University of Birmingham Enterprise has launched EvoPhase, AI-led technology that optimises the design of equipment used for processing granular materials.
EvoPhase uses evolutionary AI algorithms, coupled with simulations of particulates in systems such as industrial mixers, to evolve an optimised design for the mixing blade and the shape or size of the blending vessel.
This AI-led ‘evolutionary design’ approach is applicable to a diverse range of process equipment, including mills, dryers, roasters, coaters, fluidised beds and stirred tanks, and is expected to bring large cost and energy savings for industry.
The company’s founders, CEO Dominik Werner, chief technology officer Leonard Nicusan, chief operating officer Jack Sykes and chief scientific officer Kit Windows-Yule, are from Birmingham’s School of Chemical Engineering. All four are highly experienced in digital models and simulations of industrial processes, and their combined expertise will enable EvoPhase to address challenges that traditional R&D methods struggle to resolve.
‘Up to half of the world’s products are created by processes that use granular materials, but granules are difficult to characterise or understand,’ said Werner. ‘If you consider coffee, its granules are solid when they are contained, like a liquid when poured out of the container and become gas-like and dispersed if you blow on them. This type of variability means granules are the most complex form of matter to process.’
The team will use a novel AI technology called highly-autonomous rapid prototyping for particulate processes, which works like natural selection, testing out designs it has evolved in order to find the best one. It allows the user to set multiple parameters for optimisation, allowing evolution of a design that will meet, for instance, targets on power draw, throughput and mixing rate, rather than trading these parameters off against each other.
EvoPhase will also use a numerical method called discrete element method, which predicts the behaviours of granular materials by computing the movement of all particles. These computations can be validated using positron emission particle tracking, another technique invented at Birmingham, which is a variant of the medical-imaging technique positron emission tomography.
‘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,’ said Nicusan. ‘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.’