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Non-invasive monitoring of ammonia

14th August 2017

Posted By Paul Boughton


The desire to live longer and healthier is a pillar of modern life. Hence the demand for healthcare data, advanced therapies and ever quicker reacting cures in the pharmaceutical industry is so high.

The UK is at the forefront of the global pharma sector. Health is a crucially important social and economic asset, and in the past 60 years, innovation and technology have driven huge improvements in global health.

With the advances in knowledge comes the advances in manufacturing, with pharmaceutical companies manufacturing six times the average company in the UK.

The scale of demand and the free market forces the manufacturing process to become smarter.

One way to increase efficiencies is to improve the safety and maintenance of plants.

A British pharmaceutical company - one of the largest in the world - approached Coltraco for an innovative solution to aid their manufacturing process.

Coltraco received a request from one of their manufacturing plants in Ireland, which produces active ingredients that are used in drugs to treat cancer, Parkinson’s and Depression.

At this plant, a mix of ammonia and water is delivered to the site in Intermediate Bulk Containers (IBCs): reusable storage tanks which commonly carry circa 1,040 litres. This ammonia is required at the pharmaceutical plant to breakdown manufacturing by-products before they are then safely incinerated.

Previously, the company had been monitoring the ammonia contents through a physical dip stick measurement on the tank, because of a lack of confidence in the internal IBC monitoring systems.

However, the fumes given off by ammonia are irritating and corrosive, and can cause burning to the nose, throat and respiratory tract which poses a severe health risk for the engineers.

Opening the top valve for the physical dip stick measurement also creates risk of contamination to the ammonia.

For this reason, the pharmaceutical company asked Coltraco to deliver a new way to non-invasively monitor the contents within the IBCs.

A Coltraco Engineer visited the site to conduct technology suitability trials.

A survey of several of the IBCs was conducted, and it was noted that some of the containers were partially full or fully empty.

From this, the Engineer determined the general range for a full and empty state across 7 of the IBCs (as shown in the table).

Trials conducted by the Engineer indicated that Coltraco has the real opportunity to provide a solution for this application.

Because of the flexibility and adaptability of Coltraco Ultrasonics’ current technological range, an indication was given that there was the capability to deliver a lasting and efficient solution to this problem.

Ultrasonics was the solution chosen by Coltraco, who are experts in this technology stream, to be a non-invasive, robust, easy to use avoiding the risk of harm to the site engineers.

Coltraco’s equipment is designed to improve safety and best practice, ensuring the equipment used by crew/technicians/engineers to conduct such inspections is accurate and calibrated is a necessary one.

For this reason, Coltraco calibrated their Intrinsically Safe Platform to application specific purposes. This was set to – 0 = LIQUID 100 + = Air. The Intrinsically Safe Platform was designed to operate in specific environment where the presence of potentially dangerous gases can be experienced.

The solution offered unparalleled accuracy and clarity of indication: the Portalevel Intrinsically Safe. It provides fast operation with 30 second servicing, is accurate up to the true liquid level of 1.5mm and is Zone 1 ATEX Certified and UL Approved.

The unit requires no input from the on-site engineer apart from the simple application of the sensor to the vessel wall. This protects the operator from the health and safety problems that were presented through manual monitoring, as well as increasing efficiency.

The delivery of a solution to the pharmaceutical company allowed the operators of the plant to safely, quickly and accurately monitor the contents within the ammonia vessels.

These vessels are integral to the operation of the plant as a whole. This unit is also cost efficient, reducing the amount of partially empty ammonia cylinders returned before emptying, increasing efficiency, and saving the organisation money over time.






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