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Tulane Spinoff Enables Smart QA in Polymers

Ilene Wolff
By Ilene Wolff Contributing Editor, SME Media

Fluence Analytics (formerly Advanced Polymer Monitoring Technologies), a manufacturer of smart industrial and laboratory monitoring systems, recently released the third generation of its ACOMP, an automated system that performs continuous, real-time monitoring and characterization of polymers for 3D printing and other uses during manufacturing and post-processing.

The ACOMP QA process enabled a global specialty chemical company to cut its batch cycle time by an average of 17% and eliminate occasional off-spec polymer batches requiring rework, according to Fluence Analytics, a spinoff from Tulane University.

Improvements to the ACOMP system include broader analytics functionality, including optional machine learning; an enhanced user interface; an upgraded detector train; an industrial-grade pumping system equipped with more diagnostics and system health monitoring capabilities; and new smart sensors. The latest ACOMP also operates at a higher temperature, allowing it to work with more polymers.

A new fluid temperature control function maintains 140°F (60°C). The company anticipates modifying the controller to maintain the fluid at a constant 302°F (150°C) to enable monitoring of polyolefin processes.

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ACOMP from Fluence Analytics monitors and characterizes a variety of polymers, as shown here.

“ACOMP already works with a wide range of polymers [see graphic], but having the polymer pass through the detectors at higher temperatures avoids potential problems of precipitation and further extends the useful range,” said Sig Floyd, Fluence business development adviser.

Feedback control algorithms can now be added as plug-ins rather than requiring a full rebuild of the base software. Fluence is also developing historical data recovery and correlation tools that allow them and their customers to recover and spot trends in system health and product quality values.

“These values can be compared with other unanticipated, but likely related, plant process data that is outside the direct scope of the ACOMP,” said Fluence CTO Michael Drenski. “We anticipate these tools will enable insight into how a process upset, such as a poorly performing monomer or catalyst feed pump, can lead to variations in product quality.” The new insight will let operators, or possibly autonomous actions, correct the process.

There are also new detectors in the latest generation ACOMP; previous generations included ultraviolet absorption and viscometry detection.

“We now have a five-angle static light scattering detector for weight average molecular weight and a differential refractometer to determine the concentration of non-absorbing polymer species,” Drenski said. “We anticipate the incorporation of full UV spectral analysis as well as infrared spectral analysis by 2019 so that additional multicomponent composition information can be obtained in real time.”

The new system has a 36 × 28 × 70″ (914 × 711 × 1778 mm) enclosure designed for industrial conditions and hazardous area classifications. A smaller R&D ACOMP can also monitor and characterize polymer processes.

“We can now add climate control, fluidic temperature control, and cabinet purge systems without custom modifications or redesign of the [industrial] cabinet,” said Drenski. Fluence is also launching a demo program so users can evaluate specific polymer chemistry applications.

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