Doug Bartholomew, Samuel Greengard, Glenn Hasek, John Jesitus, Scott Leibs, Kristin Ohlson, Robert Patton, Barb Schmitz, Tim Stevens, and John Teresko contributed to this article. Can product-development solutions do as much for the process industries as they have for discrete manufacturing? That's a daunting challenge considering the need -- 50% of the world's manufacturing capacity requires specific formulas and formula management. It is a need that Formation Systems is targeting with its Formation WorkBench product. The software is designed for the chemists who typically could only rely on intuition, experimentation, and guesswork to manage variables to create the consistent products from their continuous and batch-type processes. That's because water and other resources differ from one locale to another. Even temperature can play a role in creating a different taste or look with the same ingredients. And if a company wants to create an entirely new product -- such as a candy bar or paint -- there's no easy way to tap into an existing database to use existing information. But now a solution is in hand. WorkBench can take the guesswork out of creating and managing complex chemical formulas. Formation says WorkBench is the first product in an entirely new class of software called computer-aided formulation. It offers many of the same benefits to the manufacturing process that CAD/CAM systems bring to design -- including the ability to exchange research data through an intranet, the tracking of multiple versions of formulas, and the use of the computer to compensate for variations in ingredients. "It allows a company to leverage existing information and solve complex problems," explains Peter Shields, president and CEO. Using Windows 95 or NT, a chemist can sort through hundreds of existing formulas, make changes and tweak the formula in the computer, and instantly see the results. With the PC handling all of the calculations, preproduction can be reduced from two or three days to a couple of hours. Consider, for example, a company that wants to create a new chocolate-chip cookie and sell it in 20 countries. Chemists can plug in the formulas for all existing cookies and view all ingredients on tabs at the bottom of the program. It's then possible to add or subtract ingredients by dragging objects across the screen and instantly see the results. If a thicker or darker cookie is wanted, the chemist searches the database and finds formulas that match the particular criteria. And if cost reduction is the issue, the program can show how to reach that goal -- though it can't factor in taste. "The program doesn't replace a chemist -- it simply allows the person to do his or her job more productively," says Steve Phelan, vice president and principal consultant. "It transforms what used to be an art into a science," explains Bill Swanton, director of research at Advanced Manufacturing Research, a Boston firm that provides analysis for the manufacturing sector. "It eliminates what used to be a trial-and-error process that required elaborate spreadsheets. For years, this has been a thorn in the side of industry. People have tried to attack the problem with little or no success." In addition to improving the manufacturing process, Workbench also helps companies comply with complex environmental laws. It can find an appropriate substitute for an ingredient banned in a particular state or country while retaining the integrity of the product.
Formation Systems Inc.Westborough, Mass.
Formation WorkBench formula management software