Event: Process automation & control workshop at Thornton Science Park


The process automation and control workshop held at Thornton Science Park on Thursday 2 February 2017 brought together academics and industrialists working at the interface of process engineering and electronic engineering.

“Chemical engineers and Electronic/Electrical engineers don’t speak to each other anything like enough – maybe because people who like Chemistry often don’t like Electricity and vice versa.” Says Prof Steve Wilkinson, Head of Chemical Engineering at the University of Chester. “But there are huge commercial opportunities for people who can work at the interface of these two disciplines, as was demonstrated at this meeting”.

The meeting was opened with a presentation by Prof John Counsell from the University of Chester on the benefits of non-linear control for a range of applications from intelligent building heating/ventilation systems through to optimal control of the MIG 28 jet fighter. The potential application of these methods to the process industries gave rise to animated conversations with Gouwah Diedericks, Control Engineer working at the neighbouring Stanlow Refinery who made the point that replacing standard linear, feedback control systems would be a major challenge on her process.

The next speaker was Dr Patrick Thorpe, founder of Spiro Control. Patrick gave an intriguing glimpse into the architecture of control systems with embedded ‘internet-of-things’ functionality. Patrick showed how Spiro Control’s edge device with embedded model predictive control manages the mathematical trick of solving large optimisation problems in milliseconds to keep processes performing close to their limits.

David Morris, founder of Autichem, demonstrated his state-of-the-art reactor systems for better control of key steps in the manufacture of life saving drugs. The pharmaceutical industry can see the benefits of moving from batch to continuous systems but this transition will require a new generation of reactors from companies like Autichem. Morris is a truly inspiring engineer inventor who has straddled the usually disparate camps of control and chemistry to develop reactors with much better monitoring and control of product quality.

In the afternoon there was a brainstorming session to draft a new module to bring together final year students in Chemical Engineering with those studying Electronic & Electrical Engineering. “A big focus in our undergraduate teaching is jobs” says Wilkinson.

“This region is massive for the process industries and industry is asking us to produce interdisciplinary engineers who understand both the process and the control systems that keep the process running. We are pleased to be answering this call with events such as this workshop. Future events to follow.”