06 Aug 2020

Accelerating pharmaceutical processes in turbulent times

Hire equipment for efficiency in pharmaceuticals
  • Written By

    Brian Gray, Sector Development Manager
    UK & Ireland

  • Published in

    UK & Ireland

As many industries continue to struggle through the impact of COVID-19, pharmaceutical companies are understandably taking centre stage. 

These are unusually challenging times, so I wanted to pull together some advice on how companies can improve efficiency levels right now. The below is all based on my own experience working with many businesses, both large and small, across the sector. 

Inefficiencies you don’t have to put up with 
Pharmaceutical facilities worldwide are passing various milestones since their construction – thirty, fifty years and even longer. Established plants are therefore becoming outdated and ageing equipment carries with it a number of risks. Of course, as with many regulated sectors, this is an industry where risk is unacceptable. 

There is no definition of an ageing facility. For example, a fifty-year old plant intended to manufacture a simple tablet could continue to work effectively with careful maintenance. Yet a biotechnology process which is only five years old could immediately fall out of date due to regulatory changes, or this could happen due to changing staffing and output levels. Simply put, there are no hard and fast rules. One thing is for certain though – the faster we progress, and global events take us by surprise, ageing equipment will become even more common in this sector. 

What’s more, the energy-intensive impact on decarbonisation targets is putting more strain on the reputation of many pharma companies. The move towards more automation and headcount reductions also means there is less people to optimise existing equipment. 

Strategic hire projects are fast becoming part of the ‘new norm’. We can no longer plan 10, five or even three-year strategies these days. There are a number of ways that temporary power, heating, cooling and drying equipment can help pharmaceutical companies fast-track projects, at the same time as reducing risk and improving sustainability credentials. Let’s take a look:

1. Accelerating clinical trials and production of new treatments

Recent events have demonstrated the need to get trials, and subsequent production of new drugs, up and running as quickly as possible. However, there are barriers associated with traditional approaches. 

Purchasing equipment to set up a new project not only takes up capex budgets, but supply chain issues are also hampering manufacturing outputs of critical components. Not only this, if the trial is six months to a year and the drug is unsuccessful, you could be left with depreciating and redundant kit. We also understand that there is a trend for more trials to be subcontracted out to smaller start-ups, which will also affect affordability of new equipment. All of these barriers can simply be avoided through strategic hire projects being offset against the success of the trial.

2. Optimising energy intensive cooling processes 

As you will know, precision and validation are essential when manufacturing pharmaceuticals. And, as virtually all medicines require chilled water at some point during production, chillers are integral to providing precise control over the production of chilled water. 

Thinking of application-specific examples, supplementary cooling equipment can improve efficiency levels in times of need. With chiller systems typically consuming 45% or more of all the energy needed for climate control, energy usage is a major concern. 

Very low temperature chillers (VLTC) from Aggreko are unique to the rental market and can therefore achieve much lower temperature set-points at higher capacities than standard chillers. This means we need to use less equipment to reach the required temperatures.
A typical example would be for us to help a drug manufacturer implement a very low temperature chiller together with an inhibitor to reach -40°, coupled with either an air-cooled machine or rental or resident cooling tower, heat exchanger and temporary power. Another example would be to use a strategic hire project in the steam-quenching process for sterilisation purposes. The rapid heating and cooling can be optimised through a similar approach. 

Just by having access to the latest combinations of this type of equipment, pharma companies can realise significant maintenance free energy savings with no major investment up front. 

3. Enhancing atmospheric conditions to improve yield

As with the example above, finding the exact temperature and humidity level is also imperative in the production process of medicines.

Whether it’s micronising mills, storage of powders and liquids, mixing, tablet compression, film or coatings, aseptic packaging, blister packaging or storing finished products, humidity of surroundings can have a significant effect on the product validation and lifetime. 

In order to achieve a quality product at scale, control of humidity is vitally important, and again, it comes down to precision and control of the process. Such control may also vary according to the season and local micro-climate variations, meaning that demand for equipment would fluctuate. Utilising a strategic hire project is much more effective use of time and money, giving you access to the latest equipment at the exact time of use with no capital outlay.

Most importantly, all temperature and humidity control equipment should include a control system in order to continuously monitor efficiency levels and allow engineers to identify areas for optimisation. 

Final thought

As you can see, there are many ways in which temporary power, heating, cooling and humidification equipment can help improve efficiency in the pharmaceutical industry. And, by sourcing such solutions from strategic rental companies with proven credentials in your field that can supply various node sizes, you can find an ideal solution to suit.

To request an efficiency audit from one of our team, get in touch,