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The Power of Preventative Maintenance

Optimizing Performance in the Biopharmaceutical Sector

Customer: Biopharmaceutical Industry 

Steam systems play an important role in the global pharmaceutical industry. Product safety, quality, and compliance with strict regulatory requirements combine to ensure the pharma sector takes every aspect of its operations very seriously.

Nowhere is this more apparent than with steam's vital part in the production process. Used for sterilization, clean-in-place systems (CIP), purified water generation, heating and temperature control, humidity control and dehumidification, drying, and direct steam injection, it needs to perform at optimal levels of efficiency, often 24/7.

In this case study we take a closer look at how one customer found Spirax Sarco's expertise invaluable to their operations.

The problem

This customer is a global leader in biopharma products, from plasma production to vaccines, and treating rare and serious disorders. We have a long history of supporting the Illinois facility with its need for quality steam. Best practices for regular maintenance, like steam trap surveys, were not an issue.

However, as in any large organization, personnel come and go over time, with many senior engineers having retired. So, when a critical condensate return pump responsible for clean-in-place began regularly setting off alarms, we were called upon to investigate.

Whilst it was first thought that something was wrong with the control systems, our engineer quickly realized the problem was with a leaking valve. Elements of the condensate return pumps are mechanical and wear out with age and heavy use. This pump was 11 years old and had exceeded the three-year, three-million cycle warranty. Due to its age, and the leaking valve, it was experiencing temperature swings that caused the alarms and subsequent shutdowns.

More than any other factor, the downtime caused was a significant headache for the business. Dealing with the production of critical life-saving items meant having to revalidate the system after every shutdown.

The solution

We were able to swiftly deal not only with the faulty pump but to provide a detailed assessment of all 120 mechanical and electrical pumps at the site. The company recognized the value of taking a proactive preventative maintenance approach to mitigate against future problems.

Fortunately, we found most to be in satisfactory working order. In particular, the majority had:

  • Satisfactory steam motive isolations and steam trapping
  • Upstream and downstream isolation valves for condensate
  • Gauge glasses on the pumps (where the option was available –early models do not have that provision)
  • Adequate vented lines and/or appropriately tied into the receiver for closed-loop applications
  • Closed loop applications were prevalent in many instances, providing increased energy-efficient steam use, stable set temperatures, and eliminating flash steam
  • Insulation blankets/receiver permanent insulation

Three other pumps were identified as needing attention due to undersized components or operational inefficiencies.

Our recommendations covered immediate repairs, preventative maintenance, and upgrades, including the adoption of Double Block and Bleed (DBB) configurations for improved safety and operational efficiency. The audit also proposed specific upgrades such as the addition of isolation valves, pressure gauges, and check valves in certain locations.

Our main focus was on the condensate return system, but during our work, we were also able to advise on solutions for recovering vented flash steam, a practice that could yield significant energy savings and sustainability benefits.

Our assessment of the Illinois facility represents the holistic approach to industrial maintenance, safety, and efficiency we always aim to provide.