Smart Management of R&D Capacity and Catalyst Testing Programs
Based on requests from and discussions with our customers in recent years, we see a marked increase in the demand for so-called application testing compared to screening tests. This type of testing increases the understanding of catalyst behavior under different operating conditions (such as temperature, pressure, feed types and feed contaminants), to support the optimization or troubleshooting of chemical processes. This is understandable in view of the continuing increase in complexity of catalyst systems and catalytic processes.
Long-term planning vs. short-term demand
Such demands on testing, in combination with the continuing drive, to shorten time-to-market of new catalysts, put substantial stress on available R&D resources. Planning and determining the appropriate testing capacity are made difficult because such application testing can be lengthy (for example with aging tests can take multiple months) and are difficult to predict, which results in unexpected peaks in the demand for testing units.
Often longer-term catalyst development programs are squeezed out by short-term demand to serve the running business. As research from d’ArtisKancs et al. has shown, the challenge put on the R&D capacity can impact the growth of a company up to a factor of 2.
Ways to solve the capacity limitation
One approach to tackle this problem is by considering the testing capacity along similar lines as a manufacturing asset in a business with fluctuating demand. Manufacturing companies in such businesses often optimize their assets by applying a flexible, outsourced extension to their base-load capacity. Catalyst testing capacity can be approached in a similar manner and recent research from C. Annique Un showed in “Absorptive capacity and R&D outsourcing” that a diverse approach can help to manage those constraints based on the internal resources.
In this way, outsourced catalyst testing should be considered as a structural part of the R&D infrastructure, instead of on an ad-hoc basis. Of course, externally spent costs often seem high in comparison with using existing fixed assets. However, Rodgers et al. demonstrate that project KPI’s like speed, quality, and innovativeness have a greater impact on the decisions than conventional ones, such as costs. At Avantium, we already see substantial amounts of outsourced projects from companies that have their own high-throughput testing capabilities (figure 1), illustrating that having one’s own high-throughput testing capabilities does not exclude outsourced projects.
We have analyzed the nature of testing projects executed by Avantium over the last 5 years (figure 2) and noted that there are a large number of projects that are of a structural nature, whereby the R&D departments of companies are viewing outsourced catalyst testing as an integral part of their overall R&D capacity.
In conclusion, integrating external catalyst testing capacity into your existing internal infrastructure can help to handle the conflicting demands of both short-term testing and long-term programs.