A large nutraceutical company hired Pacific Blue Engineering to separate control systems for the encapsulator dryer line. In nutraceutical pill formulation medicine containing an omega fatty acid is encapsulated in gelatin and the pills are then transferred to a drying process. At the time of the project, both the encapsulating process and the drying process were controlled by the same control system. With this arrangement, closing down of the control panel results in both processes being interrupted. By separating the controls, it is then possible to close one process without interrupting the second process.
There were three advantages to be realized by separating the control system:
(1) The electrical safety is improved, allowing work, such as maintenance requiring LOTO, to be completed on one process while the second process continues to operate.
(2) The amount of product scrap material is significantly reduced. This scrap arises when both processes are shut down simultaneously, and the unfinished pills that remain in the dryer without completing the drying process would be rejected.
(3) The Overall Equipment Effect (OEE) is improved since part of the line can be operational while preventative maintenance activities are undertaken.
The scope of work in separating the control systems included several steps:
A major challenge was to manage the electrical separation between the two control systems, mitigating the risk of miswiring or the cutting of the wrong wire. The approach required was hands-on technical project management including coaching subcontractors on GMP in addition to the completion of the IO checkout and testing of the electrical separation within a short time frame.
The two-control systems provided a significant improvement in production, since if it is necessary to shut down on the encapsulation process, product is not lost. The OEE is also significantly improved when compared to that obtained when closing both processes simultaneously. Additionally, improved electrical safety in accordance to NEC/NFPA is afforded and working under electrically live conditions on the other part of the process is avoided.
This project is not regarded as an obsolescence upgrade but rather a control separation, and this is a rare project in the industry. The client’s executive leadership viewed that the project was justified, and the advantages cited above are all realized. A future improvement that could be considered by the company is to install a plantwide SCADA system to manage both downstream and upstream processes from a control room. This would allow superior business decisions to be made, particularly regarding loss of raw materials and overall production efficiency.