf once you tell them what they need to know in the way they need to know. I hope you come out of the experience singing from the same hymn sheet!