Faster to full scale with simulation

Medicine production starts in a lab, where cells are cultured and bacteria fermented in small batches. When it’s time to move to industrial-scale production, ABEC – a supplier of bioreactors and fermenters – employs advanced simulation software from Siemens.

A scratch in the throat, a runny nose, sneezing attacks: At the first indication of a cold, most people head to the pharmacy. By taking the tinctures and pills as instructed, a full-blown illness can often be avoided.


Happy for the relief, little thought is given to where the “miracle workers” actually come from. For example, that every medicine started out in a lab, developed and tested in small batches until it was ready to be produced in large quantities – that is, until production can be scaled up.


Although not unique to the pharmaceutical industry, the challenges of scaling up from lab-scale experiments to industrial-scale production are critical given the nature and intended use of the products. Scaleup is one of the challenges that ABEC, a supplier of bioreactors and fermenters, has been dealing with since its inception over 45 years ago.

Master technological challenges

One of the main technology challenges facing ABEC customers is accurately predicting and modifying bioreactor performance across a wide range of scales and platforms. “A typical scenario might involve a project that has moved from the laboratory bench at the tens-of-liters scale to process development, which may be operating on a few hundreds-of-liters scale. Another company on the verge of production might need to ramp up by thousands of liters in multiple units,” explains Paul Kubera, Vice President of Process Technology at ABEC.


Platform incompatibilities present another potential obstacle. A company may be operating at one location with hardware that is different than that in use at a manufacturing location elsewhere. To solve this, ABEC assists the biopharmaceutical customer in bridging different platforms to ensure uniform results at all locations.

“Siemens provides us with the support we need to demonstrate to our customers that equipment can operate in a very predictable fashion immediately upon startup, reducing their time to market.”
Paul Kubera, Vice President of Process Technology at ABEC

Tried and tested tools

In creating solutions for these issues, ABEC employs a variety of approaches and methods. These include calculations, lab models, testing of production equipment, and computational fluid dynamics (CFD) modeling. In regard to the latter, ABEC relies on Siemens Simcenter STAR-CCM+ software. “With Simcenter STAR-CCM+, we can run a large-scale CFD simulation and be confident that measured performance of the delivered equipment will track with expectations,” says Kubera.


Thanks to simulation software, ABEC has been able to reduce reliance on full-scale experimentation, ensure process stability across sites and platforms, increase the potential for enhanced production yield, and reduce time to market.


What’s more, existing systems also benefit, because experiments can be carried out on a digital twin for any given bioreactor configuration to determine opportunities for process improvement.

Even more potential

As valuable as Simcenter STAR-CCM+ is for ABEC, the company’s experts are aware that it is capable of even more: “We don’t perform enough CFD to take full advantage of all that it can do for us,” says Kubera. What adds to the usefulness of Simcenter STAR-CCM+ is that ABEC’s engineers can count on assistance from Siemens.


“Siemens provides us with the support we need to demonstrate to our customers that equipment can operate in a very predictable fashion immediately upon startup, reducing their time to market,” comments Kubera. Just like taking medicines for an onset of cold: they work reliably and quickly – and shorten the time to recovery.

There are a whole range of cases for which ABEC’s engineers have come to rely on Simcenter STAR-CCM+. A typical application is with bioreactors to evaluate impeller blade designs with the goal of improving blend time. ABEC’s approach is to validate the Simcenter STAR-CCM+ CFD model using results from small-scale experiments with different impeller designs, and then to use the validated CFD model to extrapolate the results to full scale. 

Another typical application involves evaluating bioreactor production platforms for cell culture and bacterial fermentation – a critical first step in the production of biologicals. The goal is to assess the suitability of each platform for providing the same environment for each organism, independent of scale. Here, ABEC uses Simcenter STAR-CCM+ simulations to guide the selection and determine which one best suits the customer’s constraints, for example in regard to volume, geometry, and schedule. 

Since 1974, ABEC has been a leader in delivering integrated process solutions and services for manufacturing in the biopharmaceutical industry. Today, more than 3,000 of the company’s systems are in use worldwide.

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