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More Questions and Answers
 
Process efficiency and drug safety
 
Q: How can material transfer systems improve process efficiency and reduce the risk of contamination?
 
imageA: Norman Nowosinksi, Nilfisk, says:
 
Pharmaceutical manufacturers are always seeking to increase efficiency while ensuring the safety of their products and workplaces. Today, these issues are at the forefront because both competition and drug-safety pressures have grown in this market.
 
As a result, pharmaceutical manufacturers are turning to what Columbia University's David Torrone calls "pharma's great automation migration" [1], with manufacturers rushing to adopt automation equipment and software as a way to boost process efficiency and reduce contamination by removing humans from the equation.
 
Transfer systems like pneumatic conveyors enable processors to meet those goals.
 
Efficiency
According to a McKinsey study of more than 1,900 product lines at 150 plants, top-performing pharmaceutical manufacturers are more than twice as productive as average-performing ones [2]. What distinguishes these top performers? Their rates of operational-equipment effectiveness are more than double those of the bottom-quartile companies, and two-thirds of that difference is attributable to processes.
 
Pneumatic conveying systems boost process efficiency in three key ways: 1) increased transfer capacity, 2) decreased labor requirements, and 3) decreased equipment needs.
 
Increased transfer capacity. Conveyors can move materials between machines or from a bin into a capsule filler or tablet press in about half the time of manual loading, which increases productivity and reduces batch times.
 
Decreased labor requirements. Across the board, the manufacturing industry is facing a labor shortage that will only get worse over the next decade [3]. By eliminating the need for manual scooping and transfer, pneumatic conveying systems both lower personnel costs now and help companies to future-proof their operations.
 
Decreased equipment needs. A pneumatic conveyor also decreases equipment requirements, with one machine potentially replacing several others, such as lifting and handling equipment, and eliminates the need for personal protective equipment (PPE) and other gear for personnel.
 
Hazardous exposure
With the FDA's recent reorganization to target quality, pharmaceutical manufacturers are facing increased pressure to comply with drug-product quality regulations [4]. Prevention of cross-contamination is one benefit of pneumatic conveyors, reducing risks to consumers.
 
Decreasing the risk of cross-contamination and protecting workers from exposure to toxic compounds has become even more important as a result of the growth of highly potent active pharmaceutical ingredients (HPAPIs) [5].
 
Using compressed air, pneumatic conveyors, which are closed systems, can transfer powders and granules between processing machines gently and without separation, segregation, or degradation, eliminating dust dispersion. They can also transfer capsules without risk of damage or dispersion.
 
Conclusions
Pneumatic conveyors are a powerful tool to help drug manufacturers meet some of the top challenges they face today. If you're considering adopting this technology in your plant, make sure you look for equipment that was developed with cleanrooms in mind—GMP conformity, stainless steel construction, compact design, and silent operation.
 

Norman Nowosinksi is the director of engineering at Nilfisk, Morgantown, PA. The company manufactures industrial vacuum equipment, including pneumatic conveyors.
 
October 23, 2017
 
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