Plan ahead

The demand for greater profits means good process control strategies are essential to manufacturers and producers in a wide range of sectors. Colin Carter reports.


The constant drive towards greater profits has, in the past few years, led to huge investment in process control systems and components in fields as diverse as oil and gas processing to the food and drink and pharmaceutical industries.

There’s no doubt that good process control strategies are essential to help manufacturers and producers in all sectors meet the required demand at the right price — whether they are large-scale continuous processing operations or those producing large numbers of smaller, discrete, consumable end products.

Indeed, a recent report by US advisory group ARC concluded that ‘the worldwide market for process automation systems is expected to grow at a compounded market rate of 9.8 per cent over the next five years’.

The report also picked out the pharmaceutical sector (along with associated biotech industries) as one that remains strong in its investment, driven by growth in Asia and other developing regions.

Greater efficiency, especially in energy, has been associated with at least part of this investment. A report published earlier this year by Frost and Sullivan, noted that ‘heightened demand for energy-efficient systems, coupled with the need to limit production costs, is boosting demand for electric drives from food and beverage industry end-users’.

And there have been many recent examples of major investment in process control equipment within the food and drink and pharmaceutical sectors. At GE’s Healthcare Life Science division in Uppsala, Sweden, the company has spent some £2m on automation systems for the production of protein separation media.

The system, supplied by ABB, uses the company’s Industrial T800xA system to provide control and monitoring of tanks and reactors, batch control and control functions for automatic valves, stirrers and analogue measurement signals for GE’s production of separation media based on agarose and dextran.

The production process for Ryvita crispbread has also recently benefited from an upgrade in its process control. Something like a 90 per cent reduction in manual inputs along with improvements in process efficiency, accuracy, transparency and reporting are claimed benefits from the installation of Citect’s Ampla Manufacturing Execution System (MES).

This, along with CitectScada Reports, (SCADA stands for supervisory control and data acquisition) acts as the backbone of the factory’s flexible factory-wide reporting system. It was installed by Silchester Control Systems with Citect Professional Services to provide real-time and historical production data for immediate decision making without having to collate large amounts of data before making process changes.

This means the company is now able to correct process problems before it costs large amounts.

The removal of manual inputs removed one bottleneck. Time was being wasted entering production data manually into Microsoft Excel spreadsheets, all of which were subject to human errors and could be subjective and inaccurate. Citect Scada automatically pulls the required data in from multiple sensors, through a number of Schneider programmable logic controllers (PLCs) and into the network via supervisory computers for analysis.

In the pharmaceutical field, Honeywell has supplied its Experion Process Knowledge System (PKS) to Boehringer Ingelheim Pharma’s new biopharmaceutical plant at Biberach in Germany. The system was chosen to fulfil the company’s requirements for state-of-the-art automation technology, offering strong project execution skills, scaleability and the ability to produce documentation to ensure compliance with various legislation such as FDA 21 CFR Part 11 across a number of end products.

Biberach is the site of Europe’s largest pharmaceutical plant for the manufacture of proteins from mammalian cell cultures, so the automation solution selected had to be capable of monitoring and managing all production processes from fermentation via product harvesting to protein purification and all associated utility systems.

Experion PKS provided integration of field equipment and data, the distributed control system (DCS) for batch automation and advanced process control (APC).

‘Our decision to go with Experion was based on finding a solution that could meet specific automation requirements such as complex batch execution, high availability, data collection and preservation that met manufacturing and regulatory requirements, but at the same time let us get products out in time,’ explained Guenter Oswald, Boehringer Ingelheim’s vice-president, engineering and technology.

It’s not just process control systems that are being upgraded — individual plant components are also improving production processes. For example, German-based Müller has specified Bürkert’s 8201pH measuring system (along with its 8285 transmitter) for use in Europe’s largest dairy.

The system is set for use in Müller’s whey treatment process, under which the whey, which is used in the production of yoghurt and other food products, undergoes both ultra and nano-filtration and reverse osmosis to ensure that all the nutrients are extracted.

PH measurement is of prime importance to the process to avoid damaging the filter units as the process requires precise control of the pH. Hygiene is also of prime importance, so the sensor is finished in enamelled stainless steel which makes it easy to clean.

Pharmaceutical batch processing efficiency has also improved at Gilead Alberta, a biopharmaceutical company producing what it describes as ‘innovative therapeutics to advance the care of patients suffering from life-threatening diseases,’ by introducing new pH measuring equipment.

The company has worked with Invensys Foxboro’s Measurements and Instruments division to produce the Foxboro 871PH sensor, which is claimed to be capable of completing a pH adjustment in three hours — a process that traditionally takes up to a day.

Gilead Alberta’s senior technical supervisor Robert Pastushak underlined the value to the company. ‘the improved pH readings by one sensor can be worth hundreds of thousands of dollars a year,’ he said.

The need to keep ahead of the competition has led to huge amounts of cash being invested in both the food and beverage and pharmaceuticals sectors to keep our consumables as cheap as possible.