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When corn is turned into clothing

Technology

When corn is turned into clothing

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.” 

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. Making yarn out of corn creates fiber with a CO2 footprint of only 50 percent compared to fiber made from oil. 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.

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. Making yarn out of corn creates fiber with a CO2 footprint of only 50 percent compared to fiber made from oil. 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.

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.

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.