A chemical manufacturer’s supply chain is highly sensitive and subject to unpredictable fluctuation. Accepting the reality that supply chains can be chaotic systems and that quality control and large-scale production are imperative in meeting supply demands has resulted in local production enabled by continuous manufacturing.
The primary goal for manufacturers is to build more adaptable and predictable supply chains.
Managing supply chain challenges
In 1998, Richard Wilding, a British academic and world-leading logistics expert, published a paper demonstrating the resemblance between supply chains and chaotic systems. Key similarities are that supply chains are highly sensitive to the commercial, political and logistical landscapes which impart a high degree of unpredictable change.
When you factor in the potential impacts of long-distance transportation issues, international conflicts, and uncertain energy security, the vulnerability of supply chains to external pressures becomes readily apparent. This emphasises why a clear understanding of the entire end-to-end supply pathway is vital.
Some factors can be controlled, while others demand that a company remains adaptable enough to accommodate them. With an improved understanding of an organisation’s supply chain, the number of factors amenable to control may be increased.
Offshore supply chains
In previous years the act of moving operations and processes overseas, also known as offshoring, was regarded as a sound long-term business strategy. Reduced labour costs, more relaxed regulations, and the potential for tax breaks all made the grass seem a lot greener outside the UK and EU. This meant that companies, including manufacturers, moved much of their production capacity overseas, with India and China being favourable destinations.
One unavoidable consequence of offshoring, however, is that it makes supply chains geographically longer. This, in addition to introducing complicating factors such as shipping across international borders and the requirement to comply with different regulatory frameworks, ultimately built a level of uncertainty into supply chains.
The impact of world affairs on offshore production
In 2020, the world faced various and lengthy shipment restrictions due to the emergence of COVID-19. For some manufacturers, their supply chains were ramped up to meet the demand of the public and government, whilst others broke down completely.
This demand for particular products with the simultaneous constraints of logistical supply, only highlighted the drawbacks of offshoring. This was particularly true for the pharmaceutical industry, although chemical manufacturers also felt the inhibition. The logic of outsourcing from locations like China began to be questionable during a period of time when source and supply were crucial.
Further geopolitical concerns were imposed as the war in Ukraine emerged in 2022 after several years of conflict. These kinds of global friction only underpinned the flaws of offshored production. Many manufacturers became dubious of the approach, as it became obvious how quickly the status quo could descend and the extremities of shortages that could occur.
As states of affairs could potentially get worse in years to come, or just as likely resolve themselves before new disputes appear, the question it left manufacturers with was ‘what does this mean for global companies like us that are dependent on out-of-country supply?’.
Moving away from offshore supply chains
Fast forward to the present day and many organisations are now beginning to realise the flaws with offshoring and the necessity of owning resilient manufacturing operations. Although offshoring did realise some positives for the manufacturing market in that it was able to produce more for less, in more recent years, it has become viewed as a backwards step. The abundance of compelling reasons to adapt and restructure supply chains meant looking for viable alternative production methods that enabled bringing things back to Europe.
Manufacturing companies have started to reap the very same benefits through reshoring; which is essentially the repatriation of processes which had previously been offshored. Reshoring converts the negatives of offshoring and makes them fundamental positives of inshoring. In almost all cases it makes supply chains more reliable and more predictable.
Bringing the supply chain onto the same continent as manufacturing and other company functions means it can be managed locally whilst also simplifying regulatory compliance by eliminating the need to comply with regulations across multiple territories.
Contrasting to offshoring, inshoring shortens production as well as reduces complexity. Delivering massive and wide-ranging benefits across cost savings, improvements to efficiency and enhanced reliability. However, it can be a potentially huge undertaking.
Continuous flow, or continuous manufacturing as it is also referred to, is a solution to reimplementing the manufacturing process on the continent, along with the process design and regulatory work that’s implied.
The benefits of choosing continuous flow
Retreating away from batch methods, where stages are segmented into slow-moving, large-quantity processes and opting for an uninterrupted and entirely integrated manufacturing process reaps its own merits. With just one of them being the ability to reshore supply chains.
Flow also provides manufacturers with:
Enhanced production: with improved mass and heat transfers and a resultant shorter reaction time, processes are more controlled and have increased reproducibility.
Improved sustainability: efficient and accurate processes mean a reduction in energy costs and waste materials.
Easy scalability: instead of repetitive batches to fulfil demands, a higher volume scale-up can be done simply by running reactions for longer.
Optimised safety: with less handling and isolated reactions, naturally there is a safer environment for running toxic and hazardous materials.
Not to mention the vast opportunities for economic growth that bringing supply chains inshore can have, from increased job opportunities, transparent investments and more easily accessed gross domestic products.
Implementation of a new manufacturing approach
Undoubtedly a transformation from batch to continuous flow manufacturing is a huge undertaking, moving not only the supply chain but also moving towards a new methodology. But it doesn’t need to be an unduly challenging transition.
Coflore® flow reactors are built to meet these exact challenges and help make reshoring a realistic alternative. With a range of systems that are fully scalable from the lab bench to kilotonne manufacturing, Coflore’s agility enables organisations to adapt to a local supply chain whilst also meeting customer demands whilst ensuring the protection of the bottom line of a supply chain.
AM Technology’s in-house R&D facilities and state-of-the-art laboratories enable our team of Scientists, Chemical and Mechanical Engineers to deliver an unparalleled implementation service. We can provide project management, design, engineering and technology transfer expertise throughout the entire transformation to continuous flow manufacturing.
Scaling processes from the lab to the pilot plant, to full production, are made simpler with our engineering service which assesses the commercial viability of a move from batch to flow manufacture. This is where we design custom systems for a variety of manufacturing industries, using process skids which can work alongside upstream or downstream processes.
Working toward more controlled supply chains
The success (or otherwise) of manufacturing companies depends heavily on the ability of the production process to adapt to unmanageable supply chain fluctuations. Continuous flow manufacturing offers a highly effective solution that ensures the maintenance of adaptable production processes by enabling supply chains to be managed locally.
Ready to take your first steps in introducing continuous flow into your supply chain? Contact us to see how your manufacturing processes can benefit from Coflore.