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By Paul Thomas, Senior Editor
The problem is, Walker says, that manufacturers have tended to view sustainability in limited terms—turning off lights, installing solar panels, recycling waste—saving energy and implementing green practices here and there. The classic case is one in which corporate leadership institutes sustainability goals, but by the time those goals get translated to the plant floor, there is little clarity and substance to them.
Manufacturers will have to understand their energy usage at the line and equipment level, Walker says. For most, “it’s a big guess. If line 1 were using three times as much energy as line 2, most manufacturers wouldn’t know it.”
Naturally, this becomes more difficult for smaller manufacturers with fewer resources. Less than 40% of respondents at manufacturers of less than 1,000 employees said that they have significantly increased investment in energy-efficient and other green technologies in the past few years. Nearly 80% of those at larger manufacturers said they had upped such investments.
Energy management also dovetails nicely with the transformative initiatives taking place in the pharmaceutical industry, such as Process Analytical Technologies (PAT) and Quality by Design (Qbd) and Lean Six Sigma, and continuous manufacturing, and with trends such as the overall movement towards outsourcing of non-core competencies.
The potential to use PAT for energy monitoring is one exciting development taking shape. Energy saving is usually a “frequent, collateral” reason for using PAT, says consultant John Carroll, one of this magazine’s editorial advisors. He uses the example of fermentation: If you monitor and control key parameters, you can shut down the fermenter as much as a day or two earlier than usual. For a biopharma plant that has a dozen or two 15,000-gallon vessels, the power and cost savings can be staggering, Carroll says.
Carroll has witnessed this first-hand (though he can’t say where), in which operators used a combination of real-time metrics—dissolved oxygen, pH, temperature, and glucose—to estimate the completion of batch fermentation and shut down equipment early.
The idea holds for small molecules as well, Carroll says. If bin blenders, granulators, fluid bed dryers and other process “energy hogs” can be made more efficient via PAT, the payoff will be rapid.
Energy management will also prod the transition from batch to continuous manufacturing, he adds, since continuous operations use less energy to begin with and scale up more easily and efficiently than batch. Energy management and energy savings are a critical part of the economic analysis when converting from batch to continuous processes, agrees James Evans, associate director of the Novartis/MIT Center for Continuous Manufacturing.
Outsourcing and Due Diligence
Pharmaceutical OEMs and solutions providers are thinking green and making energy management part of their selling point. Sometimes, it’s their primary focus, as for Rockwell. Vendors are supporting energy management, and in some instances it’s being outsourced completely to building management specialists.
This summer, contract manufacturer Patheon announced that it was outsourcing the energy management of all its facilities to Canadian firm Emcor, in order to standardize energy management and maintenance across multiple facilities—a move it says could save it more than $3 million over the next year and a half. The deal with Emcor is part of a comprehensive plan at Patheon, based upon Lean Six Sigma principles, to eliminate waste throughout the company.
Energy costs have become a key factor in contract manufacturing negotiations, consultant Carroll notes. The key decision point regarding whether or not to outsource is cost, he says, and ability to save on energy costs ranks with savings related to personnel, inventory, and manufacturing capacity.
“Energy is at the forefront of consciousness” in all of pharma’s decisionmaking these days, Carroll says, “where it might not have been a few years ago.”
Where’s the Trickle Down?
Contract manufacturers should have no problem seeing the value of becoming more energy efficient. What about other small-scale manufacturers, whether in branded pharmaceuticals, biotech, or generics? Are they ready and willing?
While Big Pharma is clearly on board with the Energy Star program and are using the pharma EPI, smaller manufacturers remain hesitant, Boyd and Tunnessen say. For one thing, getting an accurate read on a facility’s energy usage requires the right technology, and a “certain amount of submetering” that most plants are not equipped to do, Tunnessen says.
Another scenario is that smaller manufacturers don’t know what they’re missing. The EPI, for instance, is a “reality check,” says Boyd. Some manufacturers realize that “what they thought was great is really just average.”
And some manufacturers may not want to know. When manufacturers investigate their energy practices, or use a performance indicator as a gauge, it increases transparency at the corporate and individual level. “People are afraid that this tool [the EPI] could be used to show they’re not doing a good job,” Boyd adds.
The greatest challenges, however, are getting the word out and raising awareness, say Tunnessen and Boyd. For most small- to medium-sized manufacturers, “there just isn’t anyone steering the ship with energy management,” says Tunnessen.
In our survey, half of respondents at smaller manufacturers said that they didn’t have a corporate energy manger or someone specifically dedicated to energy management. “The issue with smaller manufacturers in particular is that they don’t know what they don’t know,” Boyd says. “The exercise of collecting information may show things that they have never looked at before.”
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