What Is Micro Process Engineering?

Micro process engineering is the execution of process engineering operations, such as heat transfer, mixing, phase conversions, chemical and biochemical conversions as well as substance separations, in microstructured devices. These devices are characterized by smallest internal flow areas with at least one dimension in lateral direction to flow being smaller than 1 mm. As a result of the connected thin fluid layers, heat transfer and often also mass transfer in this direction are so rapid that no significant limiting impact on the behavior of the device can be observed. Consequently, any process can be performed with minimum energy consumption and maximum control of process conditions. This allows much higher specific efficiencies to be achieved.

Microstructured devices are mainly suited for rapid processes with high heat production. Due to the increased pressure losses of flows passing the microstructures and the microstructures’ susceptibility to plugging e.g. by fouling, suitability of microstructured devices for technical operations always has to be assessed individually.

Micro reaction technology is a partial area of micro process engineering. It covers substance conversions in microstructured reactors. Microfluidics and micro process engineering overlap. Microfluidics refers to flows through microstructures and may therefore be considered a partial area of micro process engineering. On the other hand, microfluidic systems for lab-on-a-chip applications may also include pumps, valves, sensors, and microdevices for more complex technical operations.

As far as outer dimensions are concerned, microstructured devices may be very small. In this case, the abbreviation microdevice can be used. Such devices may also be equipped with many thousands of individual channels and reach a remarkable size. In these cases, the term microdevice is confusing and the term of microstructured device should be preferred.