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Automating with Regulators & Controllers

Fri, 03/08/2013 - 8:23am
Jonnatha Mayberry, Associate Editor

Automation is not always necessary in manufacturing facilities, but at times it is highly beneficial. For pharmaceutical and biopharmaceutical manufacturing facilities in search of precise, controlled process lines, implementing automation is a no-brainer way to achieve stability.

The pool of automation solutions for manufacturers grows infinitely greater every year; presenting manufacturers with more choices but also creating new dilemmas as they attempt to decide which solutions best fit their needs.

Pharmaceutical Processing spoke with Louis J. Arcuri, an automation expert from Emerson Process Management’s TESCOM brand, in order to find out more about the latest automation solutions, how manufacturer’s control needs have changed, and how manufacturers can decide which automation and control solutions are right for their facility.

 

Manufacturers’ Needs

Arcuri, territory sales manager at TESCOM, which offers full integration of precision pressure regulators and electronic controllers for process automation, notes that automation products are found in all facets of pharmaceutical and biopharmaceutical manufacturing facilities, from research and development (R&D) to manufacturing itself.

Pharmaceutical and biopharmaceutical manufacturers typically look for automation solutions that feature a few key characteristics. Often, hygiene is an important characteristic for all components used within pharmaceutical manufacturing facilities, but solutions that are both economical and hygienic usually stand out among their competitors.

Because of the industry’s needs, TESCOM attempts to offer solutions that deliver some of the most-requested features. “We specialize in precision, hygienic control that is very cost-effective. By using barstock bodies, TESCOM minimizes additional finishing processes, which at the same time, allows for flexible porting.”

Pharmaceutical and biopharmaceutical manufacturers have a wide range of automation solutions to choose from, as each automation and control supplier typically offers a multitude of solutions. While TESCOM offers a wide range of low-pressure, high-flow regulators, the regulators are almost always characterized by the flexibility to handle extremes.

Our “low-flow models provide flows as low as 2 cc/min, and high-flow models achieve flows in excess of 1400 scfm,” Arcuri says. For users in search of precise control, “fully tunable, closed-loop electronic pressure controls” are useful. According to Arcuri, the company’s controls achieve control within +/- .1 psig.

Even though manufacturers have a multitude of automation and control options to choose from, pharmaceutical and biopharmaceutical manufacturers often prefer specific models over others. “The ER3000 continues to be our primary product for automation in pharmaceutical and biopharmaceutical industry,” explains Arcuri.

Automation and control solution providers must vigilantly watch the market for new technologies, making sure to update solutions regularly, no matter how popular a device may be.

TESCOM has plans to release an updated version of the ER3000, the ER5000, this summer, which will feature some higher-tech abilities. “The new model will be able to easily connect to any computer via the onboard USB connector and will include revamped user interface software that features a ‘Set up Wizard’ to speed up installation, and provides tuning and troubleshooting advice at the user’s fingertips.”

 

Current Trends

Much like cell phones, in the world of automation, there is always a newer, fancier model stepping up to take the place of the last model, and tech-savvy end-users often prefer to keep their models up to date.

The life science industries are always implementing new automation and control solutions, considering the delicate nature of the industries' processes. According to Arcuri, pressure controls are a common automation solution, especially under bioreactor and fermenter skids.

Electropneumatic controllers are also often used in process headers to control the pressure in the line. “The main goal is not so much to automate as to improve the stability of pressure in the process line inside the facility,” says Arcuri. 

As the industry increasingly embraces automation, manufacturers want solutions that are tailored to their specific needs, and automation suppliers often address that need. “Our priority is to answer to our customers’ specific needs, so we have configured our product line to offer a broad selection of standard catalog products along with our custom engineering capabilities,” explains Arcuri. His company designs custom pressure control solutions to meet customer’s special technical requirements for their applications.

This plethora of automation solutions is a two-edged sword for pharmaceutical and biopharmaceutical manufacturers. On one hand, options and tailorability are necessary and preferred. But, on the other hand, the industry faces a number of challenges when it comes to actually implementing these technologies.

 “Changes in automation and process control are difficult to implement for customers,” explains Arcuri. “Introducing new technology needs to be proven, it needs FDA validation, and it needs to be adaptive in existing facilities.” These challenges mean that manufacturers must take their time when deciding which solutions their facilities should implement, making sure that the solution is not only functional, but also adaptable and compliant with regulations.

 

The Future

Automation’s ability to make processes more efficient, reliable, and time- and cost-effective has a positive impact on manufacturers’ bottom lines. For that reason, it seems that automation’s role in the pharmaceutical and biopharmaceutical manufacturing industries will continue to increase in popularity.

When asked what may be around the corner, Arcuri agreed that manufacturing facilities will increasingly implement automation solutions. “We expect that the industry will continue to evolve towards a more automated facility, which will require close communications with engineering companies who design pharmaceutical plants.”

If this prediction is true, manufacturers will be expected to be knowledgeable when it comes to the latest automation technologies, not only so that they can stay compliant, but also so that they can make more informed decisions when selecting automation and control solutions for their facilities.

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