10/05/2020 | Spotlight

Modular production: perfect process harmony

How the chemical industry changes direction from batch to continuous and modular production

Smaller batches, individual products – the chemical industry has to adapt to the wishes of its customers. It does so by making its production plants more flexible and modular.

The chemical industry is one of the economic sectors in Germany that consume the most energy. Basic chemicals such as hydrochloric acid are already being produced in a very energy-efficient way because large-scale plants are operated continuously. However, often only a few tons of fine chemicals and active pharmaceutical ingredients are needed per year. They are therefore produced in multi-product plants in batch operation. Shutting down such a plant after production, cleaning it thoroughly and preparing it for the next product costs both time and money. Both could be saved if the production plants were modular in design. To move around and exchange plant components as required, just like children do with their colourful plastic building blocks, is the dream of all engineers.

Connection, coordination, control

Unfortunately, the reality of the process industry is not quite as simple as a nursery. Plant operators, module manufacturers and automation engineers are working to agree on standards, methods, models and procedures. A modular plant can be operated efficiently only if the modular units are intelligently interconnected, coordinated, controlled and regulated – just as a symphony can sound perfect only if all the musicians in the orchestra arrive to the concert on time and play the right notes at the right time. Both are highly complex processes, and that is why engineers have borrowed a term from music for their own: orchestration.

Setting the beat in process automation - Siemens AG

For engineers, orchestration means the systematic methodology for combining individual process equipment assemblies and their services to create a production specification that can be run and executed.  In an industrial plant, orchestration is done by what is known as the Process Orchestration Layer. Depending on the application, orchestration can be carried out using various methods. Common to all is that they use the Module Type Package concept. This defines the common language used by the Process  Orchestration Layer and process equipment assemblies. In music, these are the notes. The Process Orchestration Layer sets the beat for the individual equipment assemblies. It retrieves the functionalities currently required in the individual process equipment assemblies at the right time. In the Module Type Package, these are referred to as services, which are started, parameterised, paused and stopped by the Process  Orchestration Layer.


The requirements and functions of the Process Orchestration Layer vary depending on the industry and application. Therefore, future systems of the Process Orchestration Layer will be much more modular and flexible to  provide plant operators with exactly the functions they need to orchestrate their modular plant, concentrated within one single workbench. First concepts in products will be shown at ACHEMA 2022!

Flexible production is, with respect, still a long way off. Flexible production systems require a degree of adaptability that will be achieved more and more in the future. On the way there, Siemens is actively participating in the standardisa-tion work with countless partners. In addition, Siemens supports its customers in the introduction and implementation of the standard in its overall portfolio for original equipment manufacturers and plant operators. With COMOS, SIMATIC TIA Portal and the S7-1500, as well  as SIMIT, we offer an integral solution  for planning, engineering and testing modular process units.

With COMOS, the new web-based  SIMATIC PCS neo or SIMATIC eBR or Op-Center Execution for pharmaceuticals/chemicals, we also offer a wide range of options for implementing the Process Orchestration Layer. In summary, we  offer products and services over the  entire life cycle for process equipment assemblies and modular plants.



Andreas Stutz (M. Sc.), Siemens AG

Andreas Stutz is a  research engineer  at Siemens AG in Karlsruhe and co-author of the standard of the Module Type Package concept.


Plug- and play flow measurements thanks to MTP - Krohne Messtechnik GmbH, Semodia GmbH

The water meter in your basement is a rather simple example of a flow meter; in the process industry, these need to conform to significantly higher demands. They can cope with liquefied gas at –200 °C as well as with 2000 litres per hour of viscous tomato paste and are also fully digitalised. In addition to the classic 4.20 mA/HART signal, they also communicate via common protocols such as Modbus, Foundation Fieldbus, Profibus as well as Profinet and even Bluetooth.

Until now, there was no manufacturer-independent standard for the integration of modules; hence flow meters had to be manually integrated into the IT  environment of the respective plant. In some cases, this involves a great deal of effort, which is why KROHNE engineers are now cooperating with the company Semodia. Semodia’s MTP control engine encapsulates the intelligence of the Coriolis OPTIMASS 6400 mass flow meter and describes it in a module type package conforming to VDI/VDE/NAMUR guideline 2658. The MTP semantically captures, models and communicates the system’s properties and capabilities. The Semodia MTP control engine can be used on any field device. This means that an OPTIMASS 6400 as a module is now able to provide the Human Machine Interface and certain services via the manufacturer-independent Module Type Package. The effort of signal-based integration is eliminated; instead, the module can now be integrated quickly and efficiently and play its part in the plant orchestra.

The joint contribution of KROHNE and Semodia significantly increases both the efficiency of modular process plants at all levels of their architecture and the overall resource efficiency in the process industry.



Ralf Haut, KROHNE Messtechnik GmbH

Ralf Haut is the Technical Manager in the KROHNE Group’s Global Chemical Industry Division.  He holds a degree as process engineer and worked in a number of roles for companies including Bayer, Siemens and Honeywell.


Anna Menschner, Semodia GmbH

After completing her studies in electrical engineering, Anna Menschner worked as a research assistant at the TU. Since 2019 she is one of the managing directors of Semodia GmbH.

Modular production: from show floor to shop floor - LANXESS

A leather cloth for cleaning the inside of a saxophone needs to be smooth and supple, while the leather for a cello case must be sturdy and waterproof. Transforming raw-hide into leather bespoke for a particlar application takes a lot of high-tech chemistry in the tannery. At ACHEMA 2018, the model of a pilot facility for manufacturing leather chemicals was presented as part of the special exhibi-tion “Process INDUSTRY 4.0: The Age of Modular Production”. Now the plant is going to market.

The pilot plant for in-situ production of a retanning agent had been run since November 2017 by LANXESS at, and  together with, the Heller Leder tannery in Hehlen in Lower Saxony, Germany. There, the process has been tested under real-life production conditions and developed to market readiness. To bring the container-sized production modules to commercial scale, LANXESS has now joined forces with the Swiss Hüni AG for their expertise in plant engineering and construction of the modules; LANXESS will contribute its chemical process engineering and application expertise.

In the modular process, shavings from leather production will be recycled in the tannery directly on-site used to produce retanning agents in a fully automated manner. At a medium-sized tannery, there are around one to two tonnes of shavings per day. These can be used to produce a comparable quantity of liquid retanning agent. The waste is fully recycled, leaving no residues and generating no emissions. This approach also eliminates any of the costs involved in transporting the materials to recycling companies or for disposal.
LANXESS has been producing leather chemicals for over 100 years. Hüni AG designs and manufactures drums and process automation systems for the leather tanning and processing industries. The pilot plant was sponsored by the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF) as part of the ReeL research project (resource-efficient manufacture of leather chemicals).

Flexible for the client - Evonik

For a speciality chemicals producer like Evonik, flexibility and speedy implementation are essential factors for success in a changing market environment. 

Evonik has therefore been working intensively on the concept of modular plants for more than ten years – both in-house and in publicly funded projects such as the F3 Factory Project (EU Project 2009 – 2013). The aim of this project was to develop modular plants which are built into a transport container and connected to a defined infrastructure via a standardised docking station. However, in most cases, this full version of the modular plant concept is not the required optimum. During implementation, it is crucial to recognise which form of modularisation is optimal for the task at hand and how an appropriately adapted concept can integrate into today's plant landscape.

In multi-product plants equipment can be used much more efficiently than before, as it is more flexible both in function and locale. This is particularly true today for the contract manufacturing of active ingredients, where the change from conventional batch production to continuous manufacturing processes will become increasingly important.

Seamless integration and orchestration of modular plants into existing conventional plant concepts, for example, via standardised interfaces, is therefore important for the success of the modular approach. Connecting package units to existing conventional plants is a good example of how this can be achieved. In addition to such successful use cases, trustful cooperation and close coordination between operators, automation engineers and equipment manufacturers are key in making the modular plant concept a success. A smooth transition from the current monolithic plants to modular plants is to be expected; shaping this transition will be a central task in the coming years.



Dr. Christian Bramsiepe

Dr. Frank Stenger

Keywords in this article:

#modular and connected production

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