Centre to revolutionise chemical manufacture is open for business

An EPSRC (Engineering & Physical Sciences Research Council) Centre for revolutionising the way pharmaceuticals and other chemicals are made, which includes Heriot-Watt University, has been officially launched.

Collaborative initiative

The Centre for Innovative Manufacturing  is a collaborative initiative  involving leading academics and industrialists seeking faster, more effective and more sustainable methods of manufacturing products such as medicines, foodstuffs, dyes, pigments, energetics and nanomaterials.

It is led by the University of Strathclyde, and also involves Heriot-Watt and the Universities of Bath, Cambridge, Edinburgh, Glasgow and Loughborough. Substantial support is also being provided by industry partners that include GlaxoSmithKline, Pfizer, AstraZeneca, Fujifilm, British Salt, Croda International plc, Genzyme Ltd, NiTech Solutions, Phoenix Chemicals and Solid Form Solutions Ltd.

Research aims

The research team plans to develop a better understanding of the way these products form and improved ways to control this, using new processes for manufacturing. The chemical and pharmaceutical sectors are worth £113 billion to the UK economy annually in sales and the new national EPSRC centre will improve and accelerate the production of a broad range of products.

In particular, by delivering better control over the process of crystallisation, the research team will create new opportunities for innovation in solid chemical products such as pharmaceuticals.

The new Centre will allow leading research teams to work together to develop technologies that ensure medicines and other materials can be produced using continuous manufacturing approaches, rather than using traditional batch methods. A key aspect to this is developing crystallisation technologies that deliver better control and consistent product quality than is currently possible.

Technologies developed at Heriot-Watt

The technology behind this centre - continuous oscillatory baffled reactors - was developed at Heriot-Watt.

Professor Xiongwei Ni, Professor of Chemical Engineering, Heriot-Watt University

Professor Xiongwei Ni, (Professor of Chemical Engineering, Fellow of IChemE), who leads the project for Heriot-Watt, said: "The technology behind this centre, continuous oscillatory baffled reactors, was developed at Heriot-Watt. Instead of producing products in large scale containers, where consistency and quality are difficult to maintain and much of the production effort has to go into purification and separation, the process instead focuses on continuous production, which means significantly smaller footprint, consistently high quality and purity of the product.

"The pharmaceutical industry has already benefitted from the technology, and by joining together with other partners in this Centre we can bring our joined know-how to answer a wide range of manufacturing challenges."

A world-class research centre

The Centre for Innovative Manufacturing team of researchers, from seven leading UK universities and a range of industrial partners, harnesses skills and expertise in chemistry, chemical engineering, crystallisation, pharmaceutical sciences, manufacturing and operations management.

The group will:

  • establish a world class research centre to improve manufacturing performance in the UK process industries
  • stimulate innovation and commercialisation of new technologies, particularly through SMEs and startup companies
  • engage with global companies across a range of sectors
  • develop international research and development networks

The partners in the EPSRC Centre for Innovative Manufacturing project plan to secure further funding from a range of sources to grow the Centre and extend its activity beyond the initial five-year funding period. This builds on other recent success in this area for the collaborating universities: a grant from the Scottish Funding Council Horizon fund (SPIRIT), made in 2010, established an initial cohort of nine PhD students, two of which have already started here at HWU.

EPSRC investment in manufacturing research

The Centre is part of a £51 million investment by EPSRC in nine new centres through the UK-wide EPSRC Centre for Innovative Manufacturing programme. It has received a grant of £4.9 million from the programme and support worth a total of £1.8 million is also being contributed by industry, with a further £1 million coming from the universities to establish a new partnership between universities, industry and the public sector in this area.