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Here’s how to improve HVAC efficiency in pharma

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Nitin Naik, Managing Partner, Dew Point

The stringent indoor air quality requirements of the pharma industry necessitate the operation of an HVAC system at high performance levels. This can be a significant drain on the operational budget because of expenditure on energy, but it needn’t be so. Nitin Naik, Managing Partner, Dew Point explains what pharma plants heads should do to get their HVAC systems to perform better.

Improving energy efficiency

Pharmaceutical manufacturing facilities consume a significant amount of energy. It is widely estimated that the HVAC system consumes as much as 60% of the total energy.

Here are some practical ways in which pharma manufacturing facilities can improve the energy efficiency of their HVAC systems:

Upgrade to high-efficiency equipment

This is more relevant to facilities that have been in operation for a considerable amount of time. This includes high-efficiency chillers, pumping systems and air-handling units that consume less energy to perform the same tasks as their less efficient counterparts.

Optimise system controls

The HVAC system controls should be optimised to ensure that the system operates at the minimum energy necessary to maintain the required conditions. This includes using variable frequency drives (VFDs) to regulate the speed of fans, pumps and optimising the setpoints for temperature and humidity.

Regular maintenance

Regular maintenance of HVAC systems is important to ensure that they operate at peak efficiency. This includes changing filters, cleaning coils, and ensuring that all components are functioning properly. Poorly maintained HVAC systems can lead to higher energy consumption and reduced system performance.

It is often noticed that control systems are bypassed. Such instances can be avoided with periodic maintenance checks and adequate training of the operating staff.

Employee training

This is important to ensure that the HVAC system is operated and maintained properly. This includes providing training on system controls, maintenance procedures and energy-efficient practices.

Energy management systems

“What gets measured gets managed”. Implementing energy management systems that monitor energy usage and provide real-time feedback to the operating team, helps to identify energy-saving opportunities and improve the overall system efficiency.

Cleaning for efficiency

Cleaning or lack of cleaning of HVAC systems can have a significant impact on their energy efficiency. Over time, HVAC systems can accumulate dirt, dust, and other debris, which can reduce their efficiency and increase energy consumption. Here are some ways in which cleaning or lack of cleaning can affect HVAC energy efficiency:

Flow restriction

Accumulated dirt and debris can restrict flow through the HVAC system, reducing its efficiency and increasing energy consumption. HVAC ducts and water pipes are typical examples that over a period of time can impact energy efficiency.

Increased friction

Dirt buildup on fan blades, belts, and other components can increase friction, requiring the HVAC system to work harder to maintain the required flow/static.

Reduced heat transfer

Dirt and debris buildup on heat exchangers and coils can reduce heat transfer, reducing the efficiency of the HVAC system and increasing energy consumption.

Clogged filters

Clogged filters can reduce airflow, causing the HVAC system to work harder to maintain the desired temperature and humidity levels, which increases energy consumption.

Increased compressor load

Dirty or clogged coils can increase the load on the compressor, reducing its efficiency and increasing energy consumption.

Microbial growth

Microbial growth in the HVAC system can reduce airflow and efficiency, leading to higher energy consumption. Moreover, it can cause health problems for building occupants.

By cleaning the HVAC system regularly, including air ducts, filters, and coils, the system can operate more efficiently, reducing energy consumption, and operating costs. A well-maintained HVAC system will also last longer, reducing the need for replacement, and decreasing the environmental impact associated with manufacturing of new equipment.

A handy checklist

The plant head of a pharma facility should keep the following things in mind while operating and maintaining the HVAC system:

  1. Compliance with regulations: The plant head should ensure that the HVAC system must comply with all relevant statutory regulations, including those related to air quality and emissions.
  2. Performance monitoring: No performance can be measured without reliable data. Continuous data monitoring systems must be implemented and these systems should also provide an in-depth analysis of the monitored data to highlight any inefficiencies in the system that can help initiate corrective action. All critical equipment should have sensors installed on them that can monitor the equipment health and can help predict breakdown/failures in advance so as to increase the uptime and life of the equipment, as well as reduce loss of production.
  3. Emergency response: The plant head should have a plan in place to respond to HVAC system emergencies, such as equipment failures or power outages. This plan should include protocols for quickly addressing and resolving any issues that arise.
  4. Staff training: The plant head should ensure that HVAC system operators and maintenance staff are adequately trained to operate and maintain the system. This includes providing regular training on equipment operation, maintenance, and safety protocols.
  5. Plan for maintenance downtime: The plant head should plan for scheduled maintenance downtime to avoid unexpected shutdowns that could disrupt manufacturing operations.

By keeping these things in mind, the plant head of a pharma facility can ensure the efficient, safe, and compliant operation of the HVAC system, which is critical to maintaining the required air quality standards for pharmaceutical manufacturing.

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