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Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Can pneumatic solutions further improve the processes of pharmaceutical companies?

Mike Bacidore, editor-in-chief of Control Design Magazine, has this to say:

"Despite an evolution of alternatives, pneumatic conveying has stood the test of time. Hydraulic and electromechanical systems might offer a better solution in certain circumstances, but there are still plenty of pneumatic applications."

Pneumatic conveying in both vacuum and pressure techniques still remains the major conveying option of many businesses including high and low-volume manufacturing such as:
  • Plastics, polymer manufacturers and users
  • Dust and Fume handling in
  • Manufacturing
  • Pharmaceutical
  • Food and beverage

It is found in the following applications:
  • Moving transporting and conveying of powders
  • Vacuum recovery of spent materials
  • Collecting and packing of small items such as bottle caps
  • Vacuum cleaning and improving OH&S in manufacturing
  • Bulk bin unloading and transfer
  • Reducing detrimental damage to the environment
  • Reducing waste and improving cost savings through use of bulk materials
  • Silo and bulk storage filling systems

In this article, we explore the many avenues how pneumatic solutions can be implemented and integrated in pharmaceutical companies.

Pharmaceutical companies through the years

Pharmaceutical companies have swiftly grown in the past decade. The graph below shows this:

Pharmaceutical companies turnover in Australia

Pharmaceutical companies turnover in Australia

Amidst this growth, there are still many challenges being faced by many pharmaceutical companies which includes finding answers to the following questions:

  • How do I move or charge powders yet create less dust while doing so?
  • Is there a way for me to better move powders?
  • How do I safeguard my employees from hazards related to powder exposure?
  • We still carry bags of powder around our plant leading to staff injuries. Can I just do this automatically?
"It's one thing to move materials during the production process, but when it's a finished product on the packaging line, choosing the right material handling system is essential. Getting it wrong results in squandered production time when product loss occurs, and wasted raw materials."
Doan Pendleton of Air Best Practices

Listed below are the major challenges many pharmaceutical companies are facing, today.

Operator and environmental health and safety

Worker safety must be a foremost concern in every company. However, even in facilities where medicines are made, dangers can be present. The illustration belows show the major process involved in drug development inside most pharmaceutical plants.

pharmaceutical companies production process from development to industrial production

With various elements and processes involved, operators in pharmaceutical companies face health hazards from being exposed to various powders from time to time. The use of a pneumatic conveying system reduces most of these health and safety risks.

Reduces back injuries
Materials transfer using pressurised air can also cut risks of operators’ back injuries from manually dumping powders into containers.

Promotes cleaner air at the workplace
Transferring materials pneumatically also supports a virtually dust-free atmosphere. The system’s air-tight pipes isolate carcinogenic and oxygen-sensitive materials from being released into the air, promoting a safer and healthier workplace, not to mention, environment.

Reduced need for personal protective equipment
With the system’s high level of containment, providing employees with personal protective equipment (PPE) may not be needed, unless, of course, if mandated by governing laws and/or existing employee protection guidelines.

Process efficiency

Transfer capacity, rate, and distance are all determining factors of a transfer equipment’s efficiency. Thus, finding an efficient system that can improve these is greatly sought for in the pharmaceutical industry.

Reduced batch time
Pneumatic conveying systems have improved agitation caused by a controlled process of material addition which greatly reduces batch time.

Safe handling of toxic and hazardous products
A pneumatic system’s contained transfer can charge powder into a vessel under vacuum or pressure, and even with liquids (e.g. solvents) present in it. This feature makes the safe handling of toxic or hazardous products like skin-sensitive materials or explosive powders possible.

Decreased need for manpower
Charging the vessel also needs less manpower, giving employees time to attend to other important tasks.

Unnecessary need for hoists and handling equipment
Pneumatic conveying is more streamlined, leaving the need to provide hoists and handling equipment to support the reactor.

pneumatic conveying benefits pharmaceutical companies

Benefits of pneumatic conveying to pharmaceutical companies

Cleanliness of plant and equipment

Pneumatic systems require less cleaning maintenance, especially when dealing with materials of a chalky consistency. This helps prevents:

a) Conveyed materials from being found in other surfaces and areas of a facility
b) External contaminants from getting in

As a result, far less dust and dirt build-up inside the equipment.

pneumatic-solutions pharmaceutical companies

Equipment life

A closed system extends an equipment’s life. It eliminates the need to open the inspection hatches, therefore, keeping damage and deterioration at bay. Both the agitator and seal system remains intact protecting your equipment from damage while the materials are loaded into it.

pressure pot systems for the pharmaceutical companies

Product quality

It is vital for pharmaceutical companies to ensure that batch purity is maintained at all levels. Use of pneumatic conveying system's sealed pipings ensures cleaner installation and process flows due to its sealed piping design.

Pharmaceutical companies strict quality system procedure
Strict quality system procedure followed by pharmaceutical companies

Pneumatic conveying applications to the pharmaceutical industry

As pointed out above, pneumatic conveying can provide pharmaceutical companies additional levels of employee safety, equipment life and product quality. The list below shows how this is implemented in various applications.

Conveying and dispensing of pharmaceutical powders

One application of pneumatic conveying is the use of vacuum transfer systems, which can be adapted to fit a variety of materials sources.

Pharmaceutical powders stored in different containers, like open drums for non-hazardous materials, can be easily transferred via a vacuum system using a pickup wand or hand nozzle.

Should a higher containment level be needed, equipment add-ons like specialty glove box design pickup bins can be streamlined into the vacuum line, better protecting the product and the equipment operator.

Air swept sieving (check screening)

Air swept sieving or check screening uses vacuum conveying for operations such as feeding conical screen mills and in-line sifting. It serves the following purposes:

  • Improve process throughput
  • Prevent material exposure and keep out dust
  • Aid in ensuring end-product quality

This process is usually performed using a dilute-phase vacuum stream.

Conveying with a process in line requires that the equipment in question be sealed; it must also be suitable for vacuum operations. The equipment comes with an in-line deck or rotary sieves and conical screen mills.

In both cases, materials can be picked up from different sources like IBCs, bag dump stations, drums, or other processes. The materials are then transferred via the equipment and into a vacuum receiver.

In conical screen mills, the use of operation under vacuum enables the product to go in and out quicker. The smaller the amount of time the product spends in the mill, the better the product quality.

Without the attrition induced by the added circulation in the milling chamber, the amount of dust produced by the mill is reduced, ultimately improving the end product’s particle size distribution.

In-line sieving operations also function under the same principle for better product quality. By lessening overall residence time, product attrition and degradation are prevented.

Pneumatic vacuum receivers as refill devices for loss-in-weight feeders

In operations where continuous refill from containers are required, pneumatic receivers running under a dilute-phase vacuum transfer principle can serve as efficient refill devices.

Using a simple flap valve, the pneumatic system uses negative pressure to suck the material into a separate mounted and supported vacuum receiver.

The receiver holds the material charge until the feeder below it requests a refill. The receiver is equipped with level sensors to determine the specified amount of fill the receiver will hold at a time.

Once the feeder asks for a refill, the discharge valve opens and the material held by the receiver is released into the feeder hopper.

In LIW feeding operations, the discharge valve is different. In order to prevent any chance of dribbling, the machine is fitted with a pneumatic butterfly valve type.

An air pulse is sent through the filter inside the vacuum receiver to clean the filter once materials are discharged. This eliminates any entrained particle that may have settled on the filter.

Various filter materials can be selected to suit the conveyed material. Some are anti-static and have laminated membranes for quick discharge and bothersome-free cleaning properties.

Once the material has been transferred into the feeder hopper, the valve closes again, and the vacuum receiver cycle automatically restarts for an uninterrupted source of refill. In other cases, the flap system can be replaced with a Pneuvay rotary valve which will provide smooth consistent flow- through rather than batching.

Alternate conveying for pre-blended or fragile materials: dense-phase vacuum

Dense-phase conveying also has a place in pharmaceutics processing.

This type of pneumatic conveying has lower gas velocity, which means that the force exerted on powders being transferred is much gentler. This solves segregation issues often encountered in dilute-phase operations.

However, dense-phase conveying has limitations like not being able to cover conveying distances of over 12 ft (vertical) and 15 ft (horizontal). It is also not recommended for the transfer of cohesive, hygroscopic and coarse particles as it doesn't readily form slugs.

Pneumatic conveying of capsules and tablets

Pneumatic conveying is also used in efficiently transferring filled capsules or tablets.

Pneumatic solutions and the future of the pharmaceutical companies

Pneumatic conveying systems have gained widespread usage across different fields, from aviation to food processing throughout the years.

In fact, according to a 2015 study, the appeal of pneumatic conveying means will continuously grow into 2022.

The Grand View Research Inc. has projected moderate growth to dense phase conveying. There has been an increasing adoption of the said conveying system as it has diverse applications in the pharmaceutical and food companies.

The GVRI reported that out of the overall market share in 2014, the two industries collectively accounted for over 50% of it.

Rising government initiatives and mandates for better sanitary operations in Europe on the other hand have made companies shift to pneumatic conveying systems.

With such widespread applications — from staging to granulation, blending, coating, compression, and packing — the adoption of various industries of pneumatic conveying is expected to grow in the coming years.

Why choose Pneuvay as your pneumatic conveying partner?

With more than 30 years of experience and expertise, Pneuvay Engineering has become one of Australia’s leading companies in the pneumatic conveying field.

Pneuvay Engineering advantages to industries
Pneuvay Engineering advantages to industries

Apart from a wide range of pneumatic solutions, it also offers a complete range of services from system engineering to maintenance support. Talk to us to know more.

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Are you involved in handling bulk powders, granules, pellets or flakes? If so, you should consider going to the Australian Bulk Handling Expo. Come see us exhibiting at BULK2022 EXPO from 24th to 26th August 2022 at Melbourne Convention Center. Read on for more information.

Are you involved in handling bulk powders, granules, pellets or flakes?
If so, you should consider going to
the Australian Bulk Handling Expo.

Come see us exhibiting at BULK2022 EXPO from 24th to 26th August 2022 at Melbourne Convention Center. Read on for more information. Find out more.