The art of manufacturing molecules

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Science  19 Jan 2018:
Vol. 359, Issue 6373, pp. 273-274
DOI: 10.1126/science.aar4543

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The way we manufacture many of the products used in everyday life, such as the ingredients in shampoo, the plastic components of smartphones, the vitamins and pharmaceuticals we take, and the packaging that all of them come in, has not changed in a significant way over the last hundred years. Arguably, these methods of manufacturing are even older and were already applied in the first large-scale chemical processes in the 19th century, in which new products such as vulcanized rubber, synthetic dyes, or industrial fertilizers were first produced on scales unknown to society at the time. The development of these industrial processes was driven by the benefits of economy of scale, with the aim of centralizing, optimizing, maximizing, and integrating production. In recent years, efforts were made by a series of research groups to reverse this trend and decentralize, miniaturize, and even digitize chemical manufacturing. On page 314 of this issue, Kitson et al. (1) report the synthesis of active pharmaceutical ingredients (APIs) on demand in a three-dimensional (3D)-printed, miniaturized reactor cascade. A complete multistep synthesis of the muscle relaxant baclofen was developed and digitized for remote bench-scale manufacture.