University of Birmingham launches EvoPhase, an AI-powered design approach for industrial processing equipment

Article by Kerry Hebden

University of Birmingham
EvoPhase founders (left to right): Jack Sykes, Dominik Werner, Leonard Nicusan, and Kit Windows-Yule are all from Birmingham's School of Chemical Engineering

UNIVERSITY of Birmingham Enterprise has launched EvoPhase, AI-led technology that optimises the design of equipment, including mixers, dryers, roasters, and blenders, for processing granular materials. 

Granular material makes up around 50% of the world’s products and processes, from the fine compacted powders used in the food and pharmaceutical industries to the coarse aggregates utilised in construction. 

Despite their extensive use, however, the characteristics of granular materials remain poorly understood. That’s because unlike fluids or gases, which are easier to model with computational fluid dynamics (CFD), they can flow like liquids but are composed of solid particles.  

Their behaviour is so complex that mathematical modelling is a significant challenge. But, thanks to its cutting-edge technology, the team behind EvoPhase say a revolution in industrial process efficiency is now possible. 

Using a novel AI technology called highly autonomous rapid prototyping for particulate processes (HARPPP), which works like natural selection, EvoPhase tests out designs to find the best one.  

The user can set multiple parameters for optimisation such as power draw, throughput, and mixing rate, and the programme allows the evolving design to select the best combination of parameters rather than trade these targets off against each other. 

EvoPhase also uses a numerical method called DEM (discrete element method) which predicts the behaviour of granular materials by computing the movement of all particles.  

These computations can be validated using positron emission particle tracking (PEPT), another technique invented at Birmingham. The method is a variant of the medical imaging technique positron emission tomography (PET) used in nuclear medicine. 

EvoPhase is the brainchild of Dominik Werner, Leonard Nicusan, Jack Sykes, and Kit Windows-Yule, from Birmingham’s School of Chemical Engineering, and was founded through help from University of Birmingham Enterprise, a service which helps researchers turn their ideas into services, products, and enterprises that meet real-world needs. 

The team say that along with addressing challenges that traditional research and development methods struggle to resolve, EvoPhase is also expected to produce huge cost and energy savings for industry. 

Nicusan, who is EvoPhase’s chief technology officer, said: “Our technologies enable us to undertake assignments in material characterisation, digital model development, experimental imaging and validation, optimisation of process conditions, geometric design optimisation and scale-up, and predictive model development. Our approach is suitable for designing powder, granule, and fluid processing equipment across all industries, where it will deliver cost savings by increasing energy efficiency, mixing effectiveness and throughput.” 

Article by Kerry Hebden

Staff reporter, The Chemical Engineer

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