Top 6 Misconceptions About Optimizing Pharma Facilities

This article originally appeared on Pharmaceutical Manufacturing

How HVAC optimization can help facilities managers cut water and energy use while maintaining product quality and compliance.

By Frederick Woo, Manager of Engineering, Optimum Energy

Pharmaceutical manufacturing facilities are energy intensive, and the HVAC system — the chilled water plant, steam and hot water plant, and air distribution — typically consumes a full 65 percent of the energy used, according to research by Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory.

That is a strong case for HVAC optimization, which can cut a facility’s energy use and resulting costs by 20 to 50 percent sitewide, and reduce water use as well. However, misconceptions about what HVAC optimization is and what it requires often make facilities managers hesitant to pursue it. They may fear that product quality or production capacity will be compromised. They may also have concerns about IT security or believe their HVAC system is already optimized, even though it isn’t being controlled for optimum performance.

To reveal the true potential for HVAC optimization in a pharmaceutical manufacturing facility, we need to clear the cloud cover of these top 6 misconceptions surrounding optimization technology.

Misconception #1: A dashboard and fault detection provide optimization
An energy dashboard and fault detection software provide only information. A true optimization solution automatically controls the facility’s HVAC system to deliver heating and cooling at the most energy-efficient levels. It takes a holistic approach to managing the system and all of its interactions, rather than addressing each piece of equipment in isolation.

Misconception #2: A pharmaceutical manufacturing facility has too many restrictions to allow for optimization
Pharmaceutical facilities are complex environments that operate under strict constraints, but there are many HVAC optimization strategies that can save energy without compromising production.
The initial feasibility study for an optimization project should determine all the operational standards that the HVAC system must maintain, such as GMP validation in different spaces; temperature, humidity, and air change per hour (ACH) requirements; and hours of operation for each space.

Misconception #3: A cloud-based optimization solution will compromise the facility’s IT security
Although new internet connections can be risky, connecting a building automation system (BAS) to a secure cloud-based optimization solution is not.

A cloud-based HVAC optimization solution collects real-time analytics and then runs diagnostics on the facility’s HVAC equipment in the solution provider’s data center. The connection can be protected with robust end-to-end security measures, including a platform that uses strong encryption and allows access only to energy-management data. With secure walls between the facility’s IT network and its BAS sensors and HVAC monitoring, hackers cannot use the optimization solution to access sensitive business data.

Misconception #4: HVAC optimization is too expensive
Doing nothing to cut energy and water use is the most expensive path, especially in regions with high utility rates and at facilities operating under mandates to reduce their carbon footprint.

An HVAC optimization project can deliver ROI in one to five years. Energy and water savings are immediate, as the system makes the chiller plant, air handlers, and boiler room operations more efficient as soon as it is switched on. And herein is the main difference between an optimization solution and a fault detection and recommendation system — optimization delivers efficiency gains immediately, while fault detection and recommendation gradually saves energy as systems learn from collected data.

Misconception #5: If an HVAC plant consists of new, energy-efficient equipment, it doesn’t need optimization
Even the most modern equipment is efficient only if it is programmed and controlled to save energy. For example, variable frequency drives (VFDs) installed on pumps and fans can either control equipment at constant set points or be programmed to run at full speed all the time. New variable speed chillers can be more efficient than constant speed chillers, but only if their loads and lifts are managed to take advantage of variable speed operations.

Misconception #6: Automating an HVAC system eliminates operations staff
Automating the controls of an HVAC system doesn’t replace facilities staff. This common belief often causes operations staff to resist deploying an optimization solution. In reality, HVAC optimization is a tool that enhances the work of facilities staff. It takes the guesswork out of running HVAC systems and frees staff from making manual adjustments. Ultimately, refocusing employees on work that requires human intelligence improves overall facilities operations.

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