Economies of scale and unit operations drive modern chemical engineering. The economy of scale principle suggests that larger chemical plants are more capital-, resource-, and cost-efficient than smaller plants, and unit operations guide the design of the plant’s building blocks. However, the concept of process intensification (PI) challenges the one-unit/one-operation view of plant design and suggests combining multiple unit operations into one smaller device to improve efficiency and safety. Modular manufacturing (which benefits from, but does not require, PI) combines many, smaller devices that can be “numbered up” — instead of scaled up — to achieve the required throughput.
In the October 2017 AIChE Journal Perspective article, “Modular Manufacturing Processes: Status, Challenges, and Opportunities,” Michael Baldea, Thomas F. Edgar, Bill L. Stanley, and Anton A. Kiss review several drivers for modular manufacturing, discuss some links between modularization and PI, and provide several industrial examples of modular manufacturing.
A module can be any in a series of standardized units for use together, but Baldea, et al., highlight the benefits of applying PI to modular manufacturing. They identify three categories of modularity.
Modular fabrication and...
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