The global health crisis brought by COVID-19 is another challenge that emphasized the importance of the pharmaceutical industry. Companies in this field promptly responded by commencing research for vaccines and a cure for the disease, all while continuing to provide existing vaccines and drugs to consumers all over the globe. This undertaking required electrical infrastructure that can support the changing industry.
In an episode of the ASCO Power Innovation Talk Webinar on the pharmaceutical industry, I spoke with Juan Tobon at CRB, who was then Core Team Leader and is now an Office Leader. He shared insights into recent electrical infrastructure challenges faced by the pharmaceutical industry and described its successful responses. Our discussion explored the following topics.
- COVID-19 and its impact
- Pharmaceutical Facility Design Strategies
- Sustainable Technologies
COVID-19 and Its Impact
The world saw a devastating loss of human life, unemployment, and productivity loss brought by the disease. The race to find a cure and develop a vaccine impacted the industry, whose utilization rate was already at 95% before the pandemic.
Pharmaceutical companies had a limited capacity for expansion. To adapt at a faster rate, big players had to work with each other. Some companies delegated different tasks such as adjuvant development, mass production, and so on. This added to the disruption the industry had already been facing as advanced therapeutic and medicinal products continue to grow.
All this critical work to control COVID-19 needed power continuity to minimize disruptions and streamline collaboration. But it’s not the only reason that helps justify a robust backup power system for their facilities. Power outages have significant impacts on pharmaceutical operations and can result in products that do not meet quality standards. Many of the companies have long addressed this by utilizing Closed Transition Transfer Switches.
Due to new safety guidelines, construction had to be done in different shifts to prevent having a huge group of people in a building and maintain social distancing. This was also coupled with routine site cleaning and regular employee testing, which drove costs upward. Lead times is another area that was affected, due in part to travel delays and restrictions on in-person activities.
Pharmaceutical Facility Design Strategies
More facilities are incorporating design strategies used by healthcare facilities to minimize power interruptions. This was caused by a demand for infrastructure that relied on complex processes that needed constant power supply, such as taking patient DNA and transporting the samples to a facility where professionals can create a specialized treatment using cell and gene therapy. The importance of power reliability in these processes drove them to move backup power equipment like generator transfer switches downstream and locate it closer to the operation.
Unprecedented events like the pandemic can create friction in the supply chain through material sourcing issues, challenges to receiving materials from a supplier in a heavily affected location, and more. This is pushing companies to shorten the supply chain by moving processes onshore. This move also helped companies to help speed up workflow and increase productivity.
These pandemic responses are the work of facility managers, whose roles are becoming more complex as the industry advances. Their jobs require a deep understanding of the electrical infrastructure as well as manufacturing methods and products.
While it may become challenging for some professionals to keep up with the progress in this industry, Tobon listed methods for professionals to extend their knowledge and expand their careers. He recommended joining industry organizations, growing their networks, and acquiring Lean Six Sigma certification.
The pharmaceutical industry wasn’t the first to join the journey towards sustainability, but they’re certainly committed to it today. Major companies now have dedicated organizations that advance sustainability initiatives. Companies first started taking part by tackling low-hanging fruit such as replacing fluorescent lights with LEDs and adding variable frequency transformers to motors. Now, energy codes support sustainability goals and companies are integrating additional sustainable technology into their facilities and operations.
In terms of choosing power generation methods, Tobon says that client requirements come first. He shared that diesel generators are often used for facilities that only call for backup power for a limited time. Natural gas generators are often selected for regular demand response duties and can be used for different applications beyond backup power generation. Other factors such as cost differences and space requirements also help shape the decision.
Tobon explained why the sector has embedded automation capabilities into equipment. “Nothing does repeatability better than a computer,” he says.
Digitization has been occurring in the pharmaceutical industry and will continue to do so for years to come. It has been applied to activities such as checking tank levels, opening and closing valves, monitoring temperatures, and other processes. Digitization now helps facilities better plan for maintenance and equipment replacement. In addition, augmented reality has been valuable for making electrical system reviews safer. Professionals can now see what is going on inside a machine without having to open doors, which helps mitigate arc flash hazards and helps improve safety.
The role of this sector in containing the pandemic is another reason why its power system must continue to be improved. It has long been an instrument for various diseases and illnesses as well as prolonging human lives.
My conversation with Tobon highlights the accomplishments of the pharmaceutical industry and its opportunities for continued success. It also shows how electrical infrastructure helped create better systems that promote adaptation to the changing market and overcome challenges facing the industry.
Find additional information about backup power solutions on the ASCO Power Technologies website. It offers a library of resources including White Papers, Technical Briefs, Application Notes, and Case Studies.