Automation/Process Control Keep Cool: How Precise Temperature Control helps to Optimize API Production

Author / Editor: Santhakumar Arul / Dominik Stephan

The use of chillers is essential to the operation of any pharmaceutical plant—for process cooling, HVAC loads and the maintenance of humidity and space temperature set points in Good Manufacturing Practice (GMP) spaces. These machines consume a lot of electricity for its working. In this article, an automation expert shares his experiences of how a pharmaceutical company enhanced its operational efficiency and reduced energy costs by incorporating state–of–the–art automation...

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Plant operator handling equipment in line with safety norms
Plant operator handling equipment in line with safety norms
(Picture: depositphotos.com / Lu Jiuyi)

An Active Pharmaceutical Ingredients (API) manufacturing facility in Western India belonging to a large pharmaceutical group with global market presence, faced issues with their chiller. The machine was experiencing serious scaling problems and it required water to be drained from the cooling system and the condenser to be cleaned once every 15 days. A traditional treatment program was in place and system bleed off was done manually.

However, this was a quick fix and not a permanent solution and it brought about a number of problems on the site. To list a few: Loss of production, use of high approach temperatures and excess energy use due to loss of efficiency and costly cleaning processes to maintain reliability of the chiller. Furthermore, manual handling of equipment and loss of water due to drainage of water from the tower basin once every 15 days decreased the efficiency in the plant.

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A Solution in Two Steps...

The group was clear with what they wanted improved - the energy consumption lowered by five per cent and a reduction in the cleaning frequency of the condenser from once every 15 days to once every three months.

After approaching and having discussions with Nalco, a decision was made to survey the plant to determine which mechanical, operational and chemical factors were leading to the current problems. On the basis of the survey, two recommendations were made to improve the overall system performance of the plant.

First, the current chemical program was to be upgraded by integrating 3D TRASAR automation technology. The advanced High Stress Polymer (HSP) program, particularly suitable for systems with stress and a history of scaling problems, combines sensors and a controller that actively measures the chemistry in the system, as well as consumption. It then automatically sends responses with dosing based on system loads and stresses to maintain the appropriate treatment levels. The second recommendation was to provide plant operators with training on the use of the technology and safe handling of chemicals.

The Automation Edge in Temperature and Process Control

The technology control system takes account of the inherent variability in the system water condition and protects the machine from corroding. It also is capable of controlling scaling by predicting problems and intervening before they occur. Furthermore, scale and fouling control by the technology maximizes energy efficiency and minimizes CO2 emissions. Besides this, the program controls system chemistry, dosing on-demand and minimizes the amount of materials added to the system; thereby, minimizing costs without prejudicing system integrity. Due to this, better water resource management was possible, reducing the demand for use of costly renewable resources. It further helped in asset protection by avoiding premature and costly replacement of non-renewable materials.

Within two years of its incorporation the company achieved its goal of reducing its energy usage by five per cent, thus resulting in savings of $40,090 in that time. In terms of water usage, 2000 kL was saved and consequent monetary savings of $1,090 was also seen. Manual handling was no longer needed because all system parameters were controlled automatically including response to stress conditions.

Furthermore, in the two years since the incorporation of the technology, the requirement for chiller descaling has not risen. The cleaning frequency desired has also been achieved. Even though no scaling or fouling issue has been observed in the heat exchanger of the machine, the cleaning schedule of every three months has been maintained to comply with preventive maintenance measures and best practices of the customer. Subsequently, production schedules have not been disrupted in the batch processes and additional labor associated with cleaning has been evaded.

Improving Operation and Energy Management

Implementation of the technology brought about assured improvements in the environmental and economic performance of the company. Not only did it optimize the cooling system efficiency but it also helped the plant meet its sustainability goals, specifically in the areas of water and energy use reduction.

* The author is Industry Development Manager for Food Beverage & Pharmaceutical - Asia Pacific at Nalco

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