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Pharmaceutical Manufacturing and Packing Sourcer

In the Pipeline

Water is perhaps the most commonly found raw material in pharmaceutical manufacturing. It is used in product development, testing and analysis, as well as for product make-up, cooling, cleaning production machinery and, in the form of steam, for sterilisation-in-place and sterilisation of instruments or glassware. Therefore, a cost-effective water and wastewater solution is required to maintain profitability.

Managing energy consumption is typically the biggest challenge facing any industrial facility, and a pharma plant is no exception. Adapting water quality and quantity to suit specific site needs can generate considerable savings within the water cycle, with one measurable benefit being an optimisation of energy consumption.

This is best achieved by employing an integrated solution which looks at each element of the industrial water cycle and its relationship with production, in order to improve savings, reliability and sustainability. By developing a credible water and energy balance, opportunities for saving money and enhancing performance can be identified, and a process improvement plan can be developed.

Examples of cost-saving solutions range from uncovering system leakages, which can account for 50% of potential savings, to the installation of anaerobic digestion systems to recover biogas that can then be redirected back into the site elsewhere. This enables the plant to cut its energy bill and generate an income, while reducing its environmental footprint.

Water Management

Pharma producers are experts in product manufacturing, but not generally in water management – few pharma executives would consider water and effluent management to be a core part of their business. Nevertheless, water is a key resource, and in every application, raw water has to be treated – often to exceptionally high standards – while wastewater has to be treated before it can be reused or discharged.

So how do pharma producers, under increasing pressure to control and minimise costs, and satisfy ever-tougher legislation and discharge limits, meet the requirements to constantly improve product quality and productivity, while maintaining cost-effective supply? Producing process water and the treatment of effluent streams can potentially prove to be expensive exercises: running costs – especially in terms of energy consumption and maintenance – are often high, while unplanned downtime due to a system failure or inefficient operation can have a direct impact on product quality, waste and output.

There are many benefits in outsourcing the process of water and effluent management to a specialised supplier. In particular, devolving responsibility to a partner that has the resources and experience to optimise the operation of an existing plant, with the ability to provide appropriately skilled staff, backup systems and security of supply, can deliver significant efficiencies. Perhaps just as important, a reputable supplier will have the infrastructure to offer guaranteed service levels and plant availability, plus the knowledge to keep abreast of changing environmental and legislative requirements.

System Optimisation

The first step to optimise a water system is to gain a thorough understanding of the overall water and wastewater cycle. Typically, this will be through a water, wastewater and energy audit carried out jointly with a prospective partner and the existing management team. Only by knowing how much water a plant uses, and where, can the industrial water cycle be fully optimised. The first stage of the water audit typically involves taking representative samples of the incoming feedwater supply for detailed mineral and microbiological analysis. This information may already be available from the local authority or water supplier, depending on whether a mains supply is being used, but should be checked nonetheless; if a surface water or borehole source is being used, then detailed analysis of water characteristics is crucial.

One element of this is to establish that the water supply meets the needs of the plant in terms of quality and quantity, while taking into account future changes in demand. A detailed audit may show that an existing plant is over-specified for the needs of the business, and that plant capacity or complexity can be reduced.

Similarly, the recycling and reuse of water – where appropriate – can help to improve efficiency and operational costs, as well as reduce environmental impact. It is worth noting that in many applications, recent developments in recycling technologies allow process water to be reclaimed, and wastewater to be reused safely and sustainably.

In pharma manufacturing, a large volume of water can be purified using a bioreactor to produce a wastewater stream that is typically of a higher purity than that of mains water supplies, and which can normally be produced at a lower cost per cubic metre. This water can then be used for machine washdown or similar duties. The costs of wastewater disposal are steadily rising, making it increasingly important for companies to consider ways of minimising waste and improving the opportunities for recycling.

Anaerobic Treatments

Anaerobic digestion, a process by which microorganisms break down biodegradable material in the absence of oxygen, has advanced rapidly as a technology over the last 20 years to become a highly cost-effective process that can benefit an ever-wider range of businesses. These advances came when it was noted that bacteria in bio-treatment processes formed pellets no bigger than a pea, which meant that anaerobic digestion – previously only used to process larger solids – could feed smaller, highly efficient reactors. This has led to an increasing number of businesses using anaerobic digestion to recover biogas that can be redirected to the site’s boilers for generating steam, or sold back to the national grid. This can result in cuts to energy bills and the ability to generate an income, while reducing the environmental footprint.

An anaerobic biological treatment process breaks down organic carbon-generating methane that can be recovered to produce energy. Typically, removing 1 tonne of chemical oxygen demand has the potential to produce around 3,500KWh. There are a range of anaerobic biological digesters for manufacturers to choose from, each producing recoverable by-products with a small footprint. A contact reactor, for instance, is suited to chemical residue. There is also an integrated end-to-end solution, incorporating the reuse and recycling of treated water.

Process Improvement

It is important to recognise that the audit, subsequent development and implementation of a process improvement plan has to be done in such a way that the entire water cycle is taken into consideration. Changes and improvements should not be carried out in isolation, as a change in one area can potentially have a significant impact elsewhere in the process.

It is also important to maximise the potential of improvements to a pharma plant by using statistical process control. For example, vast amounts of useful data can be generated on site with little or no scrutiny, while just a handful of key performance indicators demonstrate the productiveness of the plant. Adopting systems that track factors such as environmental and safety targets, cost of consumables, influent quality, odour, integrity of membranes and core quality parameters within a treatment process is paramount to success.

To ensure the efficiency of a pharma plant, a holistic view of the water cycle should be taken. Where water production is key, water use should be measured and managed upstream. Where environmental drivers are key, storage and use of upstream chemicals should be controlled. Biological treatment processes can be sensitive to changes and even some chemicals being used upstream – particularly those adopted in clean-in-place systems. It is good practice to be aware of the exact nature of these sensitivities and/or limitations, and ensure that production staff are also conscious of them.

Depending on the application and nature of the business, it may be appropriate to consider an integrated solution that combines a series of technologies to achieve the desired goals. This might combine existing systems with new equipment that can, on occasions, be priced to deliver a specific payback period.

There are also indirect benefits of outsourcing. With an expert provider to manage the complex water and wastewater systems, pharma manufacturers can free up staff to concentrate on core areas of their business. Additionally, tasking an outsourced partner to take responsibility for managing these systems, with the goal of continuous improvement, will also enable them to review and recommend new technologies, techniques and ideas that can enhance system performance further. Outsourcing may not be appropriate for every pharma manufacturer; however, for many companies, partnering with a dedicated supplier can deliver real benefits in terms of cost reduction, process efficiency, productivity and product quality.

Reducing energy needs and protecting water resources are major challenges currently facing all industries, but whatever the needs of the plant, solutions are available to achieve optimum efficiency of the industrial water cycle and reduce operating costs.

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About the author

Andrew Brown is a specialist in water and wastewater treatment with 25 years of industry experience. As Technical and Development Director at Ondeo Industrial Solutions, he is responsible for technical output and delivery of all Ondeo projects and services in the UK. Andrew has a PhD in Engineering and experience in a number of roles, including process design and project, operational and engineering management. He has worked on many industrial projects and services in various parts of the world, and has co-written papers focusing on wastewater and water management.
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