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Graphic element Research > Growth > Research projects > Products & processes projects > Setting the agenda for CAPE research
Graphic element Setting the agenda for CAPE research

The European process industry must enhance its operational efficiency and flexibility if it is to compete with its counterparts in North America and Asia. While Europe is the undisputed leader in computer aided process engineering research, there is a need for better co-ordination between the research community and the end users in order to identify needs and priorities if this leadership position is to be maintained. The CAPE.Net Thematic Network set out to do just that.

A seamless approach to the use of CAPE tools

CAPE (Computer Aided Process Engineering) technologies involve the use of computers in the design and operation of industrial manufacturing processes, from the oil and gas industry and chemical production to waste water treatment. CAPE relies on modelling and prediction to significantly improve operating performance and safety, bring about cost savings and minimise environmental impacts. While CAPE tools have been in use since the 1960s, their applicability has extended rapidly in recent years in response to product developments and reduced lead time for new products, changing environmental and safety legislation, and society's needs. Despite the extensive application of CAPE technology, there are still problems with fragmentation and integration, as different CAPE technologies are not always compatible. CAPE research is therefore examining ways to make 'seamless' tools that are applicable throughout the product life-cycle, from R&D and process development and design, to manufacturing operations and retrofit and modification projects.

Bridging the gap between industry and research

Whereas in the past, large operating companies typically had in-house research teams, they now increasingly rely on outsourcing of research. The need to 'connect' industry with research was identified as a priority for EU research funding in this area.

One initiative under the Growth Programme was the establishment of the CAPE.Net Thematic Network. Under the co-ordination of Professor David Bogle of University College London, CAPE.Net brought together process industry companies and CAPE research groups from across Europe. Industrial project partners include the UK's Imperial Chemical Industries (ICI), DSM of the Netherlands, Finnish chemical industry group Kemira and Norway's Norsk Hydro, among others. Ten research centres from Belgium, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Norway, Spain and the UK participated in the network.

Defining the CAPE research agenda

Within a framework of European co-operation and co-ordination, participants set out to identify critical issues and define CAPE research priorities for the future. CAPE.Net had a dual strategy of increasing the competitive advantage of the European process industry:

  • To encourage research co-ordination; and
  • To promote technology transfer.

Five Technology Working Groups were established to determine the 'state of the art' of CAPE research and application in five technical areas urgently requiring new capabilities and to determine the required research agenda that could most benefit industry in the medium term.

These areas were identified as:

1. Modelling of unit processes, in which the main requirement is for the provision of a generalised, comprehensive modelling environment for the integrated development of products and processes.

2. Whole process synthesis and integration, which requires novel CAPE tools and techniques to develop integrated process designs and their control, safety and environmental systems. These will offer opportunities for radical improvements.

3. Flexibility, operability and dynamics: As processing plants become increasingly complex and integrated, they also involve more complex operations. At the same time, they require more flexible operations if they are to respond effectively to market dynamics. CAPE tools which can take all of these requirements into consideration are urgently needed.

4. Concurrent process engineering requires the development of highly integrated CAPE tools to overcome the deficiencies (time, quality and cost) of the sequential approach to process development and design.

5. Model based manufacturing: the increasingly complex operational behaviour of plants means that it is harder to attain optimum performance levels. The wider exploitation of Life Cycle Process models for such manufacturing activities as performance measurement and analysis, control, optimisation, operator training, etc., is another area requiring further research.

Partners within each working group were charged with identifying knowledge gaps as well as potential opportunities for R&D and technology transfer between sectors. Working groups discussed issues such as requirements and priorities of industry, education and training needs and best practice.

Network participants produced documents on 'Scope and Vision', 'Industrial Needs', 'State of the Art', and 'Research Priorities' in each of the technical areas. Case studies, education and training requirements and a list of centres of expertise were prepared. A set of presentations demonstrating the business case for CAPE tools and a 'Good Practice' guide were also developed.

Full details can be found on the CAPE.Net web site:

Technology transfer and knowledge dissemination

Because of the expense involved in acquiring CAPE technologies and the need for qualified personnel to run them, they are limited to larger manufacturers. CAPE.NET made a point of encouraging SME participation, particularly in the technology transfer component, and by increasing awareness of CAPE tools among smaller companies.

CAPE.NET organised a series of seminars, technical workshops and technology transfer events, addressing issues related to best practice and appropriate standards in CAPE applications. CAPE.Net also collaborated with other external actors, such as CEFIC (the European Chemical Industry Association), national CAPE groups and trade associations to identify non-CAPE active companies in the EU.

A project to develop a business plan to put in place the vision developed by CAPE.Net is under way through the CAPRI cluster of CEFIC's SUSTECH initiative.

A seamless approach to the use of CAPE tools
Bridging the gap between industry and research
Defining the CAPE research agenda
Technology transfer and knowledge dissemination

Key EU-funded research

The development of methods to improve the efficiency of Industrial processes is promoted under the Growth Programme's Innovative products, processes and organisation key action. One of the first Thematic Networks to be established under the Brite-Euram programme focused on Europe-wide research on computer aided process engineering technologies:

    Thematic Network on Computer Aided Process Engineering (BRRT975011)

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