Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Process Wednesday: the importance of a Chembuddy

From our mentor-by-literature Neal Anderson and his book, Practical Process Research and Development, a funny little section on the human factors in process development:
Experience with the process and troubleshooting problems on scale are very valuable to decrease the amount of time needed for troubleshooting. Those who have developed the process are usually most familiar with the nuances and pitfalls of the process. These people often can very quickly troubleshoot a problem with their process by relying on their experience and intuition.  
Sometimes it is necessarily to enlist the help of those who did not develop the troubled process. People with different and perhaps broader experiences may be able to see beyond the subtle processing effects that are too familiar for others to recognize. Having no vested interest in defending the development of this process, the "outside expert" may solve the problem dispassionately and quickly. 
This is an extraordinarily perceptive set of comments; one imagines that Dr. Anderson learned this during his years as a process development consultant.

I think this insider/outsider dynamic is why it's terribly important that chemists find avenues to talk about their issues in the lab (or in the plant) with a trusted, knowledgeable friend, a.k.a. a Chembuddy (time for the CamelCase, i.e. ChemBuddy?) It is immediately obvious that the outsider may have a different, better perspective of the issue. More subtle is the benefit for the insider: in the communicating of the problem and its background, the 'insider' gets the discipline of organizing their thoughts and saying all the things that they have been thinking about but unwilling to speak out loud.

Get yourself a Chembuddy -- I have a few.


  1. I agree with this totally.
    But in the modern company, concerned with meeting targets, timelines etc. in order to get a reasonable bonus or a promotion, this approach has been killed, at least with colleagues.
    Most of mine were concerned with raising their profile and would gladly take the credits for ideas and suggestions proposed by others! .The only persons one can discuss with are consultants.
    Sorry to be so negative.

  2. This is probably one of the disadvantages experienced with a small company verses larger organization as the availability for appropriate internal resources who are not connected to a project who can readily discuss problems and thoughts regarding a process. To be able to walk down the hall and spend time with "fresh mind" colleagues going over issues can be very helpful, even if just forcing to verbalize and review details in back and forth manner that may be too close to to tackle alone. A few MedChem types can on occasion be good for hardcore Synthesis topics but seem to reach limits for much of critical scale-up knowledge. Consultants can be OK but rarely find many that know much about process side, particularly in academics. I would be willing to recommend Neal as one of few good ones out there (beyond just his book) based on past contacts at conferences/meeting. CMCguy