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Science of Industrial Processes – Systems Technology


Systems Technology has been developed by this writer and collaborators specifically to provide a rigorous framework for the systematic improvement of operating plant.

As developed, Systems Technology brings together a set of methods and concepts which one time or another have probably all been used to design and operate manufacturing processes. Some methods and concepts are process specific; others will apply to all processes. The starting point is the concept of system, which is defined as being made up of the following elements:

1 Objectives which are realisable by manipulation of the design and control of the system. Invariably these will include return on capital, production rates and product quality.

2 A set of interconnected primary components, each of which has input-output relationships which apply independently of the other components. The primary components may be systems in their own right which then have secondary components, which may also be systems and so on. Cells in which particular micro processes like chemical reaction, turbulent mixing, or polymer chain straightening occur, are particular examples.

3 A boundary which is defined by constraints or conditions attached to the design and operation of the system, most particularly the allowable costs and environmental discharges.




These three elements have always been present to some degree in the minds of designers of individual pieces of equipment, but systems technology provides a discipline for the more complex case of complete processes in factories, for ensuring that objectives, components and constraints are precisely and comprehensively identified at the outset of any design or improvement strategy.

Of central importance is grounding both the design and improvement strategies on the molecular and engineering realities as described by the Science of Process Manufacture. This leads directly to defining those elements of the system which affect the objectives at some level of sensitivity and those which do not.

Process improvement should thus be seen as a major contributor to the science of process manufacture. A measure of success in this regard is so-called “learning” which means real cost reduction over time, that is ex works cost deflated by changes in the price index from a particular reference year. It is common experience that, taken over a twenty year period, a very wide range of manufactured products show learning at the rate of 15-25% real cost reduction for every doubling of cumulative output. (Interestingly, this “learning” relationship is virtually the same as that observed for wage rates and patents in cities – a reflection of applied knowledge.) Improvement in these financial terms leads seamlessly into Economic Engineering which is explained in the Industry and Economics part of this website. Generalisable methods to actually implement this basic approach can only be devised and tested by applying them to the widest possible variety of processes.

The papers and reports listed in the categories and subcategories shown in the right-hand panel are for the most part the product of research teams led by Stephen Bush over 4 decades in ICI, UMIST and many smaller enterprises. The research teams were often quite large: the Process Technology Group at Bozedown House was built up to about 55 people deployed over 12 separate programmes. The Systems Technology Group in ICI Europa involved 15 graduates at its core in Everberg, Belgium, and a comparable number engaged in the various factory locations across Europe. The NEPPCO research consortium founded at UMIST in 1990 comprised 70 firms at its peak, mainly in the polymer field.

Generally the papers and reports for which abstracts are given have been written by Stephen Bush, either as sole or joint author. However, there are naturally in big teams situations where the reports and papers have been separately written by other team members. Where the narrative demands it, these also have been referenced and listed under each category or subcategory.

The subfield “Mathematics and Computation” covers mathematical methods devised to ensure that computed results of both initial value problems and the boundary problems (where they are involved) actually generate answers for all realistic parameters.

The “Systems and Design” subfield covers the equations and computations needed to generate the necessary operating and control systems.