Radar Sensors Why Radar Level Measurement Technology is the Standard for an Indian Contract Manufacturer

As a contract manufacturer in the pharmaceutical industry you have to work quickly, flexibly, and extremely accurately. This is exactly how your deployed level sensors also have to work. That’s why for the last five years Aji Bio-Pharma in Visakhapatnam, India, has relied on the versatile Vegapuls 64 radar sensor for its level measurement needs.

The dream of every industrial engineer and technician: Mastering complex pharmaceutical processes reliably.
The dream of every industrial engineer and technician: Mastering complex pharmaceutical processes reliably.
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Contract manufacturers have to master the balancing act between flexibility, reliability and good utilization of their facilities. At the same time, the success of these highly specialized service providers depends on every system component operating absolutely reliably in the often highly complex production processes. Ajinomoto Bio-Pharma Services (“Aji Bio-Pharma”) is considered a leading provider of biopharmaceutical contract development and manufacturing services. The company, which has operations in Belgium, the USA, Japan and India, offers a wide range of development, cGMP manufacturing and aseptic filling services for small and large molecules, APIs and intermediate products.

To be able to do this, it utilizes a wide range of innovative platforms and capabilities for preclinical studies and pilot programs in commercial quantities, including Corynex protein expression technology, oligonucleotide synthesis, antibody drug conjugations (ADC), high potency APIs and biocatalysis, continuous production, and more. Just recently, the company announced an agreement with Humanigen to manufacture lenzilumab. This drug, which is currently in phase 3 development, is one of the few available options for effective treatment of patients hospitalized with Covid-19.

Ten Years of GMP Production at This Site in India

The company’s location in Visakhapatnam (Andhra Pradesh), India, has existed since 2011. The FDA-approved production facility was designed and built based on GMP operating standards and quality systems already in place at Aji Bio-Pharma’s Belgian sites. Since then, the plant has been supporting leading biopharmaceutical companies worldwide with its products.

For a good five years now, the company has relied on Vega technology for level measurement at multiple measuring points in process reactors and tanks for manufacturing API intermediates. The radar level transmitters of type Vegapuls 64 operate in temperatures between -25 and 150°C, meet all Atex requirements and are deployed with a variety of process fittings (50NB/80NB/100NB flange).

Ensuring Highest Product Quality and Yield

Most of the media in the plant are liquids and slurries. Correct measurement is necessary to comply with the strict quality specifications for the products and to achieve higher yields. Liquid levels that are too high would lead to overflows, while too low a level can cause pump cavitation. Level is also an important parameter for ensuring efficiency in the plant’s distillation process. Exact determination of the location of the interface between two different liquids has a direct impact on product quality and yield.

Vikramsena Reddy, project manager at Ajinomoto Bio-Pharma Services, became aware of the radar sensor about five years ago at the Automation Expo in Mumbai. With its high measurement accuracy, Vegapuls 64 has long since convinced Reddy of its capabilities in practical applications. The ambient conditions in pharmaceuticals production are not easy to deal with—in fact, they embody everything that can make life difficult for measuring instruments. For example, agitators generate foam and turbulent surfaces in the various tanks and reaction vessels. At the same time there are high temperatures, vibration and contaminants to worry about. Acidic vapors, which come into direct contact with the sensors, are another big problem. And if all that weren’t bad enough, there are also Ex hazardous areas, where explosion protection measures (Zone 1) and SIL have to be observed. That’s why processes in reaction vessels were previously monitored in person by the operators.

Contactless Measurement—the Plus in API Production

The decision in favor of radar measurement technology was based on its high accuracy compared to measurement with ultrasound or differential pressure. “In terms of accuracy, I don’t know of any other sensor that can compete with Vegapuls 64,” says Vikramsena Reddy. This is mainly due to its small beam angle of 3°. Thanks to the tightly focused radar beam, the sensor measures within a very small radius. Agitators tend to cause interference signals, but not with this sensor—its measuring beam simply bypasses such obstacles. Product deposits on the agitators or on the walls of the tanks also have no effect on the measurement. “We were able to increase the yield of the processes as a result,” adds Reddy. The improved dynamics of Vegapuls 64 also yield signals that are not only more precise but also more reliable.

The non-contact measuring method is also a big advantage, especially in the pharmaceutical sector, because it avoids contamination and thus safeguards the quality of the end product. Radar level transmitters are well suited for hygienic and sterile active ingredient production because they measure contactlessly and thus optimally fulfill hygienic requirements. Vega uses materials specially tailored to the strict requirements of the pharmaceutical industry, in accordance with FDA, EG 1935/2994 and GB standards. The hygienic design complies with all standards according to EHEDG and 3-A Sanitary. The special seals, the all-metal housings and the media-contacting surfaces—with low surface roughness down to 0.38 µmr—are just a few of the features that allow VEGA instruments to meet all the demands of the pharmaceutical industry. All sensor production processes, including routine inspection and testing, are regularly examined and audited, as required by GMP specifications.

The flush-front encapsulated antenna, with its robust liquid-tight housing (IP69K), is easy to clean and is insensitive to the extreme conditions in SIP and CIP processes. Users also especially like the fact that the level transmitter does not require any maintenance or adjustment after installation.

Vikramsena Reddy also appreciates the practical handling that is possible with the Vega units: “Installation is really easy, the sensor is suitable for any flange size and the small beam angle makes it possible to install the sensor anywhere on the tank.”

Installation, Configuration, and Great Customer Service

Configuring the instruments is also quite simple. In combination with Bluetooth, the user can configure and parameterize the sensors from a safe distance via a smartphone or tablet. Display and diagnostic functions are also available. Measured values can be retrieved at any time and from anywhere. “We calibrated and adjusted the sensors via Bluetooth without any help from Vega,” recalls Reddy, who also finds it extremely practical that the setup procedure is exactly the same for every Vega instrument. When installing sensors on identical vessels, parameters can be transferred using a copy-and-paste function.

The low weight of the sensor has also proven to be a great advantage in everyday use. And there is something else that makes the technician’s work easier: “If the sensor has to be replaced, it can be done very quickly.” Vikramsena Reddy was also impressed by Vega’s customer service: “Previously, we used instruments from other manufacturers and had a number of technical difficulties with their design and configuration. It took quite a while to get help. Vega’s approach was completely different. The technical sales team came directly to our factory, quickly learned and understood our requirements and immediately suggested a suitable model for this application. We talked very openly and the subsequent sales and service processes were exemplary.”

Vikramsena Reddy believes that the switch to Vega’s radar level measurement technology has paid off. In addition to level measurement, exact determination of interfaces between liquids is now possible. Although the sensors were installed on existing vessels, the costs for flanges and necessary mechanical modifications stayed within reasonable limits.

“After installation, we were actually able to more or less forget about the measuring points—we don’t even have to do regular calibrations any more,” explains Reddy, obviously quite pleased. Even the high acidity of some of the measured media is no longer a threat to the sensors. Due to these and many other reasons, radar technology from Vega is now considered the standard in level measurement technology.

* * The author is a chemical engineer and specialist freelance journalist. Contact Vega: info.de@vega.com