Commentary from Dr. Rick Green, KeyLeaf’s President of Technology Development.
“Scaling-up” is a skillset not commonly offered within the natural products industry. It involves taking a manufacturing process usually developed in a laboratory using small quantities of materials at what is called the “benchtop scale”, and identifying what equipment and process parameters, (like times and temperatures), will be required at full production scale. At the benchtop scale you consider what you need to have in place for the full production scale to be economically viable to produce a high-quality end product. The process of scaling up is taking what you learn from the bench top and then using that information to run larger pilot scale trials to validate your processing concept.
With pilot scale trials successfully completed and the processing concept validated, it’s now safe to purchase the full-scale production equipment. Scaling-up is about identifying what the production/processing line will look like, the exact machinery required, and determining the key parameters so that the line will run effectively when you move to full production scale. A proper, well-conceived scale-up program assesses the associated costs and substantially lowers a company’s risk of losing capital resources on new equipment that doesn’t produce as anticipated and must be mothballed or replaced.
KeyLeaf’s expertise at scaling-up was demonstrated when an omega-3 microalgae industrial client sought assistance to improve their product quality and output. KeyLeaf carefully evaluated their production methods and discovered the equipment they were using to extract the omega-3 from the microalgae wasn’t scalable – meaning that their process wasn’t economically viable and was too energy-intensive. KeyLeaf then reviewed many different types of equipment that were in use in different industries and identified a machine that could be modified and used for the microalgae industry. When the new equipment was installed at pilot scale in KeyLeaf’s facility, technicians were able to process 1 to 3 tons of feedstock per day – far more than the volume microalgae companies were capable of processing with their equipment. Once we demonstrated how successful the pilot scale processing was, many players in the omega-3 microalgae industry contacted KeyLeaf because they saw we were able to provide scalability as well as offer the lowest cost solutions for production.
An integral and critical part of scaling-up is being able to communicate and work with multifunctional teams – something that enables the streamlining of solutions. Because they cumulatively represent a tremendous pool of expertise, a multifunctional team can look at the data brought in from one pilot trial and quickly calculate the optimal path forward for the next trial. The team’s ability to make effective, accurate decisions reduces the number of trials needed for scale-up and eliminates the endless “trial and error” approach that becomes the default mode when the team members’ industry experience is lacking. The expertise provided by a multifunctional team is key for scale-up, and it is only possible when a roster of highly experienced scientists, engineers, technicians and marketing personnel comes together very quickly, sharing data by means of an effective communication system.
KeyLeaf’s processing lines run from 50 to 200 kilos of input material per hour at a steady state, 24 hours-per-day, 7 days-a-week. KeyLeaf continues to partner with R&D groups large and small who are looking for companies to take their ingredients and scale them up to a commercial level, a process at which KeyLeaf excels and is proud to offer to established and emerging brands.
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