There are technology bugs to be worked out, and a general hesitation to convert on the part of those who “love their batch reactors” or frankly don’t have the time or money to consider alternatives, much less retrofitting their plants.
At least in the R&D labs, however, microreactors and flow chemistry have gone mainstream, says Mike Hawes, head of Sales and Marketing at British-based Syrris, Inc., which manufactures both small-scale batch (Atlas) and flow (Africa, FRX) flow systems. Business is booming—up 80% this year, Hawes says, despite the down economy—due in large part to the fact that micro or flow systems have “gone mainstream.” To capitalize, Syrris has also expanded its market presence in Asia and Latin America, another reason for the sales increase.
“Three years ago, we were selling the concept first, and then maybe selling the product,” Hawes told me over the phone. Now, most of the time, customers are well aware of the advantages that microreactors can convey—shorter development times, shorter reaction times, fewer side products, etc.—and are simply looking for the best technology to get them there, Hawes says.
The Quality by Design movement has helped the flow product R&D business (as well as high-throughput, high data-rich batch business), Hawes adds. “In a Design of Experiments and QbD-type viewpoint, I think the flow reactors have been seen as a good tool for quick characterization and optimization of chemical reactions.”
One has to figure that what’s good for the lab will, eventually, be good for the plant as well.