The role of metering in enhancing quality and efficiency for pharmaceutical development

01st Jun 2023

In pharmaceutical development and manufacturing, the building environment is a crucial, yet often overlooked, element in maintaining quality and efficiency. Pharmaceutical projects often involve stringent requirements for temperature, pressure and other environmental conditions. Meanwhile, customers are unanimously focused on containing costs, enhancing efficiency and improving environmental sustainability in their projects. All of these requirements and priorities are impacted by the manufacturing equipment and the building in which the entire process takes place.

In recent years, the pharmaceutical manufacturing space has seen an upturn in enterprise technologies focused on more proactively managing building conditions. These efforts are a natural extension of a widespread recognition that industrial buildings can make or break the success of a pharmaceutical development and manufacturing programme.

A building management system, or BMS, is one such system. Used to monitor key conditions and utilities within a building, including electricity, water and HVAC systems, the BMS can deliver significant insight into energy utilisation, water and gas purity, utility costs, water usage and other key areas that have an impact on manufacturing quality and profitability. These metrics can be utilised to drive meaningful improvements in process, energy conservation, cost control and more. But the BMS’s ability to enhance decision making is only as strong as the data it measures. Industrial meters are responsible for collecting this data and transmitting it to the system where it can be shared and analysed for decision makers.

At Sterling’s Material Science Centre (MSC), located at our Dudley, UK site, we recently carried out a BMS optimisation project to improve metering and enhance data quality, enabling us to make more informed decisions and drive new efficiencies on behalf of our customers. Read on to learn more about the important role of metering in enabling high-quality and efficient development, and to discover how Sterling will continue to leverage this data.

The importance of metering in uncovering new efficiencies

Robust metering and data gathering can unearth new efficiencies in several areas, including environmental sustainability. Equipped with greater visibility into energy and water utilisation, an organisation can better identify areas for conservation and reduce their emissions. This can also translate to cost savings as the organisation embraces opportunities to minimise its overall energy and water consumption.

Metering also plays a role in maintaining appropriate storage, development and manufacturing conditions for an active pharmaceutical ingredient. APIs can be sensitive to temperature, light exposure, humidity and other elements. Failing to keep an API under proper conditions can result in detrimental quality impacts, so the careful management and monitoring of environmental conditions is key. By documenting that suitable conditions are maintained, and rapidly surfacing anomalies if they occur, metering can support quality management initiatives in pharmaceutical manufacturing.

Enhanced metering also supports predictive maintenance, which enables the organisation to take a proactive rather than reactive approach to equipment conditions and identify potential areas of failure before they become a larger issue. Then, the team can perform maintenance at times that have less impact on production in order to mitigate downtime, enhance efficiency and maintain outstanding quality.

Matching equipment to objectives

Sterling’s recent efforts in the MSC focused on enhancing flow and pressure metering on utility supplies to the building. This required a critical evaluation of the various types of meters available to identify those best suited to Sterling’s specialised processes. In order to inform this selection process, Sterling first compiled process data for each utility, inclusive of measured medium, flow rates, temperature, viscosity, density and pressure ranges, as well as mechanical data to specify process connections.

The site implemented various meters and transmitters based on suitability to each application. For process water and domestic water, Sterling utilised electromagnetic meters, which work by inducing electric voltage that is proportional to flow volume when water passes through the magnetic field. Sterling also leveraged thermal flowmeters for nitrogen and compressed air and, a vortex flowmeter for steam. For pressure measurement, the MSC required steam pressure transmitters that could support process temperatures reaching 180°C. The site selected one pressure transmitter that could support all five utilities for greater equipment standardisation.

Realising transformative results

After installing the new meters, Sterling linked all flow, pressure and differential measurements to its existing BMS, enabling the team to view unified building and equipment data in one, central location. Equipped with the new metering data, Sterling has been able to better understand utilisation patterns and readily identify actionable opportunities for improvement, supporting greater efficiency in customer projects and Sterling’s long-term goal of complete carbon neutrality. For example, with pressure transmitters in the process water filter, the BMS can automatically calculate differential pressure and notify engineering teams if a blockage occurs in the filter. In turn, the team can proactively fix the blockage before it negatively impacts production.

Moving forward, the Sterling team will continue to perform calibration checks and preventative maintenance on the metering system to ensure data quality, and pursue additional metering enhancements at Dudley and across its global sites.

To many, metering may seem a small aspect of complex pharmaceutical equipment and building operations. But at Sterling, we view each and every data point as an opportunity to advance our commitment to excellence on behalf of our customers and community.

From this, further BMS optimisation projects are being explored across the orginisation to allow Sterling to gain greater knowledge of our utility usage and improve energy and water efficiencies.

If you’re interested in learning more about Sterling’s Dudley site and how we can drive efficiency in your API development or manufacturing project, speak to an expert.

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