Compressed air is an increasingly vital energy carrier in the pharmaceutical industry – and significant cost savings can still be achieved in this area. Compressed air technology is changing rapidly – including integration of advanced Industrie 4.0 capabilities – so it has never been more important to take an informed and intelligent approach. Those who do are rewarded with an energy-efficient and highly reliable compressed air supply that will remain competitive well into the future.
The first step in planning or redesigning a compressed air system should always be an audit. Surprisingly few companies actually know their current compressed air demand; and even if it has been determined at some point in the past, changes often occur as a result of production expansions or range conversions. Moreover, product conveyance, labour support and cleaning represent areas of application for compressed air that are rarely taken into account, but which are increasingly finding their way into compressed air demand calculations.
An audit provides assurance that the compressed air production capabilities are matched with actual demands. System splitting, i.e. dividing the compressors into base load, mid load and peak load units, ensures compressed air demand can always be met as cost-effectively as possible – whether continuously low or with considerable peaks from time to time.
Additionally, use of a master compressed air management system effectively ensures that all station components work together in perfect harmony, whilst also enabling real time monitoring, analyses, energy management and the benefits of predictive maintenance, as well as other Industrie 4.0 applications.
Compressed air quality: the full story The analysis and management system have special importance with regard to compressed air quality requirements. Although the compressed air used in the pharmaceutical industry usually has to meet special conditions, in the past these have mainly been specified in-house by and for each company. Overarching, consistent regulations simply didn’t exist. To improve this situation, the German Mechanical Engineering Industry Association (VDMA) has undertaken to provide a more technically sound foundation for these various requirements; VDMA Guideline 15390 will form a Guideline package intended to enhance certainty in the future when it comes to approaching specific compressed air applications.
Guideline 15390 itself describes the general principles of compressed air production and treatment whilst the supplement 15390-2 addresses the food & beverage and pharmaceutical industries in particular. The final Guideline is expected to appear in early 2017, however a previously published VDMA position paper entitled “Compressed air quality in the food & beverage and pharmaceutical industries” provides an indication of the essential elements in the final version of VDMA 15390.
The position paper was produced in response to requests from mechanical and plant engineering companies and component suppliers whose products are used in the food & beverage and pharmaceutical industries. The requests often originated in the context of internal or external audits. The position paper distinguishes four main compressed air use cases arising from actual practice: (1) Indirect contact between the “food product” and ambient air; (2) direct contact via air jets, etc.; (3) introduction of compressed air into the packaging/process containers or the “food product” itself; and (4) the additional presence of condensate that comes into contact with the “food product”.
Proper compressed air treatment and ensuring high compressed air quality throughout the downstream distribution network constitute some the most vital characteristics for systems used the pharmaceutical industry’s most sensitive production areas. ISO Standard 8573-1 describes the quality, also referred to as “purity”, of compressed air. Proper compressed air treatment always proceeds from the foundation of effective compressed air drying. The Standard specifies a minimum of Class 4 dryness, which is equivalent to a pressure dew point of plus 3 degrees Celsius. A significantly higher class may be required, however, depending on the application; this is the case for air that comes into contact with highly hygroscopic products, and for any compressed air applications taking place below the freezing point, for example. Again depending on the specific application, filtration and activated carbon adsorption – which should be positioned sequentially and inline – may follow downstream of drying. All factors such as filter differential pressures, condensate drainage and pressure dew point should be monitored during these processes and routed through a system with automatic switch-off capability to exclude contamination.
Ready for the future with Industrie 4.0 Industrie 4.0 approaches are also mobilised to further optimise compressed air systems. Just recently, intelligent solutions capable of enhancing both new and existing systems – inconceivable even a few years ago – have now become available.
Operator models involving contracting solutions (such as Sigma Air Utility, for example) have been available on the compressed air market for some time, which means the foundations of Industrie 4.0 were already being laid in the compressed air production sector years ago. Now, however, equipped with new communication capabilities and services, systems are undergoing further refinement and improvement. Such “hybrid performance packages” combine highly efficient, innovative technical products with intelligent engineering and predictive maintenance solutions. The “innovative products” refer to the station components actually responsible for compressed air production and treatment whilst the “intelligent solutions” comprise innovative service offerings to cover the compressed air station’s entire life-cycle. These range from precise Air Demand Analysis and optimal design of the compressed air supply through to regular maintenance and servicing, energy management tools, as well as planning assistance for renovations, expansions or investment in replacement systems.
More than in other sectors, the sensitive applications in the pharmaceutical industry require that high-quality compressed air production also be cost-effective. It’s therefore crucial that monitoring and coordination be practiced not only in relation to the individual components, but also in relation to the system as a whole, including the interplay between components and the condition of peripheral devices.
Efficient and intelligent components First, the components: to take advantage of the full benefits of Industrie 4.0, the components have to be equipped for efficient control as part of a station, as well as have the capability of forwarding operating data to a master control system, to enable real-time monitoring. Consequently modern compressors and compressed air treatment components are equipped with internal controllers, based on industrial PCs, capable of transferring the data generated by the components to the master control system, such as the Sigma Air Manager 4.0 (SAM 4.0). This advanced controller does double duty. On one hand, it’s a management system controlling compressed air production for maximum reliability and cost-effectiveness which also collects the relevant information from all connected components and the production system; whilst on the other, it serves as the central node for forwarding the collected data to the operator’s central process control systems and/or to the manufacturer of the compressed air station.
These challenges place high demands on such management systems, including the capability to switch compressors efficiently and even predictively whilst taking into account switching losses and control losses. In addition, they must be able to collect the full scope of data supplied by the compressor station and make it available to a master service centre.
Of course, operators of a pharmaceutical company’s compressed air station can decide to perform monitoring, evaluation and maintenance of the system entirely independently, in which case the master controller is integrated into the operator’s process control system and data can be accessed wherever desired throughout the company.
Of course, pharmaceutical companies can alternatively enter into a conventional service agreement for their compressed air station – or even opt for an enhanced service model based on predictive maintenance, which additionally enables remote diagnosis. Real-time monitoring of data from numerous sensors makes it possible to mount real-time responses to unusual operating states whilst also laying the foundation for optimal service planning. In addition, intelligent prognosis tools make it possible to know in advance what will happen in the compressed air station.With all of these features, this type of solution ensures the highest level of reliability.
It also offers significant new benefits that result from outsourcing the provision of this service:
First, the operator no longer has to bother with maintenance and servicing of the compressed air station, which saves fixed personnel costs and spares the need for investing in an internal service management system.
Second, customers benefit from the provider’s expert knowledge of compressed air technology, which has become so advanced and specialised that it’s virtually impossible to retain in-house.
Third, customers enjoy significant cost advantages. For instance, highly sophisticated IT infrastructure is required to process the huge quantities of data involved in the real-time collection, transfer and analysis of all data from the compressed air station. The massive investment cost necessary to acquire computing capabilities powerful enough to derive benefit from the data is prohibitive for operators – and would be less cost-effective even if it were possible to acquire such capabilities.
This sophisticated interplay between modern system technology and advanced IT systems and services offers major benefits to the pharmaceutical industry, in particular. Chief amongst them, the ability to balance the crucial factors of cost-effectiveness and reliable production of highly pure compressed air whilst also meeting the standards set out in the recommendations and guidelines of the relevant organisations.
Always up to date
Real-time monitoring additionally gives the service provider and user direct insight at any time into the processes occurring in the compressed air station. The monitoring scope can be extended to include peripheral devices as well, such as control flaps, in addition to the core elements.
In the event of discrepancies, a message is immediately generated in the provider‘s service centre so that appropriate preventative action can be taken, thereby avoiding a fault or failure. Using sophisticated algorithms developed by compressed air industry experts, the service centre can additionally assess predictively if and when faults will occur – and remedy the causes well in advance.
Orienting service to actual usage or need saves costs and prevents failures. This model delivers significantly better reliability as well as cost-optimised servicing, longer system service life and constant specific power.
Pharmaceutical companies’ benefitsfrom such predictive maintenance arrangements extend beyond guaranteed high availability: they can also achieve life-cycle cost savings of up to 30 percent.These savings are made possible by the compressed air specialists’ ability to adjust the energy use profile of the compressed air station as necessary (e.g. to adapt to rising or falling compressed air demand and changes to compressed air quality requirements, expansion, etc.). This ensures that the station always operates with optimal energy efficiency, which in turn boosts overall system performance.
With this adaptive framework in place, the groundwork is already laid for mounting a rapid response to production process changes occurring to accommodate new pharmaceutical products. The provider simply adapts the system to the new conditions for continued optimal operation.
Engineering Base: the ideal starting point One final factor is required to reap the benefits of Industrie 4.0 enhanced compressed air systems: proper system planning. This service involves entering all parameters and components relevant to compressed air production and treatment into a planning tool called Engineering Base. This powerful tool provides the ideal interface for taking into account the pharmaceutical industry’s special requirements for reliability, compressed air quality and cost-effectiveness, as well providing certainty regarding compliance with guidelines. Engineering Base makes it possible to systematically track the compressed air station over its entire life-cycle and forms the foundation for intelligent services such as efficiency management and predictive maintenance.
The data are collected and maintained quickly and completely by Engineering Base, where they remain safe and always up to date thanks to real-time data transfer. It’s even possible to integrate older systems and those of other manufacturers.
Operators that take advantage of all services offered for their compressed air system enjoy a state-of-the-art system that meets the latest energy efficiency standards and which therefore delivers the lowest possible energy costs. With its highly efficient components and perfectly precise planning, the system yields additional energy cost savings over its entire service life thanks to services like predictive maintenance. This makes it possible to realise up to 30 percent savings on service, compared to usual costs. Finally, energy efficiency monitoring delivers additional savings over the system‘s service life thanks to continual adjustment to changing operating conditions, which means the system always operates in the optimal range.
Industrie 4.0 solutions for the pharmaceutical industry: Full life-cycle efficiency
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