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Choosing the Right BMS for the HVAC System in a Pharmaceutical Industry Lab

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Clint Bradford

Pharmaceuticals play an extraordinary role in people’s everyday lives. But producing transformative products can be a costly and energy-intensive business, and reducing costs without compromising personnel or materials can present unique challenges.

In the United States, modern commercial office buildings typically use energy at a rate of 81.4 BTU/square foot (257kW hours/square meter). The average pharmaceutical factory uses energy at a rate of 1210 Btu/square foot (3819wK hours/square meter). With energy usage at nearly 15 times that of office buildings, anything that can reduce energy consumption during production or research can result in great savings. However, improved energy efficiency doesn’t just reduce energy costs; it can help you comply with ever-evolving good manufacturing guidelines and environmental regulations by reducing carbon dioxide and other emissions. 

HVAC systems are a prime site for realizing these benefits; depending on the specific measures taken, improved HVAC functionality can reduce energy use by 40% or more even in environments with strict air quality requirements. Integrating analytics with your building management system (BMS) and developing a smart automation strategy allows HVAC systems in the pharmaceutical industry to efficiently control climate while maintaining safety. 

Importance of HVAC Systems in the Pharmaceutical Industry

Pharmaceutical companies employ specialized ventilation systems that moderate humidity and temperature levels to maintain the stringent environmental conditions necessary to manufacture their products. Even in office buildings and research laboratories, the HVAC systems in pharmaceutical settings must also keep the environment exceedingly clean. Meeting these objectives is essential to protecting the health of workers, consumers, and the environment. 

To ensure pharmaceutical products are effective, safe, and unadulterated, regulatory bodies around the world have established environmental guidelines that typically include:

  • Room temperatures between approximately 67-77° F (19-25° C) to maintain a comfortable work environment for pharmaceutical workers, with a control point of 72° F (about 22° C) and lower temperature ranges for spaces where people are required to wear gowns or other heavy protective equipment. 
  • Relative humidity in production areas should remain between 45-55%, or between 25-35% for hygroscopic powder production, to maintain worker comfort, control microbial growth, prevent corrosion, and reduce the chance of generating static electricity.
  • Control of airborne particulates to ensure good air quality and counteracts potential product contamination through the use of proper air filtration.

However, maintaining safety in some pharmaceutical environments requires special consideration and adherence to more extensive standards.

HVAC Systems in Pharmaceutical Cleanrooms

Contamination from externally generated particles is a significant concern in pharmaceutical production, especially in cleanrooms. As such, HVAC equipment in cleanrooms must filter air properly, with air change rates depending on whether the areas require sterilization, and can vary between 6-20 air changes per hour. 

The hourly rate at which air should be replaced depends on the following:

  • Adequate air supply to clean and contain air in an area.
  • Product characteristics, such as hygroscopic substances that absorb moisture from the air.
  • Required room pressure.
  • Particulates produced by lab or factory workers. 
  • Particulates generated by the manufacturing process.
  • Quality of the filtration system.
  • Sufficient air to balance out air extraction rates.
  • The room’s configuration, location, and air supply.
  • The impact of heat generated during manufacturing.

HVAC Systems in Pharmaceutical Industry Medical Labs

Laboratory environments also have unique HVAC requirements. The primary functions of HVAC systems in pharmaceutical labs include:

  • Ensuring comfortable conditions for lab personnel.
  • Filtering out contaminated air before discharging it back into the environment.
  • Keeping proper room pressure for both negative and positive pressure spaces within labs in order to direct airflow from clean to dirty spaces, thus protecting experiments and personnel.
  • Maintaining air quality, humidity, and temperature to safeguard the integrity of experiments.
  • Pumping outdoor air into laboratory spaces as a safety requirement for workers, especially for labs working with hazardous substances. 

Toward Analytics-Led Building Management

Complying with the strict regulations regarding pharmaceutical environments requires heavy use of high-quality HVAC equipment. Without thoughtful planning and advanced technologies, this dependence on energy-consuming building systems—often around the clock—can make it difficult to adhere to efficiency standards and keep costs in check. But these goals are becoming increasingly important as energy costs rise and the need to reduce carbon emissions grows.

Ensuring that the multiple objectives of an HVAC system across buildings that house various pharmaceutical functions are achieved requires the establishment of defined setpoints and continuous environmental monitoring, taking into account multiple variables. Today, smart technologies offer excellent opportunities for achieving this. Integrating complex networks of equipment and IoT sensors with a BMS and analytics software provides deep visibility into all systems and advanced automation capabilities. 

However, not all automated systems are alike. As the World Health Organization notes:

Automated monitoring systems may provide possibilities for ongoing monitoring with better assurance of compliance with the defined limits. Where these automated systems are considered to be good practice (GXP) systems, these should be appropriately validated. The scope and extent of validation of the computerized system should be determined, justifiable and appropriately executed. This includes, but is not limited to, access and privileges to the software, setting of limits, monitoring and acknowledging alarms, audit trails, controls, and reporting.

Here, the analytics platform you choose will be a prime determinant of success. 

An intelligent platform like onPoint provides an ideal centralized control solution for HVAC systems in pharmaceutical environments. With its robust analytic capabilities and advanced machine learning algorithms, it helps facilities managers establish setpoints, trace trouble spots, rapidly diagnose system deficiencies, optimize equipment performance, identify areas with high energy usage rates, and recommend solutions to reduce energy use. Its user-friendly dashboard and customizable, on-demand reporting ensure all stakeholders have the insights they need, when they need them, including regulatory bodies. Significantly, it can also provide invaluable insights to guide and validate long-term efficiency efforts.

In the pharmaceutical industry, HVAC systems are about more than comfort; they directly influence the health of workers and can have a significant impact on patient outcomes. They can also inform the economic viability of your business. When the stakes are so high, choosing the right technologies is a must.

Buildings IOT can transform your HVAC system pharmaceutical industry to help you create a more efficient and safer environment. Contact our expert team today.

 

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