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Case Study – Seeing the Light


Greaves Client-

Unigel is a leading player in the global expansion of  optic fiber data cables.

The company produces filling gels for insulating and “water-blocking” optical fiber cables – especially relevant in ensuring cable efficiency and reliability. Unigel has recently extended its existing UK and US manufacturing capability by opening a new factory Malaysia.

Unigel engineers had identified inefficiencies in parts of their process, therefore they turned to Greaves for a mixing solution that delivers product consistency and process efficiency across all its sites

 

Project brief

Unigels’s Ady Chisholm summarised the challenge as follows:-

“We dissolve granulated polymer in hot oil as part of our manufacturing process. This is the key stage to determine batch times.

Historically we have used top mounted high shear mixers in vessels with a typical working capacity of 2000ltr+.

We have encountered problems with previous tank designs with dead spots and lack of flow through the tank, as a result we were experiencing inefficient dissolving of the polymer granules. So when the project for the Malaysian plant got underway we decided to contact Greaves for a solution”

The Solution

A thorough review of  gel mixing processes in Unigel’s  existing factories highlighted an opportunity to improve efficiency by adding a mass flow turbine.

Lab trials confirmed this approach and Unigel accepted Greaves’s recommendation to do a full scale test by upgrading an existing process tank in their US factory. This test delivered in a 25% reduction in process time and gave the customer confidence to roll out the same design in new equipment.

Greaves designed two 2000ltr working capacity process tanks for Unigels new Malaysia plant. Each tank has a high shear mixer, with a head designed to increase flow, as well as a second incorporator to assist flow and remove dead spots where polymer can agglomerate on the surface.

Unigel have since decided to add another  50% higher capacity machine to the Malaysian factory.

Outcome

Unigel are now  achieving consistent quality product and increased efficiency across manufacturing sites in US, Europe and Asia.

Unigels’s Ady Chisholm  commented :-

“Our collaboration with Greaves is delivering great results. All our factories have seen production efficiency gains. We now have confidence in consistent product quality across sites and batch sizes. An additional production line in Malaysia is now being planned and we have naturally asked Greaves to provide a design. The new process tank will have a 3500ltr working volume”

 

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Working Together

Each time we work with a customer, Greaves Process Consultants start with a thorough review of the context of your requirements and objectives.

This process can include questions that may not immediately appear relevant, but help us suggest the most appropriate solutions….

  • Why is this product/process critical? – Is it growing/stable/in decline
  • What part does the process play in achieving your business objectives?
  • What are your current issues (e.g. capacity, batch size, cycle time,  quality, operator skills, safety…)
  • What methods/equipment are you currently using or have previously been used?
  • Operator comments and opinions
  • What other products and processes may be introduced in the future?

Once a potential solution has been identified, the next step is to support our proposals with evidence of suitability using one or more of the following:-

  • Greaves laboratory trials
  • Pilot trials on your site or at Greaves site
  • Adaptations to your existing equipment
  • Bulk trials using hire equipment

Throughout the journey, our objective is to work with you collaboratively to find the right solution and help you make sound investment decisions that provide excellent ROI with minimum risk.

 

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Potential for Improvement

Greaves is privileged to work with innovative manufacturers across a wide portfolio of products and sectors and we are proud of our track record in collaborating to deliver significant process improvements.

Our customers range across established sectors such as adhesives, food, paints & pigments, beverages, cosmetics etc . and increasingly into new technology sectors including aerospace composites, optical cables, digital inks and defence products.

Regardless of sector, a regular benefit of our involvement is the number and scope of opportunities to improve efficiency, most commonly through reducing process times, while ensuring consistently high product quality.

The benefit of experience

Some opportunities arise through issues we see time and time again…

  • New product produced on unsuitable existing equipment
  • Assuming (incorrectly) that a more powerful/larger version of an existing machine is “the answer” to upscaling batch size
  • High energy input with poor product flow – often associated with viscous mixes
  • Poor procedure for addition of materials
  • Excess reliance on operator input/control
  • Incorrect mixing head
  • Insufficient or incorrect process conditioning (e.g. pressure/vacuum)
  • The list goes on…..

How does the Greaves approach deliver real benefit?

We take a holistic approach to each individual http://greaves.co.uk/wp-admin/post.php?post=5407&action=editapplication and we work collaboratively with each customer to establish:

  1. Current objectives and challenges
  2. How they “got here”
  3. Where they want to go in future

By thoroughly understanding a customer’s needs and objectives and combining this knowledge with our own unrivalled experience of product mixing processes and technologies, we create a powerful combination capable of delivering the best and most appropriate solution.