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Article # 0002

Chemical Batch Process Quality Management - Communications

by: Pierce Burns, PE



Over a period of years being involved with the operation and supervision of batch process operations, it became obvious to the author that a major cause of accidents, lost product and lost processing time in batch operations was due poor communications between the various plant functions involved in the operation. The process of insuring that the communications occur seems perfectly obvious in hindsight but is almost always missed if a systematic approach is not followed. The rewards are great: on specification product, no reportable accidents, optimum equipment utilization and improved relations between departments. The procedure described here should be used with a statistical process control - statistical quality control (SPCSQC) program.

This article outlines the principles involved in the procedure. It should be  modified to meet the needs of a specific plant and the organization within that plant. It should be noted that the procedure described here is based on successful use over several years.  It was the experience of the author that a dramatic improvement was achieved in plant operation when this procedure and SQCSPC were both initiated. SPCSQC is not covered in this article.


Functions Involved

In a normal batch process in a chemical plant, the following sections (or divisions) of a plant are involved:

The names of the sections or divisions will vary from plant to plant, so the individual plant nomenclature should be substituted for the names used by the author. In some small plants, some of these functions may be combined.


Preparation Work

Before any batch can be made in a plant, preparation work needs to be done. This should include:


Pre-Run Meeting

The pre-run meeting is the key to bring together all plant functions and create common goals and objectives. The general rules for the pre-run meeting are:

  1. All functions must have a representative authorized to agree to common decisions.,

  2. Chemical operators and laboratory technicians actually doing the work must attend along with their supervisors and must be full participants. Overall success is doubtful if only supervision is present. A team approach depends on this.,

  3. There must be a written agenda and meeting notes. These can be combined on the same document if desired. The notes must be kept on the unit and available to all participants.,

  4. The meeting coordinator is responsible for maintaining a positive meeting atmosphere and he or she must insure that the group comes to common goals.,

  5. The meeting should be focused and to the point. It was the experience of the author that the first meeting required an hour or two and later meetings might only last ten or fifteen minutes. There are too many busy people attending to waste their time by getting off the subject.

The agenda for the meeting may be similar to the following one:

The first reaction to a procedure such as this is normally that it is just another meeting and surely a waste of time. On the other hand what weighs on the other side is the cost of producing off-specification batches that must be disposed of or reworked. Also, when there are bad batches produced, there is frequently blame and finger pointing resulting in hard feelings and friction between sections in the plant. If the effort is not coordinated, there are unexpected calls in the middle of the night for analytical and maintenance help. Does any of this sound familiar?

The experience of using a procedure such as this has been a reduction of off-specification batches by as much as 90% when combined with a quality SPCSQC program. The program is difficult to initiate, but when it is done, the preventable problems seem to just go away over a period of time.

One pre-rum meeting can be used for a series of identical batches in a series. In that case, the pre-run meeting is tailored for the series. The amount of product is the sum of all batches, but the process description is for a single batch. Raw material and shipping addresses the total. Going from a single batch to a series should pose only minor adjustments.

One problem with the program described here is insuring that it does not get dropped. The very success of the program works against it being continued. For example, say that a common product, Detergent X, is made frequently in the batch kettle. The procedure here can be used for a series of identical batches. That is one Pre-run meeting for a series of batches. If another product is made for a series of batches following this and then a second series of Detergent X is planned, is it necessary to have a pre-rum meeting for the new series of Detergent X runs since they are the same as the previous ones? The answer is only if you can afford to discard off-spec product and rework product. Each series is a whole new world. Are maintenance, analytical and shipping ready? Probably not. Are customer requirements the same? You may never know unless these questions are addressed in a structured manner.

The rewards for using this structured approach are many. Overall it may be summarized by saying: every batch on-specification every time, with a minimum of cost and a work force that works closely together for common goals and objectives.

Pierce Burns, PE


Pierce Burns, PE, retired from Texaco Chemical after 34 years of service. During his career with Texaco, he worked first in process development and later was in charge of the Process Demonstration Section at the Austin Labs. The section manufactured products during the transition from research to large-scale plants.

Pierce holds a BS degree in Chemical Engineering from the University of Texas in Austin. He is the holder of eight US patents and twelve foreign patents.

Contact Information:

Pierce Burns

12109 Shetland Chase

Austin, Texas 78727


Article # 0002         TEST QUESTIONS:

1.   A team approach depends on what?

  1. everyone listening to the coach

  2. operators, technicians, and supervisors attending meetings as full participants

  3. cute cheerleaders

  4. All of the above


2.   What is often missing if a systematic approach is not followed?

  1. break time

  2. profitability

  3. communications between plant functions

  4. All of the above


3.   What section of a plant are involved in the meetings?

  1. shipping

  2. analytical

  3. safety

  4. All of the above


4.   On the agenda, what does the Review of the Process Description and the Run Sheet provide time for?

  1. questions from the operators and maintenance personnel to be answered

  2. setting the process procedures in stone

  3. lengthening the Run Sheet

  4. All of the above


5.   For what reason should the procedure outlined by this article be modified?

  1. The outlines should never be modified

  2. to meet the needs of a specific plant

  3. meeting members disagree on procedure

  4. All of the above


6.   Before any batch can be made in a plant, what preparation work needs to be done?

  1. write a process description

  2. compile the MSDS sheets

  3. clean the equipment

  4. All of the above


7.   Normally, what is the first reaction to a procedure such as described?

  1. layoffs

  2. there are never any reactions

  3. it is a waste of time

  4. All of the above


8.   By using a procedure like that described, production of off-specification batches are reduced by as much as what percentage?

  1. 10%

  2. 90%

  3. 250%

  4. All of the above


9.   After the program is initiated, and is working, what needs to be insured?

  1. that the program does not get dropped

  2. that the wrong people do not come to meetings

  3. that all meetings have enough donuts

  4. All of the above


10.   What are some rules for pre-run meetings?

  1. positive atmosphere

  2. common goals

  3. stay focused on the agenda points

  4. All of the above

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