Leaders at a bio-refinery were aiming to capitalize on increasing product demand. The trouble was available feed quality was decreasing. Seeing limited opportunity to raise production with lower-quality feedstock, the leadership team was concerned that a rushed, multi-million dollar equipment upgrade may be the only option. They worried that an expensive, time-intensive capital solution would be risky if the emerging market underperformed. They brought in Stroud to help the refinery meet increased demand with their existing asset base while utilizing lower-grade input feed.
Finding More Opportunity
The bio-refinery had strict quality and cleanliness standards which limited run times and production. Operations at the plant believed they had optimized their run time given the biological limitations of the process. The leadership group worked with Stroud to conduct a Zero Based Analysis of the facility, which challenged what would be possible if the process fouling and other biological limitations of the process could be overcome. Through approaching these biological constraints as opportunities rather than limitations, the team found that the process actually had the capability to increase production by 130%. Seeing opportunity to more than double capacity was both exciting and daunting. The team now needed to overcome the biological constraints they believed were fundamental to the process.
Process fouling was believed by experts to inherent to the plant’s process biology, and the organization focused on limiting downtime by efficiently cleaning between runs. The improvement team took a different approach, using a first principles analysis to understanding why fouling happened to begin with. The team designed new trials that methodically identified the source of fouling in the process. Once the cause was known, a capital-free solution greatly reduced the rate of fouling and extended run time 5-fold between cleanings. Tangibly reducing the fouling rate was exciting for plant leadership and operators - what the experts thought was impossible actually could be done.
The plant increased output by 80% while running run lower-quality feedstock, levels previously believed impossible without capital investment. Furthermore, demonstrating that problems experts believed were “unsolvable” could be overcome led the organization to seek out additional “unsolvable” problems that held back additional improvement potential.
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