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Productivity, Footprint, and Segregation: 3 Reasons the Pharma Industry is Adopting Pneumatic Conveyors

Posted on October 19, 2018

As the pharma industry moves toward continuous manufacturing, it’s also rapidly adopting pneumatic conveyors as the systems of choice to transfer material between machines. Here are three reasons for the shift.

Enhanced productivity

Conveyors can reduce load times significantly — doubling, tripling, or even quadrupling productivity. This is becoming absolutely essential as the capabilities of tablet presses and encapsulation machines increase. For example, some of the newer multi-layered tablet presses can process up to 4,000 kg per hour. There’s no way an operator, or even several operators, could scoop powder into the hopper fast enough to keep up with the demands of these machines.

Smaller footprint

There are other types of automated transfer systems used to load tablet presses — the two most common are gravity-fed systems and drum handling systems. However, both of these are quite large.

A gravity-fed system sits on the second or third floor of the facility, above the hopper. That means, of course, that the facility must have two or three floors. Drum handling systems also take up more space than many pharma manufacturers have available in their production suites.

Pneumatic conveyors are comparatively very small. Nilfisk’s smallest conveyor is 12.4” x 15.2” x 11.3”, or about 1 cubic foot, while our largest conveyor is only 19.1” x 25.8” x 40.9” — taller, but not requiring much more floor space. This is a much more compact footprint than a gravity-fed or drum handling system, or even a person, can provide.

Lack of product segregation

In the past, drug makers were wary of powder conveyors because of the risks of product segregation. But that’s no longer a concern because conveyors have adapted to meet the needs of pharmaceutical manufacturing.

Conveyors made for the pharma industry today transfer materials using high pressure and very low airflow. The high pressure maintains the integrity of the product by creating a plug, or brick, of tightly packed powder so the particles don’t have the opportunity to move around. This guarantees that the material arrives at the endpoint in exactly the same configuration as when it left the pickup point.

Pneumatic conveyors are not complicated pieces of equipment. Most of them work through a cycle: collect material —> deposit material —> clean the filter (via an automatic filter cleaning mechanism that uses a vibrator or pulse of air) —-> start the cycle over again. All you have to do is hook up the compressed airflow and the equipment will do its job. But even though they’re simple, they’re highly effective at meeting the needs of today’s pharma manufacturers, namely, transferring materials quickly in a small footprint and with no segregation. To learn more, explore our pneumatic conveyors product page.