UPL: Focused on solving ag problems by breaking the ag innovation mold; Insights into the challenges for Formulation Engineering and corresponding solutions
−− Exclusive interview with Dr. Adrian Percy, Chief Technology Officer, UPL
Jul. 8, 2020
"We're focused on solving problems that have plagued the ag world for decades by breaking the ag innovation mold. In the R&D organization, we are pursuing many different initiatives to bring cutting edge solutions to the market,” said Dr. Adrian Percy, Chief Technology Officer of UPL in a recent interview with AgroPages.
He also talked about the changes in the value chain of UPL, the company’s strategies of product integration & development and agrochemical formulation production and major formulation types, the challenges and corresponding solutions of formulation engineering technology, some new technologies for formulation engineering, the development of automation control and artificial intelligence in formulation engineering, as well as some industry changes & countermeasures etc.
Dr. Adrian Percy
Chief Technology Officer, UPL
Following the acquisition of Arysta LifeScience, could you talk about the changes in the value chain of UPL? Is the new strategy going well? Is there any adjustment with the impacts of Covid-19 pandemic?
The merger of Arysta LifeScience and UPL provided an opportunity to combine two strong companies with complimentary value chains. There are many examples of how the two organizations coming together creates a strong value proposition for growers and partners. Arysta’s asset light model with extensive marketing and partnerships combined with UPL’s manufacturing strength and agility has created a global company with tier 1 scale and has positioned us well for continued growth. Our focus moving forward will be to accelerate growth of our differentiated solutions (novel crop protection AIs and innovative formulations) as well as sustainable solutions (biosolutions, soil and seed health, & digital farming). We will also continue to lead the post-patent market through differentiation and best-in-class cost efficiency. Sharpening our focus in these areas will allow us to best support the needs of our growers and partners. Another key part of our strategy is driving innovation through our OpenAgTM purpose to create an agriculture network that feeds sustainable growth for all. No limits, no borders. We believe that UPL is uniquely positioned to bring innovative technologies to market.
The COVID-19 pandemic has illustrated how essential the agriculture industry is to society. While challenges have presented themselves, UPL has leveraged our agility and resources to keep our business fully operational and provide more than $10M and PPE across the globe to those in need. We also developed global Rapid Response Task Force teams to ensure the safety our employees and business continuity during this challenging time. There are many learnings from this pandemic that will enable UPL to evolve, improve and thrive going forward.
What are the strategies of product integration & development of UPL and corresponding initiatives?
We’re focused on solving problems that have plagued the ag world for decades by breaking the ag innovation mold. In the R&D organization, we are pursuing many different initiatives to bring cutting edge solutions to the market. Just recently we opened the doors to our new OpenAg Center in RTP, USA as part of our efforts to attract partnerships with promising start-ups to characterize and bring new technologies to market. We’re building incredible new laboratories and implementing a team of seasoned, sought-after scientists to quickly validate a wide array of technologies — from the latest biologicals to chemistry-based innovations.
With our OpenAg platform, we’re working with innovative entrepreneurs and partners to rapidly onboard and evaluate new technologies. Working together, we’re breaking down traditional barriers and significantly speeding the process of getting new technologies tested, approved, and out in the field. Through this type of collaboration, we believe we can accelerate innovation and transformation of the food value chain to achieve our mission of making every single food product more sustainable.
What is the overview of your company’s agrochemical formulation production and major formulation types? Could you highlight the innovation formulation technology and its advantages and application situation?
UPL’s strong manufacturing competency is supported by 48 manufacturing sites across the globe that produce AIs and formulations allowing us to remain close to the consumer. All facilities are designed by our own expert process engineering teams and positioned to deliver the highest level of safety, reliability and productivity, while maintaining cost efficiencies. We produce most types of formulations starting from EC, SL, EW, ME, SE, SC, ST, SP, WP, WDG, CS, ZC, GR, etc. Our pack sizes range from 5 ml to 10000 litres to meet the needs of even the smallest growers. Our formulation facilities are vertically integrated in a way that connects AI manufacturing directly to the formulation and packing lines. This allows us tremendous flexibility, speed and shorter response times.
Our innovative formulation technology includes formulations such as micro-encapsulation (CS) and ZC which is a combination is CS and SC. There are many advantages of encapsulations, including safety, controlled release of the active ingredient, as well as reduced staining and degradation. Our ability to produce ZC allows for differences in release profiles of the AIs and the ability to overcome incompatibilities.
For our combination products, we have SE and EW for liquid formulations. We have had great success in combining two incompatible active ingredients in solid formulations, including moisture sensitive and low melting point AIs.
Could you introduce the challenges for Formulation Engineering and corresponding solutions?
UPL drives continuous improvement in everything we do. Some specific examples of challenges we have seen in formulation engineering with corresponding solutions include:
|• ||Challenge: Production of 2-way and 3-way mixtures and stability require advanced technology equipment and can cause challenges during scale up.|
|Solution: UPL has developed specialized coating and mixing technologies including spray drying processes that are developed to meet highest demands of quality and process control. We have strong formulation expertise in the production of uniform sized granules, high levels of suspensibility and low dust content. |
|•||Challenge: Designing equipment to ensure the lowest levels of cross-contamination limits between changeovers. |
|Solution: We have implemented CIP (Cleaning In Place) in our production systems. Additionally, we have invested in LC Mass Spectroscopy to detect even the lowest levels of cross-contamination. |
|•||Challenge: Particle size reduction and low temperatures requires specific milling technologies. |
|Solution: Low temperature milling technologies have been introduced to ensure particle size reduction and low temperatures. DCS controls and automation in milling technologies allow us to monitor the milling parameters in real time and ensure a narrow range of particle sizes are met.|
|•||Challenge: Designing equipment for low melting point AIs in extruded formulations. |
|Solution: UPL has developed special low compaction and low temperature extruders based on the nature of the AIs in the formulations. Additionally, our milling and drying processes can be done at very low temperatures, ensuring the AI does not melt during processing.|
|• ||Challenge: UPL handles hundreds of raw materials with varied physio chemical properties reinforcing the need for stringent safety precautions prior to transferring materials for large-scale processing. |
|Solution: We design our equipment with safety at top of mind, including performing fire and explosion tests for every formulation. We have highly trained safety and process engineering professionals who interpret test data and provide necessary safety interlocks as well as explosion-proof devices within our equipment.|
|•||Challenge: Stable packaging for new products.|
|Solution: Careful development and transport of stable packaging is needed to ensure stability during transport as well as secure shelf life. UPL has developed a comprehensive packaging development NABL certified lab that can test many types of packaging to ensure quality. Techniques like transport simulation testing can analyse an entire pallet by subjecting it to variety of forces that the pallet may experience during transport. Due to certain types of formulations that develop gases during storage, we provide specialized, vented caps to allow excess pressure release from our bottles. Each product and the associated packaging are thoroughly tested for compatibility under 54 degrees celsius for 28 days to detect any possible challenges prior to the product being produced at commercial scale.|
Could you share some new technologies for Formulation Engineering like Modelling & Simulation, 3D rendering & Virtual reality etc, and their application situations?
We use the most advanced and innovative formulation technologies and leverage simulation studies for predicting the shelf life of liquid formulations as well as their performance in the field. The simulation studies we conduct are focused on producing stabilized heterogeneous dispersions and surfactant screening studies for optimized uptake of active ingredients. Features like controlled release of micro-nutrients in soil and optimization of fertilizer doses in soil are also considered for certain products using simulation techniques.
Could you talk about the development of automation control and artificial intelligence in formulation engineering?
Modern approaches like Flow Chemistry are used to manufacture specific types of formulations. We also intend to implement more automation in formulation engineering. We often use techniques to screen surfactants for a formulation design that ensures maximum uptake of the active ingredient. Quality assurance is another area where such techniques are used and automation helps us ensure precise dosing of ingredients.
What improvements/adjustments have been made in the formulation development and production to address industry changes?
We are consistently finding new ways to improve the quality of our products while ensuring alignment with regulatory and compliance requirements. As we see changing scenarios for new products within different markets, we develop differentiated and sustainable technologies to adapt to those changes.
UPL is very focused on sustainability and biosolutions. We develop innovative technologies to address water stress, bio-activators and adjuvants, natural-based crop nutrition and soil health, methods to combat disease resistance, post-harvest protection solutions and most of our adjuvants and surfactants are eco-friendly. We are also working towards the ability to deliver formulations suitable for drone application. Our high focus on sustainability guides all that we do in order to eliminate hunger by nurturing food and at the same time, reducing our carbon footprint.
About the Author:
Dr. Adrian Percy, with more than 25 years of experience in the agricultural industry, is an advocate of the need for and benefits of modern agriculture. He is also a strong proponent of the development and adoption of new agricultural and food technologies that support global food security while conserving the environment.
Adrian currently serves as the CTO of UPL Ltd, a major agriculture solutions company that is a leader in global food systems. He also serves as a Venture Partner at Finistere Ventures LLC, a technology and life sciences venture capital investor, focused on transforming the food value chain.
Previously, Adrian served as the head of research and development for the Crop Science division of Bayer as part of their executive committee. In this role, he had responsibility for internal and open innovation activities in the areas of crop protection chemistry and biologicals, as well as seeds and traits. During his 16-year tenure at Bayer, he also led crop protection development activities for Bayer in North America and regulatory affairs activities across the entire division of Crop Science.
A global ag advocate, he has held numerous positions in the research and development departments of Rhone Poulenc, Aventis CropScience and Bayer in France, Germany and the United States.
Adrian serves on the board of directors of BioLumic, HiFidelity Genetics, AgroSavfe and Evogene. He is also a member of the science and technology boards of Terramera and Rothamsted Research.
Born and raised in the United Kingdom, Adrian earned a bachelor’s degree in pharmacology at the University of Liverpool, as well as a master’s degree in toxicology and a doctorate in biochemistry at the University of Birmingham. He now resides in the Research Triangle area of North Carolina, USA.
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