From The Editor | November 18, 2020

What's Process Intensification In Practice?

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By Matthew Pillar, Editor, BioProcess Online

Do More With Less

I understand why “process intensification” is a buzzword embraced by the vendor and consulting communities. Now I want to know what the term means to biopharma companies, and whether—and how—you’re implementing it.

Having covered high tech for nearly 20 years, I’m no stranger to enigmatic business jargon and buzzwords. It was the tech industry, after all, that brought us terms like business intelligence and actionable analytics, both which have been bandied about for years, largely by vendor and consulting communities committed to building theoretic cases for any number of hypothetical applications of their services or technologies: Let’s apply a business intelligence layer to glean actionable analytics from your (fill in the blank) data, the pitch started, followed by a laundry list of applications, subscriptions, services, and in some cases hardware to close the sale.

At the user level, writing a case study on the results of a specific application of business intelligence or actionable analytics was often a fool’s errand. What do those terms even mean to anyone who’s not a talking head, or heavily influenced by one? When asked how BI or actionable analytics helps them, the user’s response is often, at best, little more than a vague reference to some unquantified efficiency improvement. This is typically due to a lack of understanding, a half-baked effort or implementation, or both. The breakdowns are often between the theoretical, the execution, and the application.

It’s Not A Thing, It’s A Concept

In biopharma, the term “process intensification” is akin to IT’s “business intelligence.” The supplier/vendor community sells on it. Consultants consult on it. In practice, though, what does it even mean?

Referring to the concept using the pronoun “it” only adds to the uncertainty of meaning and disdain for the jargon. It’s not a thing, it’s a whole bunch of things that comprise a concept. That concept can be crystallized and codified and put into practice to great effect. But nothing will happen if you say, “we’re adopting process intensification” and proceed to implement “it” by imploring your process managers to operate more intensely.

Process Intensification’s Embrace By Suppliers

When a phrase like process intensification is coined (Science Direct credits Colin Ramshaw, who wrote the eponymous book on the subject), it becomes great sport for the vendor/supplier/solutions provider marketing communities in a given industry to latch on to it, to own it, in an attempt to create the perception that their widget/application/machine is central to solving the problem the concept addresses.

The pitches go something like this:

Want to intensify your upstream process? Let’s transition you from fed-batch to perfusion and high cell density processes. Of course, you’ll want, or need, to upgrade your cultivation platforms, replete with new acoustic settlers, hollow fiber bioreactors, and perfusion systems with TFF (tangential flow filtration) or ATF (alternating tangential flow) technologies.

Want to intensify your downstream process? You’ll surely want, or need, to invest in our filtration technology and high performance chromatography resins to improve cycle times and optimize yields.

In other words, from the vendor’s perspective, process intensification seems to begin with the product offering. But from the biopharma developer/manufacturer’s point of view, doesn’t it begin with an idea that only become reality by way of measured, fully documented, and yes, functionally-specific enabling tools or technologies such as those offered by biopharma equipment manufacturers? Isn’t that how biopharma has managed to achieve increasingly higher titers and production with increasingly smaller bioreactors in decidedly shorter windows of time over the past decade or so?

What Does Process Intensification Mean To You?

Accepting that process intensification is a concept that, in its simplest form, is self-explanatory I’m curious about the application of the concept in the real world. Have you engaged in a named process intensification project in your biopharma facilities? Did you call it as such from the outset, or does an upgrade or improvement project you took on just happen to fall into that category in retrospect? I’d like to hear about those projects in your world. Shoot me an email at matt.pillar@lifescienceconnect.com. I want to learn what process intensification means to you, and what it looks like in your lab or manufacturing space.