How to manage the risks associated with compressed air in pharmacies

Many compressed air processes in pharmaceutical manufacturing facilities operate continuously around the clock. As such, it is essential that all potential risks are properly managed. Dr David Bruchof, Product Manager for Oil-Free Industrial Compressors at CompAir, discusses a best practice approach for using compressed air systems in these environments, outlining the potential issues that can arise from air contaminated tablet, and the benefits that oil-free technology can help deliver.

The pharmaceutical industry is one of the most regulated in the world. But while these regulations cover even the smallest technical aspects of pharmaceutical production, they pay relatively little attention to the use of compressed air in manufacturing facilities.

From laboratories to extruders, bottling plants, tablet presses and packaging processes, compressed air is used in a range of pharmaceutical applications. And in many of these processes, the compressed air will come into direct contact with the products. This can be drying pieces of equipment, transporting substances through tubes, or using compressed air as a pressurized blanket for solutions in tanks. Nonetheless, many of these processes run 24/7, so making sure the correct compressor is specified is critical.

When a new system is designed and specified, the regulatory basis for the use of compressed air is provided by the contractor and / or the pharmaceutical company. Naturally, a risk analysis and assessment should be undertaken to help stop any issues arising, or at least ensure that all possible steps have been taken to minimize any potential issues.

This will include whether the application of compressed air involves direct or indirect contact with the products, the volumes of compressed air required and whether the product being manufactured is a sterile or microbiologically unstable drug. Other questions should be asked, including whether other potential contaminants associated with a compressed air system, such as particles or oil, should be considered and whether the product being manufactured is sensitive to moisture. .

Contaminant control

Particles of contaminants in compressed air can potentially prevent a pneumatic system from performing as intended and could even lead to production quality issues later on the line. This is a particular risk if the process air comes into contact with the products during manufacture.

The intake air in a compressor is susceptible to contamination with almost all types of particles – from pollen, dust, and hydrocarbons to heavy metals such as lead, cadmium or mercury. Importantly, many ignore the increase in particle concentrations in a system when compressed air is generated. In addition, there is a very real danger that the blowing air from a pneumatic system could come into direct contact with a product.

Another concern is that a pharmaceutical company may inadvertently introduce errors at the specification stage, by not undertaking a sufficiently comprehensive review of what is required of a compressed air system.

Due to the lack of regulations regarding the use of compressed air in the pharmaceutical industry, it is up to manufacturers and pharmaceutical companies to decide what are the appropriate air quality standards that a system should meet.

In addition, a poorly designed compressor and piping can have serious consequences, leading to significant costs to correct it downstream. Leaking piping, for example, is the leading cause of energy loss in industrial air systems, potentially wasting up to 20-30% of a compressor power.

Opportunities with oil-free compressors

When it comes to meeting the air purity requirements for a pharmaceutical manufacturing environment, there are a range of options available to help achieve this goal. Oil lubricated models use filtration systems, and these can provide the correct level of compressed air needed for these sites. However, these rely on the replacement of oil separator elements and downstream filters, which increases ongoing costs.

Alternatively, there is the option of oil-free technology. By design, this technology aims to keep oil particles out of the compressor and can offer many benefits, especially for pharmaceutical manufacturing sites that only need a starting pressure of 10 bar. With few pharmaceutical production processes requiring high pressure levels, an oil-free system could provide an ideal solution for many facilities.

Oil-free systems use a range of technologies that avoid the need for oil. While oil-lubricated compressors use oil in the compression chamber to cool and seal the compressed air generated, oil-free technology eliminates this risk of contamination while ensuring air purity.

When choosing an oil-free compressed air system, there are a number of different technologies to choose from. Whether scrolling technology, which consists of an orbiting rotating spiral and fixed spiral housing, which together create compression chambers, or water-injected rotary screw products , which use water to lubricate, seal and cool the compression process, or two-stage drying screw compressors, the best solution will depend on the needs and requirements of the site.

Oil-free technology can also help energy managers achieve valuable savings while improving operational efficiency. Life cycle costs are reduced as companies are able to save on the cost of replacing oil. Unlike oil lubricated systems which require oil change intervals throughout their lifespan, there is also no need to purchase equipment that would clean and separate the oil from the air. , such as oil separators, filtration and condensate treatment equipment.

Another benefit to consider with oil-free technology is that, with many companies facing ambitious sustainability goals, choosing an oil-free solution is also the most environmentally friendly choice, thus helping to contribute. to the green references of an installation.

Sustain an installation

Clean air is crucial for many industries, but in no industry is this truer than the pharmaceutical sector. For companies that want to ensure contamination is removed from their compressed air processes, oil-free can offer a real range of benefits.

Ultimately, the diversity of compressed air applications used in pharmaceutical environments is immense, and when it comes to regulating compressed air in this industry, it is questionable whether unifying standards will be developed in the future. . As a result, decision makers need to devote time and attention to setting the standard for this industry.

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