By Garrod Massey
As a control panel shop, we create industry specific panels for a variety of major markets. This post is third in a series detailing how our panels serve some of these different industries. Don’t miss our previous installments about panels in the food and beverage industry and the oil and gas industry. Though these different industry panels all contain the same core components, those components are put to vastly different uses.
Pharmaceutical Control Panel Usage
Pharmaceutical facilities are another interesting environment where our panels operate. They’re regulated by the FDA, handle very potent and oftentimes dangerous chemicals, and are responsible for creating medicines to exact specifications that people rely on to treat their maladies. Knowing that, it’s no surprise that pharmaceutical facilities have high standards when it comes to both safety and cleanliness.
Our panels are trusted in these environments to prepare chemicals for mixing, mix the appropriate balance of chemicals in the final medicine (tablet, pill, liquid, etc.), and prepare and package the medicine in its final form for shipment.
How Control Panels Help Prepare Chemicals for Mixing
Much like the other industries we’ve featured, control panels in the pharmaceutical market require a lot of sensors and monitors to ensure the facility is operating properly and the products are being created correctly. In a pharmaceutical facility, our control panels can be responsible for properly preparing chemicals for mixing.
Some chemicals come into these environments already synthesized, but some are organic cultures that require fermentation. Many natural medicinal products use vegetable or animal tissue. These organic tissues need the critical components from them extracted and our panels help operate the machines and monitors that control this process.
How Control Panels Manage Chemical Mixing
Once the chemicals are in their proper form, control panels instruct the machines to get the different chemicals into tanks or hoppers where sensors help measure the amount of each chemical present. From there, the chemicals are blended in a separate mixing tank where sensors again assist in getting the chemical balance correct within the compound. Once the levels of each chemical are correct, the compound will go through a wet milling process.
Wet milling is a process that reduces a product into uniformly fine particles without contamination. In general, wet milling creates finer particles than dry milling can accomplish.
From here, the compound is pressed into a wet mold and is put through a tray or fluid bed dryer. The now dry mold goes through a dry milling process to disperse the accurately balanced compound into the proper granulation size. These granules are stored in a dry granulation hopper that connects to a tablet making machine.
How Control Panels Prepare and Package Pharmaceuticals
The dry granulation hopper’s valve opens to release a controlled amount of the dry granules. These granules are fed into the tablet making machine that presses them into the desired pill size and imprint the brand, logo or other identifying markings on the tablet.
The pill is now complete. A conveying system takes the composed pills to a packaging machine where they are put into the bottles or boxes they’ll be distributed in. The packaging machine will also apply labeling to these vessels.
Distinguishing Features of Pharmaceutical Control Panels
Since cleanliness and safety are primary concerns at pharmaceutical facilities, they’re primary concerns with the control panels that go in them as well.
The control cabinets are made from high-grade 316 stainless steel. This steel is highly durable and can withstand multiple cleanings and any potential chemical spills without corroding.
Many of the cabinets that go in these environments are also built with door gaskets that are engineered to be mold and mildew resistant. These gaskets are uniformly blue so if any mold, dirt or mildew does cling to them, it can be easily spotted and removed. Per FDA requirements, these gaskets must be replaced every 90 days.
Cleanliness is even top of mind when engraving the nameplates for the panels. UL listed panels require certain data to be visible on the exterior of the panel. Within a pharmaceutical environment, this information has to be reverse engraved. Essentially, the nameplate is engraved down to the clear layer of plastic and the text is filled in with the desired color to remove any grooves or indentations. This eliminates another place for contaminants to live within the sterile environment.
Certain area in Pharmaceutical facilities are classified as Class 1 Division 2 hazardous locations, a location standard we first explored in the oil and gas industry. C1D2 locations mean that, under normal circumstances, there shouldn’t be any ignitable gases or vapors. One way to make these panels safe for a C1D2 environment is to equip them with purge units. In oil and gas facilities it can be cost prohibitive to bring in compressed air for purging, but pharmaceutical environments already have a lot of pumped air in their facilities for other uses so they typically use an air compressor to feed 60-120PSI of compressed air into the purge unit. This creates constant positive pressure within the control cabinet removing any potential ignition source should arcing or sparking occur.
Chemical monitors used throughout the production process are also used within the facility to ensure safe levels of various chemical gasses and dust are not exceeded at any time.
One last note on security and cleanliness within these environments. As regular readers of our blog know, exceptional customer service is something we always strive for at UCEC. If a client is close enough, we try to deliver the panels ourselves to help keep shipping costs low for our customers. Delivering or working on a panel within a pharmaceutical facility can often feel like going above and beyond. Just entering the facility requires security clearance and, as I can personally attest, a thorough trip through a wash down chamber and clean room.
A lot goes into making that one tiny headache pill, but when it comes to the medicine we put in our bodies you can never be too careful. We’re proud to have our panels trusted to conduct such precise processes in this and every other industry we serve.