Chinese firm Lianhetech has announced a multi-million pound extension to its chemical plant on Teesside.

Around 80 permanent jobs and another 150 jobs during construction are being created as work gets under way at the Seal Sands chemical park at the mouth of the River Tees.

Catering for the crop protection, pharmaceuticals and performance chemicals markets, the company was reacting to high customer demand, said Julian Lightwing, director of Lianhetech Europe.

Production capacity at the site will double when the new extension opens in May next year.

And plans are already afoot to make use of several remaining ‘greenfield’ acres there for a third phase of development which, if it goes ahead, will nigh-on quadruple capacity.

The joy of the Seal Sands site was the ability to build from scratch, said Julian. “If you buy a greenfield site, the options are endless – you can pretty much do as you want.

“UK manufacturers are not generally doing that though, because expansion in Europe tends to be on brownfield sites and then, to get in the latest technology you want, you need to spend a lot of money on changing the architecture as much as anything.

“But in this dynamic, fast-track project, we can change the production concept from the ground up – we are laying the foundations for the future.”

A modular construction technique would be used, allowing each module to be completed and tested before it was dropped in place, paving the way for a super-quick build.

The completion date would have been three months earlier but for Covid.

Previously known as Fine Organics Ltd, of which Julian was a director, the site was acquired by Lianhe Chemical Technology in 2017. Two years later, it was rebranded as Lianhetech Seal Sands.

The acquisition gave the Chinese company both a foothold in Europe and a platform for its wished for global expansion.

The facility, in all its different evolutions, has had a presence at Seal Sands since the early 1980s.

Key to the 21st century management of the complex will be the control and instrumentation system to be installed by Siemens.

Mark Higham, head of Siemens Process Automation, said: “We have worked for Lianhetech and the previous company for many years.

“One of the attractions of working with us is that we have been able to help Julian right from the inception of the project through to researching it from the control and instrumentation aspect and supporting the approach to modularity.”

In keeping with the digital transformation inherent in Industry 4.0, optimum connectivity between assets would be vouchsafed by the very latest technology.

Improving on the traditional analogue connections, which offered up only measured values (such as temperature and pressure), smart instrumentation provided an acute insight into asset performance.

“As the data becomes available, we can push it into the Cloud,” said Mark. “There could be certain sets of data that Lianhetech wants to share with a customer, in turn giving them a window into the plant and a real-time view of how their order is progressing.

“While that data is readily available, if you tried to do the same in a legacy system, you would find the data is locked into silos and stuck at different levels of the automation pyramid – it is hard to extract and hard to present it where you want it.”

By way of contrast, Siemens would be installing a distributed control system, complete with a suite of Cloud-based apps capable of ‘interrogating’ and interpreting the data generated.

Julian said the trust his team had in Siemens was critical to the success of the project.

Rather than having to deal with several contractors, Lianhetech had had the confidence to award the whole C&I contract to just the one partner, helping to streamline and therefore fast-track the project.