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Cathay's new bio-manufacturing base in Wusu, Xinjiang, adopts Siemens' entire range of digital factory solutions

Polyamide from biomass

When corn is turned into clothing

Polyamide is essential for many everyday objects, from garments and shoes to car parts. In its digital factory, Cathay Industrial Biotech Ltd. in China now produces the popular material from renewable biomass.

Producing the popular raw material polyamide from corn is tricky. That’s because the organisms used for this are complicated and mutable. Fully mastering all the subtle details of the conversion process is difficult, and the relationship between different strains, reaction conditions, and the yield are complex.
“With big data, we can learn more about the laws guiding production,” says Liu Xiucai, Chairman and CEO of Cathay. “In fact, the efficiency of bio-manufacturing can only be improved by integrating the whole production chain with hardware and software control; collecting, processing and analyzing data automatically; and then feeding the analysis results back to production.” 
 


Polyamide from biomass
Although polyamide is traditionally synthesized from fossil raw materials in petrochemical plants, Cathay Industrial Biotech Ltd. is pursuing a completely new approach. In its digital factory, the company produces polyamide from corn and other renewable biomass. A major enabler is digital factory technology from Siemens.
“Conventional petrochemical industries are faced with the risks of resource depletion as well as the problem of carbon dioxide emissions. Compared to chemical processes, bio-manufacturing offers many benefits, including the use of renewable resources, mild reaction conditions, and environmental friendliness,” says Liu.

During production, many tests and samplings are performed. The results are digitally processed to help improve production efficiency.


But how does the digital factory at Cathay actually work? Here’s how digitalization is making individual areas in the plant even more productive.
 

A boost for R&D
Every year, the researchers at Cathay examine more than 500,000 samples, looking for strains of microorganisms and fermentation conditions for industrial production. They are supported by the Simatic SIPAT software featuring Process Analytical Technology (PAT). Sipat helps the researchers to directly identify the relations between some important parameters and the yield through digital analytics, reducing the number of processes required. 

Cathay researchers transform naturally occurring microorganisms into reactors that meet production requirements.


Uninterrupted operation
Once bioproduction has started, it cannot be interrupted. As a result, this requires seamless integration of the automation system. While the Simatic PCS 7 distributed control system from Siemens ensures continuous production, the Comos plant asset digital management system builds unified digital models. There is a digital twin for a wide range of plant assets, including processes, electrical systems, instruments, automatic control and pipelines.


Stable and efficient production
The Siemens manufacturing execution system Simatic IT ensures stable and efficient productions at Cathay. The system sends electronic work orders to operators every day, evaluates work quality and records it accurately. Production cannot proceed to the next step if any ingredient is not in place, or if any seed fermentation has not yet been completed. 
In addition, automation programs replace many production steps, thus reducing operation costs and error rates. Real-time feedback from the digital system also makes a direct contribution to improving efficiency. The secure storage of the process parameters ensures confidentiality of such things as the raw materials, formulas, and process conditions. Simatic IT is even able to automatically match the formula with the raw materials.

>> Building a digital factory in Wusu, Xinjiang, Cathay will be able to yield insights from big data that improve the production process. This is the strength of digitalization. <<
Liu Xiucai, Chairman and CEO of Cathay
Providing hands-on training Siemens experts support the customer in building a solid digital team with experienced and professional engineers working at every key step.


Integrated maintenance

In the digital factory, maintenance becomes digital as well: Comos automatically develops maintenance plans based on equipment status and provides an up-to-date overview of the condition of each individual device in the factory. In case of a fault, Simatic PCS 7 sends an alarm immediately, which triggers Comos to generate and send a repair order to the responsible party. When the fault is fixed, an electronic record is generated automatically that can be used as a reference for future maintenance work and efficiency improvements.

In Wusu, digitization meets sustainability: Instead of oil, Cathay uses renewable raw materials such as corn to make polymers in its new bio-manufacturing base.


The new factory in Wusu is not just a modern manufacturing site; in Liu’s opinion, it is also defining the future of biotechnology: “Biotechnology can be used to manufacture better materials, to work more cost efficiently than the petrochemical industry, and also for mass production.”