Organichem Lays a Foundation for Growth

A new building management system has helped the contract manufacturer automate pressurization control and expand potent compound manufacturing.

By Paul Thomas

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A building management system (BMS) is essential to facility operations. Besides enabling effective control of all facility-related processes and equipment — particularly those involving heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) — a BMS can also:

  • Help ensure adequate monitoring and control of GMP and non-GMP work areas;


  • Provide real-time visibility into system performance within all facilities;


  • Integrate facility-wide automation and help to eliminate islands of automation;


  • Facilitate predictive maintenance and calibration efforts;


  • Underpin site security and alarm management.

In doing the above, a BMS supports regulatory compliance efforts and, directly and indirectly, can lead to improved operational excellence and cost savings.

It was benefits such as these that prompted Organichem Corp., a contract developer and manufacturer of bulk APIs, to install a new BMS in 2002. The company’s 220,000-square-foot Rensselaer, N.Y. site (see "A Site with History," below) had undergone $80 million in renovations over the past 15 years — work that still continues. Also in 2002, Organichem began construction of a $20 million, 20,000-square-foot addition to house several new potent compound manufacturing suites. Three are up and running so far, with others in the planning stages.

Having a solid platform from which to automate the plant — especially to maintain control of an active pressurization system — has filled a void, says J.P. Monteau, Organichem’s director of engineering, environmental safety and health. “We didn’t really have anything before,” he notes. “We didn’t handle potent drugs at that time. Our finishing area had a manually controlled air-handling system.” The BMS has decreased the life cycle of successive projects and led to better facility control, improved maintenance and better decision-making, Monteau says.

In with the new

Organichem selected Johnson Controls’ (Milwaukee) Metasys BMS. The project’s success required ensuring that efforts by Organichem, Johnson Controls and the mechanical contractor, FPI Mechanical, Inc. (Cohoes, N.Y.) were all coordinated. “Having all three parties on the same page has been very important,” says Eric Bratt, Organichem’s instrumentation and controls specialist.

The BMS eases the burden on Organichem’s legacy Foxboro I/A Series distributed control system (DCS). The DCS controls key processing parameters such as temperature, pressure and humidity in production areas, but was not meant to handle facility-wide needs. “Since our DCS wasn’t in all the buildings, we realized that we needed another tool that would allow people to look at the HVAC systems as we retrofitted the older areas,” Bratt says.

During retrofits, Organichem has run the two systems in parallel. Operators within production suites have a window to both systems on their PCs. Metasys is favored for overlapping applications. Since it is Web-based, it offers a view of all production areas, labs, warehouses and offices. Several facilities at one site, or even multiple sites, can be controlled from one computer in one office, Bratt notes. It also means that supervisors can perform their pre-shift environmental checks from a single PC, rather than taking manual readings from temperature, pressure and other gauges situated throughout the facility.

BMS Best Practices

A few tips on the successful implementation of a building management system:

  • Get the most senior people involved on the vendor and clients sides. Their expertise was especially important at Organichem under tight deadlines.


  • Partner with someone you know. Organichem and Johnson Controls, and mechanical contractor FPI Mechanical, had a strong relationship before their latest project, which has made work easier.


  • Build out the system in stages. Installing a BMS in chunks is more manageable and eases validation efforts.


  • Look for cost savings, but don’t cut corners. Organichem chose top-of-the-line equipment when it needed to, but has found long-term savings in reduced maintenance and energy expenses.
The Metasys system runs on an IBM server and relies on Johnson NC network controllers for various supervisory applications, all of which communicate via Organichem’s Ethernet-based bus. The controllers are stand-alone, and able to run when not connected to the network. “A few times we’ve lost networks or have worked on upgrading networks within the infrastructure, so different buildings were out of network connection,” Bratt notes, “but we were confident that these systems would continue running on their own.”

Bratt monitors all building functions from the workstation in his office. Throughout the continued system upgrades and expansions, it has been important to progress incrementally. “We’ve learned to break up the project into smaller chunks,” he says. “It shortens the time that you have to stop production, and limits the scope of problems that may occur.” Validation can also be done step by step, simplifying the effort, he says.

Construction of Suite 208, the first of the new production suites, was accelerated to meet production scheduling for a new oncology drug. Installation and validation of the automation system was completed in just three months.

Johnson had done some engineering up front in order to secure the job, and staff put in extra hours to meet deadlines, says Jon Whitney, Johnson’s business development director, life sciences, corporate clients group. Johnson also provided a standard documentation package for installation, operations and performance qualification to smooth FDA approval.

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