Engineering New Ideas
We talk to Marko Saban, Director of Engineering, to learn how his team of engineers helps clients bridge the gap between the lab and the real world
How long have you been directing engineering at the Xerox Research Centre of Canada (XRCC)?
I’ve been in my present role since April 2013. Prior to that, I've been managing XRCC’s Process Engineering Area for almost 14 years. On July 1, 2016, I celebrated my 25th anniversary with XRCC – I cannot believe how fast the time flies!
I understand that XRCC has undergone some significant changes over the past three years. Has your job changed too?
Yes, my job has changed significantly over the past three years. In addition to having a world mandate for delivering new marking materials for the Xerox Corporation, XRCC started offering Client Services three years ago. We engage with a number of clients. For example, we have been collaborating with GreenCentre Canada (GCC) since 2014. We designed and built a Micro Pilot Unit for GCC last year. This mini-pilot plant helps them bring their new proprietary Forward Osmosis desalination technology a step closer to commercialization. We also partner with Battelle Memorial Institute, headquartered in Columbus, OH, the single largest R&D non-profit
What attracts these companies to XRCC?
Many of them are attracted by our state-of-the-art
When a new material idea is reduced to practice and it has shown some commercial promise in testing labs, the product development people usually need to know if the new material can be made in
This data eventually turns into
What if you need a product and not a process?
In that case, we develop a process, scale it up in our Pilot Plant and deliver the product. Some clients want a process, some want a product only, and some want both. Everybody has different needs and we try to accommodate each client individually. Our low-risk engagement process begins with a non-confidential discussion. This is followed by a confidential discussion. Next, a discussion document, or proposal, is prepared and refined. Finally, an agreement is drafted and executed.
What is so unique about the XRCC Pilot Plant?
The short answer is flexibility and efficiency of our operations. Our Pilot Plant is the environment of change. For example, last year we brought in over 30 new processes. During the past 35
Why would you want to intensify a process?
Process safety and process economy are the primary reasons. When the process intensification trend started in chemical process industry about ten years ago its emphasis was on process safety, and now it has evolved into an emphasis on process economy, in addition to process safety. It is well known that most commodity chemicals, like gasoline, are made in continuous plants, so-called refineries since the continuous processing makes the most economic sense. Traditionally,
What else is XRCC Pilot Plant known for?
We have a database of over 200 documented processes. Our pilot plant is operated by a team of 10 well-trained operators and is assisted by a team of another 10 process engineers. Our analytical labs are state of the art and our engineering support team makes sure that all 28 reactors systems are always at our disposal. Our engineering toolbox extends well beyond the reactors: we have all the downstream equipment too, plus a lot of
What can you do for a client who has invented a new material?
It’s the access to proven expertise and infrastructure that accelerates technology development and commercialization. We can help you bridge the gap between the lab and the real world, which is
In the next step, the feasibility step, we would be turning these blocks, which engineers call unit operations, into actual equipment that can be assembled into an equipment train. The output is a process flow diagram (PFD) identifying all the major pieces of equipment and streams that would be required for a new plant – this is like a skeleton of a new plant. Sometimes engineering lab work is proposed as part of this step using a design of experiment (DOE) approach. Finally, the piping and instrumentation diagram (P&ID) is prepared that is also known as a mechanical flow diagram. Obviously, the level of complexity and detail increases from BFD to P&ID. P&ID drawings contain all the information required to prepare a budget cost estimation for a new plant. And of course, there are other drawings on top such as isometric and 3D drawings that allow us to
Would that be the end of the project?
That would be more like an end of the beginning of a project. Those three steps are usually referred to as Front-End Loading (FEL), or FEL 1, FEL 2 and FEL 3 steps. The outcome of the FEL 3 phase, or Define step, is to come up with a budget cost estimation for a new plant that needs to be built, basically a capital cost estimation. After the budget has been
What has been your guiding philosophy when it comes to a new process scale-up?
Our guiding philosophy for a new process scale-up is: “scale-down before you scale-up”. This means that a pilot plant process is a scaled-down replica of a manufacturing process, rather than the scaled-up version of a lab process. This makes a big difference in accelerating time-to-market.
What is the most challenging part of your job?
It varies day-to-day. One day it could be engineering of a new process that we’ve never done before. Understanding its underlying principles, or fundamentals, process hazard assessment, reviewing Safety Data Sheets with my
What do you mean by a non-technical issue?
This could mean business negotiations or
Why would somebody contact XRCC in the first place?
We are a small and nimble
Any final thoughts?
Being part of this amazing organization for the past 25 years, I’ve had an opportunity to engage with some ground-breaking new materials research, such as, for example, organic photoconductors in the nineties, invention and commercialization of a chemical toner technology at the end of 20th century, development of new colourants for Xerox solids inks in 2001-2002, invention of conductive inks for printed electronics, or a recent delivery of the
In order to stay current and on top of our game we are constantly rewriting our history and reinvesting in our future. A living testimonial of this is last summer’s MOU announcement by the Canadian Government about the Canadian Campus for Advanced Materials Manufacturing, or
|Marko Saban, Director of Engineering at the Xerox Research Centre of Canada, manages and develops the process scale-up competency for a team of up to 40 engineers and scientists on a daily basis that